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(Review) BtVS 1.00 Unaired Pilot

16th January 2008 (22:28)
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Since I recently posted a transcript of the Buffy Pilot Episode, I thought it would be interesting to do a mini-review of the episode, comparing it to the version of 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' that actually aired. And yes, this means I'm making a Buffy meta post that isn't about Season 8 - in fact, it's as far from season 8 as it's possible to get without straying into movie territory. :-)


THE PLOT

The first thing to notice is that the overall outline is the same. We get a teaser showing us that vampires are real in this world. Then the show introduces us to Buffy's first day at her new school. She meets the Principal, and then encounters Cordelia, Xander, Willow and Giles. She's freaked out by Giles talking about vampires and refuses to listen... until the boy Darla killed in the teaser is found in the women's locker room. She then confronts Giles again and we get some exposition on what a Slayer is... but Buffy is still unwilling to cooperate. That night she goes to the Bronze, but discovers that Willow has gone off alone with someone that she deduces, from his lack of fashion sense, is a vampire. With an innocent in danger, Buffy forgets her reluctance to be the Slayer and rushes off to rescue Willow.

So far, so similar. The biggest difference in the pilot is probably that 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' was extended into a double episode, so it ends in a cliffhanger as Buffy confronts the Master's minions for the first time. In the pilot, the climax of the episode is Buffy successfully rescuing Willow and dusting the vampires: there's a happy ending and most of the loose ends are tied up. Significantly, the Master doesn't appear in the pilot at all; he's not even mentioned, and so the enemy in this episode becomes simply a random vamp attack: a monster of the week. I'm guessing that the reason for this was partly to avoid the expense of building a separate set for the Master's cave and hiring lots of extra actors, which would be uneconomical for a pilot episode. Perhaps also, throwing in foreshadowing and future arc elements with no pay-off in the actual pilot might only confuse the studio executives who would need to approve it.

LOCATIONS

Sunnydale High School is called Berryman High School in the pilot, but it's recognisably the same building. The library looks different, though: with a very high raised balcony instead of the short flight of stairs up to a raised area. Buffy's stunt dive over the balcony is one of the bits in the pilot I wish had been kept in the actual episode: the replacement, her standing jump over the school fence in 'The Harvest', isn't nearly as impressive.

Apart from the school, the only other location in the pilot is the exterior of the Bronze - which, I understand, was actually the exterior of the Mutant Enemy studio! Presumably this was a money issue: once they had a contract they could afford extra locations - not only the Master's cave as I've mentioned above, but also Buffy's house, an alleyway and the inside of the Bronze.

CAST

The major Season 1 regular characters are all in the pilot - Buffy, Giles, Xander, Willow and Cordelia. (Although the actress playing Willow, Riff Regan, would be replaced before the start of the actual show.) However, there are notable absences among the second rankers: no Joyce, no Angel (remember, he wasn't a series regular in the first few episodes), no Master... and no Jesse. Harmony is in the pilot - although not referred to by name - which makes Mercedes McNab the only person to appear in both the pilot of 'Buffy' and the series finale of 'Angel'. Danny Strong also makes a cameo, although it would be a long time before the name 'Jonathan' was given to his character. And most amusingly of all, Darla appears - and gets killed in the last act, meaning that technically we have seen her die not four but five times on screen. Although admittely this one isn't canon. :-)

I think there were some noticeable differences in the way the characters were played in the pilot compared to the actual episode:

Buffy
Seems a little bit more childish, what with the bubblegum and general perkiness, and her reaction to being the Slayer is more teenage-sullen than tragic destiny. However, she's still recognisably Buffy all through the episode.

Xander
Also fairly similar. However, the very amusing scene in the pilot where he's introducing Buffy to the various groups in the school - which was dropped from the broadcast episode - does show him in a different light. He seems more integrated into school life; exchanging banter with the surfer dudes, clearly knowing how the different groups interact. Xander in the actual Season 1 is shown as rather more of a misfit and outsider than the way he comes across here.

Willow
The most obvious difference, of course, is that she's played by a different actress. This Willow doesn't have the quirkiness that Alyson Hannigan would bring to the character: Riff Regan plays her as more straightforward: nice, sensible, helpful and friendly, a little dull. In short, the female Riley. While Willow in the pilot is just as inexperienced with the opposite sex as 'WttH' Willow, the impression we're given is that this is because she's too plain and unattractive to boys, not because she's too insecure to talk to them and prefers girls anyway.

