Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Buffy: Teacher's Pet (1.4)

Buffy settles into a goofy, standalone-driven groove, with a fun if lightweight episode all about virgins, bugs and interspecies mating. Buffy for the first time takes a major backseat, allowing Xander to take center stage in all his lovestruck glory. As a character, he's better here than he has been so far. He has that nerdy likability factor, as well as that keen self-awareness of how awkward he is. But what 16 year-old guy isn't mostly a big dork? You're trying to find the courage to be the man that you assume you need to be, while trying to keep that fear you have about it all from being made public. There's a neat moment of personal victory for him when he discovers the obnoxious jock isn't quite the sexually experienced stallion he claimed he was, but it's undermined by the fact that he isn't exactly much better in the sexual stakes. However, he's Xander: lovable, funny, self-deprecating and kind of heroic even this early in the series. He's still pretty darn awesome.

There's nothing too memorable about the demon plot. I praised Witch for pulling a mid-episode twist and shaking up our expectations as an audience, but Teacher's Pet sadly avoids that. It's pretty cut-and-dry as a mystery, Musetta Vander vamping it up as a naughty substitute teacher straight out of a bad Cinemax movie. Only the clincher being that she's a murderous praying mantis lady. It's pretty ridiculous, but fun in its campiness. And those gross tentacles attached to its mouth at the end? Nifty! People always rag on the iffy monster suits this show employed, but the little visual flourishes were sometimes truly great.

We also have Buffy's burgeoning attraction to Angel, a character so annoying in his shadowy hunkiness that, being the wonderful show this is, he has to be made fun of. His arrogance has been cooled since the pilot, which is great, and you can actually buy why Buffy is suddenly intrigued by him in a romantic sense.

Teacher's Pet isn't great around the edges (the annoyingly redundant 'Fork Guy' and his clumsy death sequence, for example), but it's a sufficient monster episode, helped by some great development for Xander and a fine performance from Nicholas Brendon, who has already entirely settled into the character. C+

Guest stars David Boreanaz (Angel); Ken Lerner (Principal Bob Flutie); Musetta Vander (Natalie French); Jackson Price (Blaine Moll); Jean Speegle Howard (The Real Natalie French)
Writer David Greenwalt Director Bruce Seth Green

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