Sunday, 7 July 2013
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER 6.7: ONCE MORE WITH FEELING
Something to Sing About
WRITER: Joss Whedon
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
WHAT’S THE SITCH?
Something weird is going on in Sunnydale…surely this town’s motto. For some unknown reason everyone keeps breaking in to song, usually at times of high emotion, the Scooby gang included. Buffy sings about her feeling disconnected to the world, to life in general, while the rest of the gang sing about their individual fears, frustrations and inner most desires. We soon discover that a sharp suited all singing all dancing demon called Sweet is responsible, enjoying the scene as more and more Sunnydale denizens combust from their over emotional exuberance. And best of all he thinks he’s found his newest Queen of the underworld when he grabs Dawn, thinking she’s the one who summoned him, though Dawnie insists she isn’t. But when Sweet discovers Dawn is in fact the Slayers sister, he orders his minions to go find Buffy and bring her to him as he really, really wants to see the Slayer burn.
WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?
Like HUSH this is all about communication (or lack of) plus keeping secrets that shouldn’t be kept and the destructiveness that can result.
WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?
Sweet and his minions. But mostly the secrets the Scoobies have been keeping from one another and what the fallout will be now that they have all been aired.
WHY IT ROCKS
You really have to ask? This is pure TV genius on every conceivable level with Joss on top form. But okay...
Songs: Not only is OMWF a full blown musical where every song is brilliantly written, different and memorable, it is also a huge turning point in the season where characters discover hard truths about each other that turn their lives upside down. The songs also play a major narrative function and help move the season's story along. But being a Joss musical, OMWF also becomes a meta musical in that the characters are aware that they are suddenly living in a musical and it freaks most of them out. Especially the ones who really can't or don't like singing, in real life too (just ask Alyson Hannigan and Michelle Trachtenberg).
Sweet. The musical demon who brings the fun in is a marvellous creation with his red devil face and sharp colourful suits and silky manner. He is played to the charismatic hilt by multiple Tony Award winning actor/singer/dancer Hinton Battle.
The look: Joss shot the show in traditional musical widescreen format, unlike the rest of the series. He also designed the lighting and general look of the show to reflect an old fashioned cinematic musical.
The score: Previous Buffy composer Christophe Beck returned to score this episode and help Joss arrange the songs. He does a grand job.
Choreography: All of the imaginative dancing and movement was choreographed by award winning writer/director/actor/producer/choreographer Adam Shankman who is a close personal friend of Sarah Michelle Gellar and who got the job on her recommendation. Shankman has gone on to direct the motion pictures The Wedding Planner, Hairspray and Rock of Ages amongst others.
The cast and their voices: They all give great performances and give the max to make this work. And work it does. Of course not all are great singers but they all do their own vocals for the show, no singing doubles being used. In fact, part of the reason why Joss chose to do a musical episode was after hearing several of his cast singing and realising there were some great voices amongst them, most notably Tony Head and James Marsters, both of whom were already professional singers and musicians. Perhaps the cast member with the single loveliest voice though is Amber Benson. She’s terrific.
SMG: A special mention to our leading lady who carries a huge burden on her tiny shoulders, especially as she would be the first to admit she is no singer. But she does a fab job and can certainly carry a tune. Plus her performance is as strong and affecting as ever. Her wit and emotional range shines through. One of my favourite moments in the episode is at the Bronze during the start of her song ‘Life’s a Show’ when she sings:
“It’s all right if some things come out wrong. We’ll sing a happy song.” And then, in tight close, up she throws a challenging look right at us, the audience, and sings, “And you can sing along.” It’s a rather chilling little moment, as if Buffy is accusing us, the audience, of being voyeurs to her pain, which I kinda guess we are.
Visual FX: The use of visual FX in this episode is great. From simple things like CGI daggers and stakes to more obvious and eye catching images such as Sweet's suit suddenly changing colour. All great work.
Joss: If you didn't need more convincing that this man is a creative genius, this episode proves it. He spent six months writing the episode and at the end of season five he handed a full script and a CD and book of 16 fully written and arranged songs to producer Gareth Davies, who in his own words found this “Mind boggling!” Especially as the guy has no actual musical training. Joss wrote all the songs with his wife, sat at a piano, singing them (badly apparently) and banging them out the hard way. And the result is a Broadway quality musical. Astonishing.
