FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Beer Bad
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy continues to mourn the demise of non-relationship with Parker Abrams and ignoring the Riley-shaped man candy waiting in the wings. Xander's battle to fit in now the others have gone to college continues and Willow and Oz's relationship is showing signs of wear.
So here it is. An episode that lives in infamy amongst Buffy fans as the nadir of the series, a ball droppage of such proportions that mentioning it to a fellow fan will likely induce a shudder and a roll of the eyes. Xander gets a job at the campus pub to try and be closer to his friends, not realising that the bartender has such a grudge against Thomas Aquinas-spouting lunkheads that he concocts a beer that reduces them to cavemen. Unfortunately, a still-moping Buffy discovers she's not the only one of Parker's extra-curricular activities and is invited to drink with said lunkheads, meaning the Slayer's about to go all One Million Years BC.
Though there is a kind of vicarious thrill in seeing douchebags like the ones who used to speak over you in seminars getting a comeuppance, it nowhere near makes up for the fact that very little in this episode works. So few of the jokes land that it actually starts to feel like you're watching a Bizarro world version of Buffy where all the wit just drained away. I can only come to the conclusion that the writers' room must have been sampling their own brew throughout the entirety of the pre-production process.
The idea of beer reducing people to a kind of primal state isn't inherently a bad one. After all, I'm sure we've all experienced a town centre late on a Saturday night and observed the same thing. However, it's such a transparent concept for the traditionally super-clever show that it feels clumsy. It also gives it a preaching quality that the show has never had, nor would have again in its run because they were trying to get funding for an anti-drug plotline (which was unsurprisingly refused). Usually, the central metaphor allows the characters to come to an understand about themselves and the way they react to the world around them. Here, it's practically grabbing a megaphone and screaming the episode's title at you until you swear to be teetotal for life.
The Buffy-Parker thing comes under a lot of criticism for undermining Buffy as a character and I took issue with this assessment for The Harsh Light of Day because it's ok to see Buffy vulnerable in a relationship situation. It doesn't take anything away from the strength of her character. That being said, Beer Bad goes too far beyond that point. As amusing as the soaring romcom fantasies that open the episode try to be, dragging out the Parker situation to the point where she feels like she's grieved more for him than for her relationship with Angel was a bad move on the writers' part. The one night stand never earns that kind of narrative time and it feels like they're stalling here, trying to find yet another way of ensuring Buffy doesn't thrive at college.
Sarah Michelle Gellar throws herself into the outlandish performance and does her best to try and make a primal version of Buffy work, but even contemporary Buffy has nothing really to do but look sad and make excuses for Parker. However, it's Nicholas Brendon who has to do much of the work in this episode, for once playing the straight man to his comical co-star. His delivery of "you're a very bad man" to the bartender responsible is spot-on and his interactions with Buffy provide rueful smiles if not outright belly laughs. There's also a flash of the usual wit as Willow gleefully turns the tables on Parker and his pick-up techniques.
And yet, literally the only really good part of the episode is when Buffy knocks Parker on the head with a big stick as we, the audience, sincerely hope the show will soon do the same.
Quote of the Week:
Giles: You can't have beer.
Buffy: Want beer!
Xander: Giles, don't make Cave Slayer unhappy.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Hunt, Caveman #3, is played by a pre-Harold and Kumar Kal Penn; he also appears in Angel episode That Vision Thing.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Fear, Itself, here.