Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Buffy: School Hard (2.3)

It's easy to forget how groundbreaking Spike and Drusilla were to Buffy. They are arguably the first antagonist characters who are just as funny and multi-faceted as the series regulars, an eccentric double act who bring a punky Bram Stoker quality to the show and an unprecedented feeling of black comedy. Spike is badass, ruthless and terrifying, but James Marsters instills in him a lovesick goofiness that makes the character so strong. I'm of the opinion that Spike was run into the ground as the series went on, so it's refreshing to see him being used so well in season two. Drusilla, as well, is a wonderful creation. She's entirely batshit, Juliet Landau flawlessly cast and being literally the only actress who can pull off Dru's nutty quivering and schizophrenic dialogue. They're both a hoot.

School Hard is a familiar blend of sitcom shtick and horror movie, Buffy tasked with not only trying to keep her mother away from Principal Snyder, but later tasked with fighting the vampire onslaught incognito in an attempt to keep her secret safe. Sarah Michelle Gellar is so great at this kind of flustered comedy, and she's hilarious here, especially in her interaction with both Snyder and the frustratingly fucked-up Sheila.

One of the most important aspects to School Hard is the immediate exploration into Buffy and Spike's relationship. This is a guy who has killed two slayers, yet suddenly finds himself a challenge in this very modern California blonde. Buffy, unlike the lone warriors Spike has slain in the past, has friends and family; she also has a casual sexuality, both of which Spike struggles with. I presume it was intentional, but I loved how Marsters portrayed Spike as just as frustrated with Buffy as he is aroused by her. One of the greatest moments in the whole series happens when Spike spies Buffy dancing in The Bronze: a delirious crossroads of sex and violence, this predator observing his prey as she has fun and laughs and dances. Awesomeness.

Also of note is the evolving 'world' of Sunnydale. Principal Snyder knows more than he's letting on, implying some kind of elaborate cover-up of the supernatural beneath the surface of the town; while The Anointed One is finally written out, the writers presumably realizing he was absolutely no fun. School Hard is truly the first episode set in an less predictable and more adult world, retaining the humor of previous episodes, but introducing villains that feel like a true challenge for once. A

Guest stars Kristine Sutherland (Joyce Summers); Robia La Morte (Jenny Calendar); Andrew J. Ferchland (Colin); James Marsters (Spike); Alexandra Johnes (Sheila Martini); Gregory Scott Cummins (Big Ugly); Andrew Palmer (Lean Boy); Brian Reddy (Chief Bob); Juliet Landau (Drusilla); Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder)
Teleplay David Greenwalt Story Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt Director John T. Kretchmer

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