WHY IT SUCKS
No suckage here at all. Move along.
The whole thing. But I love Spike's “So, you're not staying then?” at the end of his song.
DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR
Xander: Respect the cruller, and tame the doughnut!
Buffy: I'm not exactly quaking in my stylish, yet affordable boots, but there's definitely something unnatural going on here. And that doesn't usually lead to hugs and puppies.
Sweet: That's entertainment.
Willow: The sun is shining, there are songs going on, those guys are checking you out...
Tara: What? What are they looking at?
Willow: The hotness of you, doofus!
Tara: Those boys really thought I was hot?
Tara: Oh, my god. I'm cured! I want the boys!
Xander: You see the way they were with each other? The get-a-roominess of them? I bet they're... (notices Dawn) singing. They're probably singing right now.
Xander: It's a nightmare. It's a plague. It's like a nightmare about a plague.
Anya: Clearly our number is a retro-pastiche that's never going to be a break-away pop hit.
Spike: You've just come to pump me for information?
Buffy: What else would I want to pump you for? I really just said that, didn't I?
Spike: So, you're not staying then?
Buffy: Yeah, I'm pretty spry for a corpse.
Giles: If I want your opinion, Spike, I'll... I'll never want your opinion.
Xander: Does this mean that I have to... be your Queen?
Sweet: Big smiles, everyone. You beat the bad guy.
Spike: You should go back inside. Finish the big group sing, get your kumba-yayas out.
Buffy: I don't want to.
Spike: The day you suss out what you do want, there'll probably be a parade. Seventy-six bloody trombones.
AND ANOTHER THING
Xander's “Respect the cruller, and tame the doughnut!” line is a reference to P.T. Anderson's movie Magnolia which Joss loved and made a big splash around the time this episode was being made.
Cameos: The lady trying to get out of her parking ticket is none other than writer and exec producer Marti Noxon. Apparently she's not wearing underwear! Gulp! Oh, and the Mustard guy is writer/producer David Fury. Both Marti and David carried on their musical/acting careers by appearing in Joss' Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog.
Yes: Joss is a big fan of prog rock band Yes. The band's album 'Close To The Edge' features a track called 'And You and I', which refers to a 'Mutant Enemy' in its lyrics - hence the name of Joss' production company.
Grr Argh! The little Mutant Enemy guy at the end of the episode (i.e. Joss) sings his Grr Argh!
Soundtrack and DVD: A full soundtrack and book of this episode was released to buy. Both became bestsellers. Also a separate DVD of just this episode, featuring commentary and extras (and a karaoke version) was released on Region 2 only.
Longer: OMWF in its original broadcast version runs a total of 50 mins, 8 mins longer than a regular hour long US TV episode. UPN only broadcast this full version the once. Subsequent showing were edited, running at the usual 42 mins. The version available on DVD is the full unedited version.
Awards: In the US, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) neglected to include the episode on the 2002 ballots for Emmy nominations. NATAS attempted to remedy this by mailing a postcard informing its voters that it should be included, but the episode did not win. In 2009 TV Guide ranked OMWF #14 on its list of "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time".
Buffy plays and sing-alongs: After the series ended, fans continued their appreciation with cinema showings of OMWF where attendees were encouraged to dress like the show's characters, sing along to the musical numbers, and otherwise interact in the style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The sing-alongs became so popular that they soon spread across the US and around the world as far as Asia, Israel and Europe. But In October 2007, after a dispute with the Screen Actors Guild over unpaid residuals, 20th Century Fox pulled the licensing for all public screenings, effectively ending the official Buffy sing-alongs. You can find some of them on YouTube but the big organised shows have all now ceased. Fans won't be put off though. As well as sing-alongs many amateur (often for charity) theatrical productions have been and continue to be put on around the world. Fan love just keeps this show and this episode alive and slaying/singing.
HOW MANY STAKES?
A pitch perfect 5 (out of 5)