This is even easier than favorite season – season 1.
While I acknowledge that it was broadcast as mid-season filler and Joss had only little time and even less money at his hands for it and it therefore is allowed to be less amazing as the other seasons are, it’s still without any doubt the weakest of all seasons.
It starts pretty strong for a new show and ends a lot stronger. In-between there are some fairly good episodes as well, but almost every bad episode of the series also belongs to its first season. That’s saying a lot. And even the strongest episodes are nowhere near the excellent ones that come later regarding the plot, the character depth and the overall production quality.
Though it also has its merits. The first episode ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’, and to a lesser extend its partner ‘The Harvest’, succeeds in introducing its main characters and make them instantly very likable. I especially love that the premise of the series is obvious with the first scene: The usual horror movie premise ‘petite blonde gets jumped at and killed by a monster’ is turned on its head - the petite blonde is the monster!
When the next blonde appears, nothing is clear anymore, and really, she turns out to be super strong and fighting monsters! That’s just brilliant, and it’s all there in the first scenes of the show!
I’m also delighted about the fact that, other than usual, Buffy knows from the start what she is, so the struggle isn’t about learning about her fate, but accepting it. It’s what she’ll struggle with for many seasons – accepting the consequences of being the slayer, and it all starts here.
And another thing is firmly settled as early as in the first episode: Buffy is not like the other slayers before her have been. She’s not obedient, doesn’t even think about living without friends and family and school, but is determined to make it work her way.
Some character building is done right at the beginning, and not only for Buffy, but also for Willow, Xander and Giles (and a little for Cordelia), even if by far not as deeply running as in later seasons and often presented like a dropping anvil via the monster of the week metaphor. Still, after a short time the audience has a relative firm grip on the core four.
And then there are the episodes ‘Angel’ and ‘Prophecy Girl’, both pretty good, and ‘Never kill a Boy on the first Date’ and ‘Nightmares’, both not bad. Maybe ‘Witch’. That’s it. The rest is, sorry, terrible. On my first watch I gave up after ‘Teacher’s Pet’.
Of course, even in the worst episodes there’s always something redeemable to find – a lot of humor, some minor character development, the cuteness that is Willow in the first season, Principal Flutie ("Heal!")! And knowing what the series still has in store for them, I really like and appreciate the lightheartedness the characters still radiate! They all are still so innocent and know nothing of all the horrible events that await them.
But – but!
The plots of those bad episodes are, well, bad. The main villain of the season is not the least bit scary, but instead sometimes funny, often annoying. The episodes are cheesy. The music throughout the whole season is almost unbearable. The production values are low. And – season 1 is mostly a row of standalone monster of the week episodes; the story arc, meaning the Master working on getting out of his prison, happens mostly separated from the characters and only rarely interferes with their lives.
Some of the episodes are pretty scary and/or exciting, though, which I didn’t realize until I watched them with my 15 year old son for the first time (and he watched Supernatural with me the months before, so he is used to scary).
The best that can additionally be said about this season is that it conveys its theme of High school is Hell pretty well, that its dialogues are already often brilliant, and that it has a lot of charm. It’s fun to watch it every now and then, but not nearly as often as the other seasons. And I almost always skip the worst episodes.
Luckily it gets much, much better later.