Barnes & Noble - Daniel Craft
Easily transcending the box office disappointment of its feature film source, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer will go down in history as one of the few truly successful big-to-small-screen adaptations. Writer-director Joss Whedon's teen-horror series' 12-episode first season began in 1997, favoring character development and tongue-in-cheek wit over the film's outright farce, and it quickly spawned a legion of devoted fans. Sarah Michelle Gellar's Buffy is emotionally honest and, when the line's there, really funny. She makes Sunnydale's slayer believably torn between her calling and all things teen: school, boys, family, and her friends. Led by her Watcher/school-librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy's "Scooby Gang" includes nerdy Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and lovelorn Xander (Nicholas Brendon), with some comic friction supplied by ditzy cheerleader Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). Add Buffy's rocky romance with brooding Angel (David Boreanaz), who unfortunately happens to be a vampire, and the show has all the trappings of a soap opera, but with a refreshing ironic bite. From the series' pilot episode, "Welcome to the Hellmouth," which explains away Sunnydale's improbable location on a direct door to Hell, to the season finale, "Prophecy Girl," featuring Buffy's big confrontation with The Master, there's an awful lot at stake in Season 1. Other ongoing concerns include Xander's crush on Buffy and the recurring threat of Spike -- the Billy Idol-meets-Nosferatu villain portrayed by James Marsters. Fans will enjoy revisiting Buffy's rookie year, while newcomers are prepared for the many changes still to come. Since one of the show's strengths is its attention to continuity, this set first set is an effective Genesis of Buffy lore.
Barnes & Noble - Tony Nigro
After craftily translating its big-screen origins into small-screen success, Buffy the Vampire Slayer enters its second run with zeal, confidently whupping demonic tail, introducing new characters, and developing some serious soap-opera drama. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) returns for her junior year of high school with an understandably nasty attitude -- she had died the previous spring, after all, however temporarily. Familiar friends like Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), and Oz (Seth Green) welcome a few fresh faces to Sunnydale -- namely nasty vampires Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau), and a new slayer, Kendra (Bianca Lawson). Additionally, Buffy consummates her forbidden love for Angel (David Boreanaz), an act that causes the broody vamp to turn evil, putting a big strain on their affair and endangering the lives of many, including our blonde heroine. Milking the two-part cliff-hanger format with three engaging conflicts, the 22-episode season builds nicely to a winning double-episode finale, "Becoming," which is refreshingly bloodcurdling. Stand-alone highlights along the way include "Halloween," in which the Scooby Gang actually become their All Hallow's Eve costumes; "Phases," which finds Oz getting in touch with his inner wolf; and "Ted," an enjoyable romp guest-starring John Ritter. By the season's end, fans new and old can see in which direction creator Joss Whedon is heading -- faster and smarter, approaching even higher peaks for the controversial Season Three. The six-DVD Season Two set includes all 22 episodes plus numerous audio commentaries, interviews, and featurettes.
Barnes & Noble - Patricia Kim O'Cone
High school can be hell -- but for Buffy Summers and her friends, it's a Hell Mouth. In its third season, Joss Whedon's supernatural soap opera took a walk on the dark side. As her senior year unfolds, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) attempts to pass biology, save the town from evil, and score the keys to the car. For the barely legal slayer, this year is full of challenges, hard choices, and shocking surprises: her vampire soul mate, Angel (David Boreanaz), returns from the netherworld; the impulsive new slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku), proves to be more than a handful; and Mayor Wilkins (Harry Groener) has a plan that's more diabolical than political. Season 3 experienced programming troubles during its 1999 run: After the tragic events at Columbine High School, the episodes "Earshot" and "Graduation Day Part 2" were held back from broadcast because of their coincidentally controversial content. Fans carped as the latter episode, the cliff-hanging season finale, was postponed for several months. Nonetheless, viewers were treated to one of the best-yet seasons of this ever-maturing show.