BXW dynamics
There's a definite sense of mutual sparkage between Buffy and Xander in the pilot, rather than the purely one-sided attraction that we'd see on the show. Buffy smiles at Xander frequently, and always seems very pleased to see him, and hangs out with him a lot. On the other hand, there's no real suggestion of any relationship other than friendship between him and Willow; no 'he stole my Barbie' speech.

Cordelia
Is much the same, or perhaps a little bit nastier. One interesting change to the dynamic is that in 'WttH', Buffy seemed to find Cordelia's cruelty to Willow offputting, and sought out Willow afterwards herself, perhaps as a grand gesture or a way to make amends. In the pilot it's Willow who approaches Buffy first and offers to help her get caught up with the work, and tells her more about the school: Buffy clearly appreciates this and responds to Willow in a friendly way. 

What with this and the more obvious sexual attraction between Buffy and Xander in the pilot, it felt much more natural for the three of them to get together as friends. In the actual first episode it came across as a little bit forced. After all, Buffy used to hang out with people like Cordelia at her old school, and if she's trying to forget about being the Slayer and start her life anew, you'd expect her to want to do that here as well. Not deliberately annoy Cordy by hanging out with someone she's pointed out to Buffy as a loser. Unless it's a power struggle thing; Buffy wouldn't want to be just a Cordette, and Cordelia would rather die than become a Buffette, so maybe they were doomed to be enemies...
 
Giles
Seems rather more meek and mild and eager to please than he would do on the show; it's probably a good thing they gave him more of an edge.

And some notes on a few characters who didn't appear:

Joyce
Just as there are no scenes in Buffy's house in the pilot, her mother never appears either. I'm guessing this was a budget issue to leave her out of this episode rather than that they hadn't thought of the character yet - since it would be hard to have an ongoing show about a 16-year old if her parents were never seen or heard of.

Angel
My guess is that he doesn't appear because of the need to keep things simple; a mysterious stranger offering cryptic advice is a long-term plot element, not something for the pilot.

Jesse
The character who, everybody loves to point out, was supposed to be Xander's best friend but then was never mentioned again after the second episode of the show. Well, he wasn't in the pilot either. Poor guy; added to the show at the last minute only to get killed off again.


TRIVIA

It was interesting to see Dingoes Ate My Baby as the name of the band playing at the Bronze. Xander mentions that they don't know any chords: by Season 3 they would have learned three. :-)

The Housers, Panga Inbreeds, Drama Club, Film Club and Dirty Girls would never appear on the show. Which is a pity; that was a fun little scene.

Willow gets to kill a vampire - not just any vampire either, but Darla herself - right in the pilot episode. How long would it be until she did that again?

Comments

Posted by: Trixen (trixiefirecra )
Posted at: 6th July 2008 16:45 (UTC)
buffy // this is how a heart breaks

Interesting! I've only seen bits of the pilot. I love how you examined the different relationships between the characters. I noticed the sexual attraction between Buffy and Xander as well, and am glad they took that out, to be honest.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 6th July 2008 19:57 (UTC)

Thanks!

I think a relationship between Buffy and Xander would have been too strightforward and simple, really - which is fine for a one-off pilot (or for the movie, if you assume Xander = Pike), but not for an ongoing series.

Besides, if B/X had happened Xander would have been dead or evil by the end of the season, so he had a lucky escape...

Posted by: librarian2003 (librarian2003 )
Posted at: 6th July 2008 22:17 (UTC)

I've never seen the pilot, so this was very interesting. Thanks for posting it.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 12:56 (UTC)

Thanks! (If you're interested, you should be able to download it from the Buffyworld site I linked to in the introduction - or there's my transcript).

Posted by: librarian2003 (librarian2003 )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 23:49 (UTC)

I've got your transcript now, thanks! Still on dial-up, so I shall have to wait a little while to follow your link for the download - but thanks. I'll remember it.

Posted by: your royal pie-ness (entrenous88 )
Posted at: 6th July 2008 22:33 (UTC)

Oh, this was fun to read. I remember hearing that Dingoes Ate My Baby were mentioned in the pilot -- something about big amps -- but I loved this:

Xander mentions that they don't know any chords: by Season 3 they would have learned three. :-)

Hee!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 12:57 (UTC)

They obviously learned one chord in Season 1, one in S2 and one in S3. If Oz hadn't left, by S7 they might even have been up to fruity jazz band standards...

