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Paley Festival: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Reunites Once More with Feeling

If you attended the massively hyped Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunion event last night at the Arclight (courtesy of the 25th anniversary installment of the Paley Festival) and didn't leave humming Joss Whedon's tunes from the musical episode "Once More With Feeling," there's something dead inside you.

The mood was positively euphoric as the cast and crew of seminal television series Buffy reunited for the first time in four years (has it really been that long since the Scoobies last saved the world?) and waxed nostalgic about the aforementioned musical episode (which was screened in its entirety before the panel), that silent-film inspired episode ("Hush"), and recalling the difficult, funny, and memorable moments that go into making a television series as powerful and oft overlooked as this one.

So who was there? Joss Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, Emma Caulfield (attired in a sexy outfit dubbed "a 40s gumshoe" by Whedon), Michelle Trachtenberg (looking as sleek and sophisticated as her soon-to-be costars on Gossip Girl), Martin Noxon, Charisma Carpenter, Seth Green, Amber Benson, and David Greenwalt. Whew.

No sign of Alyson Hannigan in the end (sadly) and her absence wasn't noted by moderator Matt Roush (of TV Guide) for some reason. And while I was hoping that David Boreanaz would turn up in some form or another (video greeting perhaps?), the former Angel star was noticeably missing as well, though Green recounted how Boreanaz would leave him a surprise in his trailer every single morning.

All eyes were on the cast as they recounted some of their experiences making Buffy. Me, I was wondering about certain rumors about tensions between Gellar and Whedon (and, hell, Noxon) that allegedly came out during the filming of the controversial Season Six, the series' bleakest chapter... and about which audience member would be the first to ask Benson why she didn't return for Season Seven following a much buzzed-about contract negotiation. (Answer: she avoided the question and, after joking about being at Marlon Brando's bedside during his death, gave a non-committal answer about "availability.")

What did we learn? Don't hold your breath for a film/television reunion of these characters or Buffy: Season Eight in anything other than comic-book form (though still a damn good yarn on its own). "So many stars would have to align," said Whedon. "But there's a reason I worked with these people for so long. Clearly from the comic, it's a story that I can't let go. I think it would be cool."

Surprisingly, there was no further mention of the in-development Ripper spin-off project that Whedon announced at San Diego Comic-Con, but that project may have hit the skids in the wake of the writer's strike. Whedon did hint that he often mulled over taking Buffy to Broadway as a musical though he'd sooner start from scratch than use the musical episode as a basis.

Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon often referred to Gellar as "Jimmy Stewart, the greatest American in pain in the history of film." Gellar admitted she never knew that.

Emma Caulfield lerves Battlestar Galactica. (So too does Green, who didn't chime in.)

Whedon told Carpenter that if Angel didn't work out, she would always have a net at Buffy.

We also learned that the cast clearly isn't picking up Whedon's Buffy: Season Eight comic-book (other than the hilarious Green, whose gleeful wit was one of the evening's highlights). Gellar only learned of the recent comic-book twist that Buffy, er, getting friendly with female slayer Satsu. ("A totally hot, totally steamy scenario," said Green.) Whedon said of his decision to give Buffy a same-sex encounter wasn't a life-changing event for the slayer. "It's not like Willow," he said. "Just somebody who's young with somebody who they really like a lot and they have a lot of time on their hands." Garnering some chuckles from the audience, Whedon shot back, "Oh, like anybody didn't go to college!"

Speaking of the comic-book, look for Green's Oz to definitely make an appearance in the Season Eight comic. As for why the lycanthropic Oz never made a return to the television series itself, I'm still not sure what happened.

And we learned what the WB's initial reaction was to the Willow/Tara romance. Whedon received a call from the network advising him that the WB had already "got a lot of gays here." Whedon then threatened to pack up his office when the network questioned the need for the kiss between the two Wiccan lovers (the only time he did so during the series' seven-year run) until they relented. And still, there was no advertiser backlash whatsoever about Willow's lesbianism, though the episode in which Buffy worked in a fast food restaurant ("Doublemeat Palace") caused one advertiser to drop out.

