Buffy, the Vampire Slayer was one of the biggest shows at the turn of the millennium. Yes, it was a remake of a 1990s movie, but the series became something wholly unique.
It wasn’t just a vampire show, but a relationship drama, a comedy, an action franchise, and at one point, a musical. This episode, aptly titled “Once More With Feeling,” helped secure the series’ place as one of the best network shows of the 21st-century.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling’
The Buffy musical episode could have gone out of its way to hire professional singers and dancers. However, Whedon wanted the genuine performances to make it into the episode. After all, it wasn’t going to Broadway. The musical episode was still part of the series’ overall arc, and as such, they needed just as much talent put into the vocal riffs as were the action beats and comedy bits.
The episode featured the entire cast belting out notes on songs such as “Where do We Go From Here.” Perhaps, the uncertainty of it all is what guided them to one of the most memorable television episodes in recent memory.
Taking the stage
James Marsters believed that everyone on the cast had different reasons to be scared. At the time, musicals were not the talk of the Hollywood town. Furthermore, delivering lines and singing them are two different skills. As such, Whedon and the rest of the production company went to work ensuring that it was not just a good episode but a good musical on its own.
The lofty expectations meant some added pressure to everyone involved. Marsters spoke about this with EW.
“I think the entire cast was a bit terrified. I think one person, I forget who it was, actually asked to juggle chainsaws instead. Like real chainsaws…” said James Marsters, lauding Whedon for the execution. “I think it was our best moment because, at some point, we knew that Joss would not be talked out of it, and we definitely tried. And we stopped whining, and we started working really hard. And suddenly, there were voice coaches and dance coaches showing up on set.”
Buffy, the Stage Performer
As Buffy, Gellar was terrified. She never sang professionally before, and before the rumors of a musical Buffy episode, she never intended to sing on-camera. All of that changed when the cast was on board. She spoke about this with EW, too.
“I’m not a singer. I never have been and I didn’t have a lot of time with the material. So my original intention was to have someone else do the singing. What I didn’t realize at the time is it would be such an emotional arc for the character. I didn’t realize that would be the episode where you found out where she was. Then I talked to Joss and I said, “I don’t have the time and I don’t feel confident enough to do it.”
Whedon put Gellar and the rest of the cast to the fire. They got a script two or three weeks before the production, and by that time, it was too late to go back. Luckily for Whedon, Gellar, and the rest of the team behind the series, the episode remains a favorite among fans and critics alike.
To a 2021 audience, musical episodes may not be all that rare. Several hit series rode the same wave that Buffy helped set from the medical sitcom Scrubs to Riverdale. Now, with Hamilton, Dear Evan, Hansen, and other popular shows bringing musicals back into the mainstream, perhaps Buffy has a small role to play.
Whedon’s recent fall from grace may put shows like Buffy under a microscope. At the time, the show was considered something unique and special. While the episode has some staunch detractors, it’s among the most memorable in a series. Syfy even ran a list of the best and worst songs in 2017. It’s no mistake that many series on the WB’s spiritual heir, the CW, continue building off of its success today.
Whether one likes the episode or not, it helped show that network television can be as experimental, weird, and genre-bending as premium cable. This, more than anything else, is its lasting legacy.