Yesterday, I noticed someone had googled the phrase “Buffy episodes to show someone who’s never watched Buffy” and landed on NoWhiteNoise. Unfortunately, they probably didn’t find what they were looking for. There’s no post on here geared towards an answer, but it did make me wonder which episodes I would initially show someone if I ever wanted to convert them into a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan.
Whenever I try to make someone watch any series, I basically tell them they have to watch from the beginning. With Buffy, I’d say the same. You have to watch any new show from episode one, in my humble opinion. But sometimes (most of the time?), shows take time to build, and there’s always an episode down the line that could be a good hook for new viewers. Pilot episodes are seldom the best of a series, is what I’m saying. At the same time, you never want to show someone an episode which might spoil way too many plot lines. It’s a crapshoot.
But seeing as we’re all lovers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I thought it would be wise to offer some other fans a way to guide their delayed friends into finally watching the show. I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention the AV Club recently did an article with 10 episodes which showcase Buffy. That said, those episodes are supposed to be a representation of everything the series achieved. I don’t think I’d start there.
So… keeping all those requirements in mind, and if for some reason you want to ween them into the show and skip the pilot, I guess my first pick would be to screen “Angel” first. The only way I can see “Angel” backfiring is it might set a precedent that Buffy is a romance show first instead of a coming-of-age story, but nonetheless, personally, I feel as though “Angel” is the first episode where Buffy finds its voice. It’s not totally there yet, but you can tell it’s getting into a groove.
After that, I know you’re thinking I’ll skip ahead to the finale, but I’d probably recommend watching “Nightmares.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer is lauded for how well it fleshed out all of its supporting characters, and the insecurities those characters face (as well as Buffy herself) in “Nightmares” are ones they continue to struggle with throughout the entire series. If you can’t deal with their lows during this episode, perhaps the series isn’t for you, regardless, as it is my personal opinion Buffy‘s characters is its most charming features.
Then, of course, I’d say to watch “Prophecy Girl.” The first season finale is one of the most gut-wrenching (and oft times unintentionally funny) episodes of Buffy; it also deals with the darker themes the series is known for tackling. And the good news is it only gets better from there.
And last but not least, I’d actually go a bit out there and perhaps recommend “Earshot.” “Earshot” was an episode that didn’t air in order and is probably oftentimes dismissed by fans given how it’s centralized on a character who isn’t part of the main cast, but I also think it’s one of the episodes that gets some of the overall beats of the show best. It’s funny, it’s dark, and it confronts the nightmare that is high school and growing up. Beisdes, you don’t need much prior knowledge.
If you’re looking to dazzle your friend with Buffy’s awesomeness, and you don’t think they’d mind getting spoiled, I’d start with “Surprise” and “Innocence” (and maybe even “Passion“). Sometimes what we need to show someone is the moments in a show where everything just, well…for lack of a better term, gets real. (I got my sister hooked on The Vampire Diaries by showing her the season one finale “Founder’s Day.”)
If you want to show fun and games, flash, and a bit of suspense, perhaps go with “Halloween,” “Fear, Itself,” and/or “Hush.” “Halloween” is quite early in the series’ run and is actually a good starter episode as it is constantly referenced time and time again throughout the entire series (it’s even referenced in “Fear, Itself”). “Fear, Itself” is probably one of those episodes people would normally associate with Buffy if they had never watched the show before, but with the natural comedic ability they were not expecting. Once again, it’s an episode that nicely exemplifies the characters’ insecurities. And finally, I’d say “Hush” because it might mesmerize your friend/potential Buffy fan into having to see how this series could be so awesome; there are some elements in “Hush” that perhaps wouldn’t work as a standalone episode, but I think it’s enjoyable without watching anything beforehand. You might just need to add an asterisk and tell your friend this is not normally how the series is executed.
Whatever you do, I wouldn’t show anyone “the best of the best” Buffy episodes first. Those, in my opinion, require knowledge about the characters and the storyline to be fully enjoyed. For example, I wouldn’t start off with “Once More, With Feeling,” which is about how Buffy is depressed for being resurrected. It may seem like it would just be a fun episode to show, but its message just wouldn’t come across — plus, you run the risk of displaying Buffy as over-the-top cheesiness. I’d even steer clear of something as seemingly innocent as “Tabula Rasa” or “The Wish” or “Doppelgängland” or “The Zeppo,” and so on, as those episodes require you to know the interpersonal relationships the characters share. And I know it’s tempting, but just don’t show them “The Body” first. Just don’t do it. Maybe if they’ve watched a handful of episodes before then, you can.
The problem is that Buffy the Vampire Slayer really is a show that used all the material which preceded any episode to continuously build on the characters, their relationships, and the storylines. While skipping ahead to “Angel” first, we’ve flown past the explanation of the slayer/watcher relationship; the broadening of the supernatural universe, as well as a moment that’s brought up a couple of times in the series in “The Witch;” Xander’s constant insecurity with women (as well as a craving and demand for their attention) in “Teacher’s Pet;” showcasing Buffy’s disdain for having to be a slayer and how that clashes with her personal life in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” including one of the series’ most famous line; and then again skipped an episode that’s referenced later on and which showcases Xander’s, well, obsession with Buffy in “The Pack.” So, mostly, I’d urge someone to just watch from the beginning while gritting their teeth. It’s may not be the best, but every payoff is worth it down the line. If they’re your friend, they should trust you on that.
However, I’m by no means The Buffy Expert, so this is where I have to ask: Which Buffy episode(s) do you think are the best to show someone who’s never watched the show? Please let me — and anyone googling to find out — know!