Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a supernatural teen drama that ran from 1997 to 2003. Launching impressive careers for TV veterans like Alyson Hannigan and David Boreanaz and bolstering the profiles of late 90’s superstars like Sarah Michelle Gellar, the show became a cult classic almost immediately. Most notably, the show was created by future Avengers director, Joss Whedon, who is still one of the most interesting and creative directors in the world. The season six episode, Once More With Feeling is one of the most beloved episodes in the series, telling the story of a demon coming to Buffy’s home of Sunnydale with the power to make everyone in the city burst into song, singing and dancing until they spontaneously combust. The premise is, of course, as silly as they come, but Whedon’s remarkable ability to toe the line between self-referential sarcasm and genuine heart makes this one of the best episode’s in television history.
The soundtrack begins with the very strong “Going Through the Motions,” and immediately, expectations are defied. Sarah Michelle Gellar, though she has very little experience in music of any kind, gives an excellent performance on this opener as well as climaxing number, “Something to Sing About,” near the end of the record. Her voice is simple and clean and quite emotive to boot.
However, she’s not the only cast member who showcases impressive vocal skill on this album. Amber Benson brings a soft sentimentality to Tara’s parts in “Under Your Spell,” and later in her duet with Anthony Stewart Head as Giles. Movie musical veteran Hinton Battle is brought on to pay the antagonist, a well dressed, lounge singing demon named Sweet who’s smooth baritone on “What You Feel,” is infectious. Perhaps the best performance of all is James Marsters’ work as Spike on “Rest In Peace,” which channels his gruff voice and Spike’s rock and roll personality into one of the most genuinely enjoyable moments on the soundtrack.
Even when tracks lack excellent lead vocalists, or even a vocalist at all, the campy but well performed instrumentals are extremely impressive. “Dawn’s Lament,” and “Dawn’s Ballet,” are much better when watching the episode as Michelle Trachtenberg’s ballet background makes for some captivating choreography, but the instrumentation itself allows these songs to stand on their own as well.
There are also a handful of hilarious skit songs littered throughout. Tracks like “The Mustard,” and “The Parking Ticket,” are generally used within the context of the episode to expand the world, but they don’t loose their witty qualities when the visual is lost. They’re also very well performed by talented vocalists.
When the lyrics aren’t sardonically comical, they’re genuinely heartfelt. This is one of the most interesting decisions made by the creative team as this episode is not treated as a through away. Instead, the musical format allows characters to break into emotional soliloquies which are quite important to the show’s overarching narrative. “I’ll Never Tell,” finds Xander and Anya singing very frankly about their hesitation to get married and foreshadows more issues to come, while “Standing,” performed beautifully by Anthony Stewart Head, sees Giles admitting to himself and the audience that he must eventually leave Buffy on her own and abandon her for her own good. And of course, “Coda,” closes the episode with Buffy and Spike romantically locking lips for the first time.
This is all outweighed however by the handful of ensemble pieces which are nothing short of sheer perfection. From the quirky comedy of “I’ve Got a Theory,” to the reflective drama of “Walk Through the Fire,” and of course the triumphant finish of “Where Do We Go From Here,” these tracks are this episode’s bread and butter. The show is packed with so many beloved and relatable characters and having worked together for six years by this point, their chemistry is palpable, bubbling over in every line. When fans remember this episode fondly, while most enjoy the heart and talent on display in other cuts, its these feel good ensemble pieces that steal the show.
Once More With Feeling is still celebrated to this day as an achievement in modern television, and for good reason. The episode took an astounding amount of work from every member of the cast, crew, and creative team. Writing, learning, and executing a fully fledged musical in the short time frame allotted to record an episode of network television is no easy task, but it was accomplished because every single person involved, but behind the scenes and even including the fans, loved this show just that much.
Once More With Feeling is a remarkable accomplishment, a well written musical, and an excellent dramatic episode of one of the greatest shows of all time.