Barnes & Noble - Cree McCree
When Angel Season 1 came out on DVD, fans had one small beef. They thought it should have been co-released with Buffy Season 4 in order to savor the crossover episodes between Angel (David Boreanaz) and the Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Well, the wait is over: The pair's doomed erotic reunion on Angel is foreshadowed by the "Pangs" Angel suffers on Buffy. And in a season marked by change, Buffy's vampire soul mate was far from her only loss. Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) also decamped to the spin-off. The werewolf Oz became an endangered species when Seth Green opted to make movies. Even Sunnydale High was left behind as Buffy and Willow entered college. Yet despite all these changes -- and a weak central arc involving an X-Files-style cabal of covert government demon hunters -- Season 4 delivered some of Buffy's best-ever episodes. Top of the list are "Hush," a dark fairy tale in which demons steal voices to silence screams; and "Restless," the season finale, which plants clues for the future in the REM movements of interlocking dreams. Both were written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon, whose pithy commentary digs deeper than on previous DVD releases. Seth Green has a last hurrah in the poignant "New Moon Rising," while the witty Buffy-and-Faith two-parter gives new meaning to the term "body double." Season 4 also boasts what many consider two of Buffy's worst-ever episodes: "Beer Bad" and "Where the Wild Things Are," both set (where else?) at frat-house parties. The Slayer gets a little sloppy, but hey, freshmen will be freshmen.
Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
The 2000-01 season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was tumultuous, bringing change not only to the roster of characters but also to the show's basic story line. In this season, the responsibilities Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has as a Slayer exact more of a toll on her personal life, and the twin themes of love and loss are explored with surprising seriousness. Now she's a sophomore at UC Sunnydale, which continues to be the scene of clashes between feisty demons and feistier humans. Little sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) becomes a more active cast member, and romantic interest Riley Finn (Marc Blucas) exits mid-year with nary a word to his former companions. Also this season, Clare Kramer enters the series as Glory, a comely yet gruesome goddess who will eventually affect Buffy's fate. In the season opener, Buffy tangles with none other than Dracula himself, a shape-shifting vampire with powers far beyond those of her typical adversaries. A multi-episode story arc focuses on the mysterious illness contracted by Buffy's mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), whose eventual death devastates the Summers girls. The much-touted season finale -- also the series' 100th episode -- puts Sunnydale at the center of an apocalyptic struggle that climaxes with the unthinkable. Series creator and chief writer Joss Whedon does some of his finest work in these 22 installments, which give plenty of time to supporting Scooby Gang characters Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Anya (Emma Caulfield), and Spike (James Marsters). They build to an effective, emotionally wrenching close to the series' run on the WB network (to be continued on UPN), and no Buffy fan can afford to be without them.
Barnes & Noble - Christina Urban
Considered by many fans to be the darkest in the series, the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer marked changes not just to the show's network (it went from the WB to UPN) but to Buffy's character as well. After sacrificing herself in Season 5 to save the world, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is resurrected from the dead by Willow (Alyson Hannigan), who thought Buffy was in a hell dimension. What the Scoobies don't know is that Buffy believed she was actually in heaven, and after being ripped from a peaceful existence she now considers her life hell on earth. The depressed Slayer secretly turns to someone who knows about death -- a Buffy-obsessed Spike (James Marsters) -- and the two begin a twisted relationship. This season also introduces the Trio, a group of geeks who want take over Sunnydale and play a large part in the season finale, and it features the exit -- and eventual triumphant return -- of Anthony Stewart Head as Giles. Easily one of the best Buffy episodes of any season is "Once More with Feeling" a musical that has the characters singing what they feel, allowing Buffy to finally tell her friends the truth about her return. Series creator Joss Whedon wrote the episode's score, songs, and lyrics, all to fantastic effect. The complete musical only aired on TV once, so fans are sure to enjoy all the uncut songs here on DVD, as well as the behind-the-scenes commentary and a documentary on the making of the episode. The season is rounded out by the hilarious "Tabula Rasa," wherein Willow's memory spell goes awry; the return of Riley (Marc Blucas) in "As You Were"; Anya (Emma Caulfield) and Xander's (Nicholas Brendon) wedding in "Hell's Bells"; and the devastating season-ending story arc of "Seeing Red," "Villains," "Two to Go," and finally "Grave" -- in which a grieving Willow attempts to destroy the world, and Spike seeks to prove to Buffy how much he really loves her.
Entertainment Weekly - Ken Tucker
Give series creator Joss Whedon credit: No other show balances so many elements as deftly, without a trace of corniness or melodrama.