Thanks!

Posted by: Denita (menomegirl )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 02:48 (UTC)

It's been a long time since I saw the origonal pilot. I agree that Buffy's stunt dive was better in this version. I always wished they'd left the part where Xander explains the various cliches in the school to Buffy:it put an entirely different light on his character. I assume they dropped it because every school is pretty much like another:Buffy would've known all that.

Very astute observations about both Darla and Mercedes McNab; I hadn't thought of that myself.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 13:00 (UTC)

Another thought on all the cliques might have been that viewers might have expected all those people to appear in future episodes as well, and that would have been too expensive (all those actors' salaries) and taken attention away from the core group. Plus maybe they actually wanted Xander to seem more of a misfit and outsider?

Thanks!

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1 )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 05:28 (UTC)

Ooh. This is interesting. I saw the pilot a while ago, but I hadn't noticed most of this stuff.

in fact, it's as far from season 8 as it's possible to get without straying into movie territory

So... are you ever going to write movie meta? Cos that would be cool...

Buffy's stunt dive over the balcony is one of the bits in the pilot I wish had been kept in the actual episode

Hmm. I loved that stunt, but I'm glad they didn't keep it in. It would have felt very out of place in the middle of that scene.

that technically we have seen her die not four but five times on screen

Just to be picky...
I'd say we've now seen her die SIX times:
-the pilot
-the episode Angel (being dusted by Angel)
-flashback in Darla, sired by the Master
-sired by Drusilla in The Trial
-the self-dusting in Offspring
and finally...
-getting her throat cut by Connor in Inside Out. It's not her, of course, but the person we SEE getting killed is indeed Darla...


Your description of Riff Regan's Willow was spot on, and helped me figure out why I didn't really like her.

it felt much more natural for the three of them to get together as friends

I... think I'm going to disagree with you on this one.
I'd say that Buffy is kind of doing what Cordelia describes in season 1 of Angel: making up for having made people's lives a misery in high school "just because I could" (can't remember the exact quote, but it's from Rm w/a Vw). I think Buffy recognises a lot of herself in Cordelia, and she wants to make up for how she used to act - so she makes an effort to be nice to Willow deliberately because she wouldn't have at Hemery.

Well, he wasn't in the pilot either.

I went to a Q&A session with Danny Strong a couple of years ago, and he said that the part of Jesse was originally written for him (until he auditioned really badly). Maybe they saw him in the pilot, didn't want to keep that character around, but really wanted to keep the actor?


This was really interesting! Nicely done!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 7th July 2008 13:13 (UTC)

So... are you ever going to write movie meta? Cos that would be cool...

Coincidentally enough, I recently wrote out a transcript of the comicbook adoptation, and started annotating and commenting on it. So watch this space...

Hmm. I loved that stunt, but I'm glad they didn't keep it in. It would have felt very out of place in the middle of that scene.

My main problem is that without it, we don't actually see anything in the entire episode to say that Buffy has superpowers, as opposed to just being trained in fighting...

[quote]I think Buffy recognises a lot of herself in Cordelia, and she wants to make up for how she used to act - so she makes an effort to be nice to Willow deliberately because she wouldn't have at Hemery.[/quote]

I agree with that to a point - there's also possibly the fact that Buffy still feel some guilt over Cassandra's death, and is drawn to Willow in an unconscious attempt to offer recompense. (If that reference doesn't make sense to you, you'll probably be interested in my meta on the movie once it's done. ;-) ).

But in WttH Buffy seemed to be deliberately choosing to be Willow's friend instead of Cordelia's, as a conscious choice; whereas in the pilot is was more that she met Willow, liked her and wanted to be her friend, and then refused to dump her in order to keep in with Cordelia's clique. It's more a difference in timing and emphasis, and the broadcast version seems to me to be a little bit too calculated to really fit Buffy's personality.

Thanks for the discussion!

Posted by: mikeda (mikeda )
Posted at: 1st March 2009 21:38 (UTC)

One little note is that in the pilot when Willow talks about Giles you can hear that she has a crush on him.

In the broadcast version it doesn't come across that way.

(Of course we do learn in Season 4 that Willow did indeed have a crush on Giles. Although it's probably better that it doesn't come across so obviously in a casual conversation with someone she's just met.)

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