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Once More With Feeling from Cinescape

Joss Whedon directs another excellent episode that’s music to the ears of BUFFY fans and beyond

Whenever BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER comes up with a show that seems gimmicky in nature, it always seems to overcome the initial hokiness of it with a great payoff.

Creator Joss Whedon has always been at the forefront of those episodes. In “Hush” he did an entire hour without the use of any dialogue, in “Restless” dreams played a big role as the episode went from one weird non-sequitur to another, and in last year’s “The Body” Buffy dealt with the death her mom in a largely surreal scenario that played out with very little background music.

Now comes the biggest leap of faith – BUFFY THE MUSICAL. Titled “Once More with Feeling,” this is definitely the most ambitious and outrageous idea for a BUFFY episode yet. With previews hinting at rock opera via PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE or ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, the result could have been disastrous.

To the contrary though – the episode is just about the best thing you’ll find on television. Going beyond ambitious, Whedon took it upon himself to not only write and direct the episode, he also penned all the songs that are used to convey the feelings all the characters have been experiencing most of the season, but haven’t had the nerve to express.

It’s exhilarating and Whedon wastes no time jumping into it as Buffy begins the episode with a song lamenting her lack of focus and interest in slaying vamps and demons. It’s a really funny moment which leads to the whole Scooby gang realizing there must be a demon afoot forcing them to engage in these big musical numbers and they’ve got to stop him before they break into song again.

But they do… again and again and again.

The songs are quite catch, with a love ode sung by Tara to Willow being one of the standouts. Amber Benson has a beautiful voice and of the females, her and Emma Caulfield (Anya) have the strongest range. Buffy tends to be a bit on the soft side, but the fact that her singing isn’t perfection only adds to its infectious quality.

It’s hard to cite the best dance number, though as of this moment I’m leaning toward an old-fashioned romp between Xander and Anya called “I’ll Never Tell.” They’re questioning their own loyalty and love in something that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in a musical of the ‘40s. They dance around Xander’s apartment in their undergarments and the energy level is phenomenal – with Caulfield busting some pretty amazing moves.

Also getting ample treatment is the continually evolving love-hate relationship Spike has with Buffy. He still loves her, but lately hasn’t been as obsessive, realizing his affections will never be reciprocated.

As the true source of these strange musical numbers is revealed – it’s a demon named Sweet (Hinton Battle), who has a predilection for a catchy number and watching people dance themselves into a frenzy so that they spontaneously combust – we end up with the most revealing and honest moment of the entire episode when the whole cast sings the grand finale “Where Do We Go From Here.”

As with most of Buffy’s significant turning point episodes, events that happen here open up a whole new can of worms with some major (and quite surprising) revelations coming to the fore. It will ensure that the season’s largely uneven plot points are now going to take on more significance and finally start to show some signs of a payoff.

The attention being drawn to this BUFFY episode is important, since it will also once again show new viewers just how special and unique the series can be. It’s always wildly surprising, but the “resurrection of Buffy” episode that introduced a whole new audience on UPN was so caught up in resolving previous plot issues that it might have been a little “inside” for the casual viewer. Albeit, the musical episode does require some previous knowledge of the BUFFY-verse and what’s been going on this season, but you’ll still get drawn into the show’s musical magic regardless.

This is what television wants to be but rarely takes the chance at achieving. It’s a gimmick with a point and one that lingers with you days after seeing it. In an era of disposable TV where the only show that ever gets repeat viewing that actually enhances its appeal is THE SIMPSONS, it’s nice to know BUFFY in its sixth season still has a lot of life left in it.

Fans will rejoice, new fans will be won over and this time the Emmy’s can’t ignore the series after “Once More with Feeling.” Stand this up to anything else out there, and it’s obvious – nothing can compare. This may a genre show, but it’s one that has a beat and now you can dance to it too.

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