Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buffy: The Puppet Show (1.9)

A plot structure that season one executed often was the 'whodunnit' format, with a horrific supernaturally-enhanced murder followed up by the introduction of a variety of kooky suspects, all of whom are just eccentric enough to be considered potential murderers. The Puppet Show utilizes that mystery element and juxtaposes it not only with a typically nightmarish high school event, in this case the much-maligned talent show, but also a B-movie style horror villain in the form of a ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own. Just like so many episodes this season, there's a doozy of a twist at the episode's mid-point that throws the cards up in the air and helps in opening up the mythology of the series, depicting other forms of demon-hunters in the process.

Of course, that particular plot point of a demon-hunter cursed to inhabit an inanimate object for all of eternity becomes slightly isolated and contrived in hindsight, but it still makes for some fun moments here. Dummies, like Buffy said, naturally give people the wig; the various twisty-headed 'boo!' scenes being a lot of fun. It becomes slightly goofier-than-usual when the Scoobies actually interact with Sid (especially that ugly moment when Buffy pins him against a wall), but that element of the story is still pretty absorbing, lightweight as it may be.

Equally fun are the little character moments. We have Willow's unspeakable fear of public speaking (elaborated on next episode, in fact), Cordelia's butchering of song, and Principal Snyder's no-good-them-there-teenagers shtick, which is already hilarious. There's also that great post-ending sequence with the Scoobies on stage, shamelessly resentful at being forced to perform Oedipus Rex.

The Puppet Show is one of those season one hours that isn't at all perfect, but it's earnest and genuine enough in its ambition (or, admittedly, lack of ambition) to make it pretty fun... in an obviously silly way. C+

Guest stars Kristine Sutherland (Joyce Summers); Richard Werner (Morgan Shay); Burke Roberts (Marc); Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder)
Writers Dean Batali, Rob Des Hotel Director Ellen S. Pressman

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