Sunnydale is alive with the sound of music!
The genius of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was creator-producer-head writer Joss Whedon's ability to intertwine the emotional with the irreverent, capturing the raw angst and energy of adolescence. For seven seasons, Buffy boasted high-velocity storytelling that was uncomfortably intimate and unspeakably glib, shedding tears and tossing off one-liners with shameless abandon. For those who could look past the goofy teen horror conventions to see the show's metaphorical implications, Buffy made a strong case for television as art.
By its sixth season, the show had taken a decidedly darker turn, focusing on themes of death, resurrection and redemption. Whedon started to push the envelope with regard to the show's tone and style and Once More, With Feeling was his most audacious conceit yet: an all-singing, all-dancing episode that managed to both mock, pay homage and elevate the musical as an art form.
Sure, the songs were forgettable and the singing talents of the cast uneven (to say the least) but it all worked beautifully, in fact. Cleverly written, perfectly paced and surprisingly moving at times, Whedon used his song and dance numbers as an intrinsic part of the plot rather than just a gimmick: A demon comes to Sunnydale forcing the residents to burst into song, revealing their innermost secrets and, in some cases, dancing so intensely they burst into flames.
It's a brilliant ploy, simultaneously appealing to those who hate and those who love musicals. After all, it's a joke. But it's a joke with bite. By having the characters confess through song thoughts and emotions they would never speak aloud, Whedon capitalizes on Buffy's tortured and labyrinthine mythology to create undeniably affecting moments.
Whether it's Tara's lesbian longing for Willow (along with a devious intimation of oral sex), a Doris Day-inspired duet between Anya and Xander or vampire Spike's Billy Idol-esque thrashing, Once More, With Feeling impresses with its inventive choreography and sumptuous production values.
There's little doubt that television can but rarely does attain the level of art. While shows like The Sopranos, The West Wing and Six Feet Under have deservedly garnered plaudits and awards; programs like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica and are dismissed as simply clever additions to their genre. The truth is, these shows are unique in their ambitions, smashing dramatic conventions and testing the boundaries of what television can achieve.
In a particularly cruel twist of irony, Once More, With Feeling was nominated for an Emmy but left off the ballot because of a misprint. Whedon's multilayered fever dream of singing, dancing, comedy and horror is a rare and wonderful thing that deserves a special place in TV history. At least, it receives a second life as a Midnight Movie experience. I can't imagine anything Aaron Sorkin has ever written achieving that.
Midnight, Friday and Saturday, July 6 and 7, at the Main Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111. Subtitles will be included for audience sing-alongs, and other interactive Buffy-themed events are scheduled.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].