Thursday, 11 July 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.5 – 'Beer Bad' & ANGEL, 1.5 – 'Rm w/a Vu'

Thursday, 11 July 2013
Buffy: Want beer. Like beer. Beer good.
Xander: Beer bad. Bad, bad beer.

I think "BEER BAD" can be chalked up as a horrible misfire that, qualitatively, felt like an escapee from season 1. There's certainly a message for Buffy the Vampire Slayer to impart to its youthful audience about alcohol abuse, but simply equating it to an evil elixir that turns drinkers into "cavemen" is probably the laziest and stupidest direction to take. Not content with that, writer Tracey Forbes also underscores a belief that being promiscuous and enjoying casual sex with consensual partners is inherently wrong. Alcohol and sex sit in much greyer areas than this episode was prepared to admit and explore, and consequently this hour came across as horribly naïve and immature. Oh, and it contained some of the worst drunken acting I've ever seen committed to film. I wouldn't be surprised if Sarah Michelle Gellar and the other actors had never experienced intoxication before making this, because everything about it felt redolent of a child's-eye view. I'm amazed someone didn't hiccup or insist on clutching a brown paper bag.

For what it's worth, Xander (Nicholas Brendan) got a job as a bartender on campus, which now gives him a reasonable excuse to hang around Buffy (Gellar), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Oz (Seth Green) like a bad smell with quips. We're still waiting on Giles (Anthony Head) to get a job as UC Sunnydale's librarian, which would solve the same problem for him. What are they waiting for exactly?

There was a brief moment when I thought "Bad Beer" would actually be a Xander episode, when he was locking horns with loquacious college kids who took a dislike to him because they consider him lower class. An earlier scene had Professor Walsh pontificating on Freudien psychology, so the scene was set for something pretty interesting to unravel... and then everyone started drinking spiked 'Black Frost' beverages that turned them into grunting Neanderthals. Or, in the case of Gellar, a girl having a bad hair day who started speaking in words of one syllable. (This episode was nominated for an Emmy for 'Outstanding Hairstyling in a Series', which is hilarious to me. They didn't comb Gellar's hair one week and got recognition for that?!)

I can't summon the strength to write much more about this strange episode, which felt like fan-fiction from a puritan that got mixed up in Joss Whedon's in-tray and accidentally filmed. Actually, a bit of Googling reveals Doug Petrie was promoted to executive story editor for season 4, so some of the blame lies with him.)

I quite liked how Parker (Adam Kaufman) almost talked Willow into seeing things from his perspective (to paraphrase: Buffy's hot, we had fun, so get over it), and spotting Kal Penn in an early role was fun as a piece of telly trivia to file away in my head... but, really, "Bad Beer" was laughably simplistic and tackled an aspect of teenage life in a very outdated and uninteresting manner.

written by Tracey Forbes | directed by David Solomon | 2 November 1999

Maude: You are going to make yourself a noose and put it around...
Cordelia: Back off, Polygrip! You think you're bad? Being all mean and haunty? Picking on poor pathetic Cordy? Well, get ready to haul your wrinkly translucent ass out of this place; because lady, the bitch is back.

I really enjoyed the last quarter-hour of "Rm w/a Vu", but until that point most of this episode didn't impress me. I run hot and cold with Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), but that character now appears to have peaked mid-season 2 of BtVS and is has now become whiny comic-relief. The beginning of this episode suggested a return to the idea Cordy always keeps secrets from her friends, to save face because she's a snob who doesn't want others to know she's poor and lives in a slum, but after an encounter with cockroaches she's suddenly spilling her guts to Angel (David Boreanaz) about her squalid living conditions? I just didn't accept that quick reversal.

However, once it became clear this episode was about more trivial matters, I grew to enjoy it as something other than a character study of Cordelia. Doyle (Glenn Quinn) helped Cordy find rent a seemingly idyllic apartment, which turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a previous tenant called Maude Bearson (Beth Grant), who proceeds to turn Cordy's perfect new abode into a nightmare. The ongoing idea that Cordy's happy to delude herself was maintained in her decision to keep this poltergeist quiet, despite having professional 'ghostbusters' as friends—which, again, I wasn't quite accepting of, although it thankfully didn't last long.

As a subplot, we discovered Doyle is avoiding a demonic loan shark called Griff (Marcus Redmon), but that storyline didn't lead anywhere very interesting. It seemed to only exist so it could collide with the haunted house storyline in the climax, where the episode went to town with the idea of an angry ghost causing domestic chaos.

Much of this episode was salvaged by a cool last act; especially when Cordy seemed to remember her character from early BtVS and defeated the ghost by rediscovering her inner bitch. I also loved the twist and consequent flashback for Maude, where we learned she died of a heart-attack seconds after bricking her own son up behind a wall. That was a very memorable and psychologically frightening scenario for her son, Dennis (B.J Porter), who now appears to be Cordy's phantom roommate (a perfect one, too, as he's invisible and easily bossed around like a spectral butler). Hopefully he will recur in future instalments.

written by Jane Espenson (story by Jane Espenson & David Greenwalt) | directed by Scott McGinnis | 2 November 1999