Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season

The advent of DVD has changed the face of television. It's changed the business side on one hand — sales of little-seen series like Firefly or Family Guy have managed to resurrect the former as a feature film and prompt new episodes of the latter — but TV on DVD will also alter the very perception of a program, and no where is that clearer than on the penultimate season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Grumblings from fan sites and water cooler conversations (who has water coolers these days anyway?) indicated a less-than-thrilled reaction to this gloomy season when it first debuted on UPN (the show's first season away from its original WB home). Without a traditional "big bad" (a consistent enemy throughout the bulk of the season), and with Buffy coming back from the dead all mopey and depressed, this season of their discontent seemed to lack the spark of fighting Glory (a god) or the Initiative (a secret underground government organisation). Instead, each of the Scoobie gang is in the midst of a serious personal crisis: of faith (Xander and Anya's wedding approaches); of inner strength (Willow struggles with her lust for magic power); or of one's role in the universe (Buffy's back from heaven, Giles feels useless and Dawn feels alone). Instead of villains, we get nerds, in the form of "the Trio," who are more comic relief than threat. But what seemed like, on a weekly basis, so much "get on with it" whining without any fighting, on DVD becomes a more intense, less choppy exploration of these meaningful character arcs, which in the end are much more satisfying than another monster-of-the-week. But no look at Season Six would be complete without a mention of the single greatest accomplishment in television history: episode seven, "Once More With Feeling," the musical. Probably the most obvious weapon against the Buffy geeks by those who've never seen the show, it's also the greatest defence of Joss Whedon's genius. The Buffy creator — who also composed all the original songs for the musical and directed the episode — gives us a show-stopping cabaret of singing and dancing without pandering to convention, without wallowing in improbability, and driving the larger story forward in fascinating ways. Plus, it rocks! The musical is the culmination of six years of trust and quality work; at this point, we're simply putty in Whedon's hands. He's earned it too. If he wants to give us a little soft shoe to celebrate, we should be thankful to be along for the ride. In terms of perspective, something that's been distinctly lacking from the first five seasons on DVD, this one starts to provide at least some hints, in the form of a cast and crew roundtable (minus Sarah Michelle Gellar, but including Whedon), a season overview and a "making of" on "Once More With Feeling." Add to that a handful of commentaries from the show's most dedicated contributors (Whedon, as well as writers Jane Espenson, Rebecca Rand-Kirshner and others). It's an essential final piece of a puzzle that will stand as one of the greatest, and unlikeliest, accomplishments in TV history. (Fox)