Oh dear, this is starting to feel a lot like Season One, isn’t it. I suppose it’s understandable, to a certain extent. There’s that feeling that we’re at the start of something new, with Buffy starting university just like she was starting a new school. Once again she’s making new friends and enemies, and making some of the mistakes a lot of teenagers make, a reminder that she’s not some kind of superhuman perfect being, which would be very boring. But this all seems like a huge step back, and it feels like three years of emotional growth and extraordinary life experience should have brought Buffy to a place where she makes better choices than the ones we are seeing so far this season. For a start, it’s almost like she’s pining over Parker for longer than Angel, and that’s just not right. Being angry with him is one thing. Daydreaming in lectures about Parker falling in love with her is misguided in a way that just doesn’t seem like the Buffy we know, even more out of character than getting drunk with some boys who are frankly not very nice people even before they drink alcohol. They are the male, college equivalent of Cordelia, looking down their noses at Xander.
“Was there a lesson in all this? What have we learnt about beer?”
This was apparently written to take advantage of some funding, by including a message about the dangers of alcohol, and ironically was rejected. Writer Tracey Forbes gives us the worst of both worlds, a compromised episode because of the message, and a compromised message because it’s trying to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She ended up doing neither of the two things she was trying to do well, mainly because those two things don’t fit together without considerably more skill than she managed to display here. Turning Buffy into a comedy drunk for a week is just really awkward, and the kind of obvious comedy that this show normally rises above, with something ten times more clever. Considering that asking actors to behave like cavemen was almost guaranteed to be really awkward and embarrassing, this one really needed a top notch script to make it worth the risk.
Things are improved a little by the fairly obvious link between the two plot strands, summed up by this statement: “men haven’t changed since the dawn of time”. Parker is only interested in one-night stands, while Buffy’s drinking buddies are pleasure-seeking bullies. All of them are punished for giving in to their basest instincts, but the B plot is the most rewarding, thanks to Willow drawing Parker into a trap, allowing him to attempt his magic on her, and then laughing at him when he thinks it has worked.
“Just how gullible do you think I am?”
And it might be much more of a straightforward and obvious way to punish Parker for the way he treated Buffy, but I have to admit that it was satisfying to watch him getting hit over the head with a stick after asking for forgiveness.
It feels like we have hit a low point, and it also feels like the time has come to move on from Buffy’s early-season blues and do something new. Let’s hope that’s the last we’ve seen of Parker, and we can move on to more interesting stories. The slow-burn oddness going on with Oz seems like a good place to go next. He’s obviously not the kind of guy to cheat, so there has to be a reason Veruca is captivating him. We’re clearly building to something between Buffy and Riley as well, although I fear he’s going to prove to be the dullest love interest for Buffy yet. One thing’s for sure, this show needs far fewer of the college dudes and more of the quirkiness that has only been an occasional feature of this fourth season. Basically we need more Xander, Anya, Spike and Giles. Eventually the writers on this show are going to have to learn an important but slightly awkward truth: Buffy is far from being the most entertaining character in her own show… even when she’s drunk. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
I don’t read the trivia on all the episodes I watch but Beer Bad was a special case, you might say. I’ve seen cavemen stories done in almost every major scifi franchise out there and it’s never easy viewing. It’s like we’re watching good actors behave like total nitwits; it’s amazing any writer or producer wants to try their hands at this genre. When Doctor Who did it for its first story, it’s amazing the series even went on from there, but thankfully they got the caveman out of the way early. Space: 1999 did one that had a good idea buried in there, but was still a tough story to watch. So, the bottom line is that I read the trivia on the Amazon Prime screen and felt this needed special acknowledgement:
While this is often called one of the worst by fans and critics, Joss Whedon has a different perspective: “It’s interesting, every single episode contains an attempt to do something real, and contains at least one or two lines that crack me up, or one or two moments that genuinely shock me. I know there are ones that are not favorites among fans. And there are definitely ones where I scratch my head and go, “You know, this seemed a great idea on paper.” But I never actually singled one out and went, “Here’s a total failure.” …. “Everyone always talks about the Frankenstein one, but I think it has some beautiful stuff in it. And I think the same thing about “Beer Bad,” where Buffy goes all cave man. A lot of people groan at that one, but I think it has some lovely stuff in it.”
Let’s deconstruct that. I can see why this would be viewed as a weak episode. It’s almost embarrassing watching these talented people act like cavemen. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t get something good out of these stories. Whedon mentions three categories: the attempt to do something real, the moments that crack the audience up, and the shock moments.
It took this Neanderthal a long time to realize it but I agree that every episode has something real to say about life. It also has a laugh out loud moment and a shock moment. I think Whedon does understand his audience very well and the more I view, the more impressed I get with this series. In reverse, I think the shocks in this one were: the stuff going on with Oz is unexpected, although I’m fairly sure that’s going to be more than just attraction. (My money is on the notion that the new singer is also a werewolf.) And there’s the Parker/Willow discussion where Willow again proves to be awesome, thwarting Parker’s attempt to seduce her. In the comedy department, Xander’s early proclamation that “nothing can defeat the penis” was hilarious because it was so unexpected and his delivery was so loud and out of sync, I almost thought it was dubbed over the scene. Also watching Cave-Buffy smack Parker over the head twice with a club was both cathartic and funny. In the “real” department, despite myself, I couldn’t help but understand Parker’s explanation of what happened between him and Buffy. I wanted to dislike him and what he said, but he’s not wrong: in life, we meet loads of people and some stay for many seasons, while others stick around for barely one. This has always been a heartbreaking thing for me as I tend to form bonds that I’d like to see last forever, but that’s not real life and his approach to finding happiness in the moment has merit, much to my disappointment.
The other real thing is the in your face statement that alcohol can be bad. So can many things, though I don’t disagree with the assessment of alcohol. I’ve seen some of the destruction alcohol can bring to a family, but I think it’s less about alcohol and more about fraternities. There’s a sense of community the guys often find with one another and when they add alcohol into the mix, things get really bad because we see them degenerate into cavemen. They have the strength of the group so they are already less inhibited, and the alcohol just unleashes that further. It’s a bad situation all around.
Gellar is hard to watch as she acts the fool. Considering her typically powerful demeanor, this is tedious in the extreme. Willow nails it of course, but I don’t like seeing her unsure with Oz, the one character that’s been a rock throughout. And even Xander gets a surprise with his time at the bar once again showing the crass attitude alcohol often releases. While the arc of this season hasn’t really kicked in, each episode has felt like it’s had more depth than this single episode. This felt, as was stated repeatedly throughout, frothy. My six-pack of paragraphs can’t mask the fact that this is one episode that didn’t taste great but it certainly was less filling. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wild at Heart