Though it hasn’t aged quite as well as one would hope, Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse saga– consisting of seven seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and five seasons of “Angel”– still marks a turning point in serialized television, expertly juggling modern themes and a complex mythology with well-developed characters and fascinating inversions of horror tropes. The following represents my personal rankings of all twelve vastly different seasons.
#12. Buffy, Season 7
Buffy Season 7 had some great ideas but everything, from the actors to the sets to the plots, seemed kind of tired. The return of Sunnydale High and the villainy of the First Evil were tons of fun undercut by the decision to cram everybody into Buffy’s house– a symptom of Buffy’s unwillingness to disrupt their set of core characters and plot elements for more than a few episodes. Meanwhile, the somewhat repetitive redemption arc for Spike and now-annoying Xander/Anya romance dragged the season down further. The season in general felt like it would’ve been much more effective in shorter form, with less filler episodes treading water while providing stilted drama beween the Slayers. And don’t get me started on Anya’s final moments of the season.
But hey– at least Faith was cool?
#11. Buffy, Season 4
I was pretty torn on this season, because it genuinely has some great episodes going for it. This season was faced with the impossible task of continuing a series built around the concept “High School is Hell” without high school, and did an admirable enough, if uneven job trying things out.
For example, there were a lot of fun aspects of the overarching Initiative plotline (especially when Buffy tried joining up) and Riley was a decent love interest, but the show didn’t spend nearly enough time developing him. This same plotline petered out with a jarringly scifi Big Bad named Adam who didn’t even last into the Season finale… and let’s not even talk about the episodes with the magic beer and the Buffy/Faith body swap (which I know was fairly popular but I just found heavy handed).
However, “Hush” was a masterpiece. We can all agree on that. Also, Tara and Willow? Good.
#10. Angel, Season 4
Where do I even start with Angel Season 4?
There were some wonderfully complex aspects of this season, including the continued development of Fred and the wonderfully chaotic return of Angelus, but we can all agree that the season was permanently soured by the whiney nature of Connor and his disgusting relationship with his father’s love interest, Cordelia, who spends the whole season as a possessed antagonist due to Whedon’s decision to punish Charisma Carpenter for her real life pregnancy. This move was as misogynistic and sleazy as they come and irreparably damaged the character of Cordelia who had experienced so much growth throughout her last seven years in the Buffyverse.
However, the final arc was satisfying enough, and the season’s proclivity for suspenseful and unexpected twists elevates it from a lower position on this list.
#9. Buffy, Season 1
This season was simple, and formulaic, but it was a ton of fun.
Without this monster-of-the-week and character-heavy 13-episode season, the rest of the Buffyverse wouldn’t have been possible: and while the Master was easily the weakest villain in the franchise, the threat he posed to Buffy was very, very real. The gradual reveal of Angel’s intention was a welcome distraction from the admittedly fun case-by-case episodes, and the finale, despite cheating somewhat, was very satisfying.
#8. Buffy, Season 3
This season is ranked a lot higher for a lot of people, and I get it, I really do. In fact, I have no rational explanation for why this season ranks so low for me overall: it has an extremely compelling Big Bad, introduced the wonderfully complex Faith, and had such strong episodes as: “Anne”, “The Wish”, “The Zeppo”, “Amends”, “Doppelgangland”, “The Prom”, and “Graduation”… I could go on. Maybe the Xander/Willow romance got on my nerves, or the fact that there were so many not good, not bad, but average episodes swayed me; Or maybe its the fact that for whatever reason I got bored in the middle of this season and stopped watching for over a year. I wish I could explain this, but as it is with opinions, sometimes they just are.
#7. Buffy, Season 6
Yes, this season was unncessarily angsty and lacked the sense of fun which defined previous seasons, and sure, the treatment of Tara and Anya this season were appalling, and, y’know, “Doublemeat Palace” (need I say more)? It’s not surprise this season ranks so low for so many fans.
However, the choices of villains (both the disgusting Trio and the sympathetic Dark Willow”) raised the stakes for this season immensely, and of course, “Once More, With Feeling” alone raises this season several slots for me.
#6. Angel, Season 2
Angel Season 2 was a strong character affair, developing the Angel Investigations team very well while introducing the one-in-a-million Fred, but while the overarching plot was solid and provided genuine menace without being too dour, Angel’s whiny behavior and the lack of individually strong episodes (besides the final episodes in Pylea) kept the season from reaching its full potential. It’s for this reason that I don’t have a ton to say about Angel Season 2, except that for all its flaws it was a ton of fun to watch.
#5. Angel, Season 3
Speaking of unnecessarily dour…
Angel Season 3 exists in a similar vein to its preceding season; though it is slightly weaker in terms of tone and much stronger in terms of individual episodes. “Dad” and “Birthday”, along with the ever-stronger threads of Cordelia’s development and Fred’s integration into the team were high points; while the unpleasantly dark turn in Wesley and Angel’s relationship plus the dour and frustrating final episodes prevent it from being significantly better than Season 2.
#4. Angel, Season 1
Angel Season 1 was a surprisingly strong debut considering that so much of the Buffyverse’s appeal was built on enduring character arcs; but then again, maybe not, because the lack of a strong, cohesive serial plotline allowed the series to experiment with genres and characters more creatively and give us strong one-offs like “Rm w/a Vu”, “I Will Remember You”, “Hero”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, and “Sanctuary”.
The small, intimate nature of the cast (and the more restrained settings of LA and Angel Investigations) made Angel and Cordelia more enjoyable and allowed the brief run of Glenn Doyle to carry more weight. If all of Angel had been like this season, it might have gotten dry quickly, but the series’ capacity to reinvent itself consistently made this season a welcome start to the spinoff.
#3. Buffy, Season 2
It is my opinion that no other season of Buffy balanced the high school drama, dark themes, and compelling mythology as well as Season 2. Despite some of the Monster-of-the-Week’s characteristic off-episodes (“Inca Mummy Girl”, “Reptile Boy”, “Ted”, and “Go Fish”), the villainy of Spike, Drusilla, and Angelus is untouched in its gothic giddiness, and the Xander/Cordelia romance, Willow’s beginnings with magic, and the Jenny/Giles connection made the series feel fresh.
Like Season 1, Buffy Season 2 was somewhat simplistic, but in this case that simplicity played to its advantage. And the moments when Angel and Buffy face each other in “Innocence” and “Becoming”? Unforgettable.
#2. Buffy, Season 5
I know people found Dawn tedious, and to a degree, she was, but if you thought she was any more annoying than Xander or Spike, you’re tripping.
Indeed, the clever nature of Dawn’s existence and the unique threat of Glory (you can be feminine and badass! What a thought!) drove a compelling season aided by the new “Magic Box” shop set (a moody and delightful location which did wonders to enhance Anya’s character), and capped with the showstopping 100th Episode “The Gift”. Almost every character really came into their own this season, which was just the right mix of fun and drama.
Also, “The Body”. Incredibly powerful stuff.
#1. Angel, Season 5
Nothing exemplified the evolving, risk-taking nature of Angel more than its fifth season, which saw the team move in with their mortal enemies, recruit two more Buffy alumni, and touch back on threads dating back to the very first season! Cordelia got a proper farewell, the showstopping Illyria debuted, tragically ending one phase of the show while reinvigorating the next, and Angel turned into a gosh-darn muppet!
Even the cliffhanger of this show was satisfying in its own way, and I’m so happy that this imaginative, fun season was the one to close out the Buffyverse.