As much as I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'll be honest: it's been a little while since I went back and cracked open my DVDs and watched the entire series from start to finish so to see "Once More with Feeling" on the big screen at the Cinerama Dome was an emotional, nostalgic experience for me and brought back all sorts of memories. Seeing Buffy and Co. engage in their truth-baring songs (and in Trachtenberg's case truth-baring, er, dance number) was a magical thing, even after all this time. (And, yes, I still remembered all of the lyrics to Whedon's addictive songs.)

So was "Once More with Feeling" the most difficult episode to make for Whedon? "I'm going to go with fun," said Whedon. "It wasn't the hardest. It wasn't really harder than "Hush" Because every day there was music." For some, this wasn't exactly the case. Marsters described it as "total terror," despite him and Tony Head (also sadly not in sight) having experience as recording artists. Trachtenberg came down with "psychosomatic laryngitis" when she learned that she was going to be required to sing. Gellar joked that she wished Buffy would be turned into a rat again so she could sit the musical episode out.

Still, it paled in comparison to the emotional depths the actors had to reach while filming the series' most gripping installment, "The Body," where Buffy discovers the body of her mother, who didn't die from a mystical ailment or vampire attack but by something more mundane and therefore horrific: natural causes. "It was tough," said Gellar. "I had a little bit more knowledge of what was coming than Michelle [Trachtenberg] did and I think in your head you get kind of prepared, you say good-bye to Christine [Sutherland], you know it's coming. But you have to understand that both Michelle and I come from families of single, strong mothers where.... our mothers are everything. So you try to separate it as best you can. At the same time, it adds that extra layer."

Gellar recounted filming the harrowing first act of "The Body," which Whedon had devised as a single, long shot as Buffy and her friends learn of Joyce's death. The result is a somber, emotional scene that took nearly a day to shoot (and, according to Gellar, broke the body of their Steadicam operator). "It was so amazing to be a part of something that was constantly breaking the rules," said Gellar about her experience. "We were constantly doing things that had never been done and we're constantly challenging both the audeince and ourselves."

So what is the Buffy gang up to these days?
  • Joss Whedon: Just wrapped his short musical film, Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day. (And look for Noxon to turn up there as well.) And, oh, something about a return to television with the series Dollhouse.
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar: Just returned from Africa where she did charity work for CARE and is prepping a new film, Veronika Decides to Die.
  • Nicholas Brendon: Currently recurring on CBS drama Criminal Minds.
  • Emma Caulfield: Also just returned from Africa (for a different charity) and has two films releasing this year. She also got married.
  • James Marsters: Just wrapped the feature adaptation of Dragonball and is working on a number of television projects including Torchwood, Without a Trace, and Smallville.
  • Michelle Trachtenberg: Wrapped film 17 Again opposite Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, and Leslie Mann and Kids in America (where she plays a crazy Goth chick) with Topher Grace. She's about to start a multiple-episode arc on Gossip Girl.
  • Marti Noxon: Hard at work on Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice, which returns this fall on ABC.
  • Seth Green & Charisma Carpenter: Releasing a series of fitness videos that incorporate tae bo and cardio strip. (Kidding!) Charisma looks fabulous after having a kid and Green is hard at work on the latest season of Robot Chicken.
  • Amber Benson: Recently sold a series of fantasy chick lit novels to Penguin.
  • David Greenwalt: After a series of "well-timed mental breakdowns," has left the business would return if Whedon called him back for a project.
All in all, a truly magical evening that brought back all sorts of memories of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how much of a cultural influence this little series that could ended up being. It was truly a wonderful sight to behold the cast gathered together on stage again and it was clear that, despite the passage of time, that these people truly loved and appreciated not only the work they did but the time they spent together.

Just the right note of kumbaya-yas, as Spike might say.

Comments

The CineManiac said…
I had a blast, it was hilarious and it's been years since I've seen OMWF and seeing it on the big screen was amazing, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't sing along some of the time.
I also hadn't seen the musical episode (or any Buffy ep, if I'm honest) in a long time and I actually got a little choked up. It was a very nostalgic evening and there was something so comforting about seeing Buffy and her friends back together again.

Sarah Michelle was a delight, Seth Green was hysterical, and Michelle Trachtenberg is whiny, little Dawnie no more. She looked stunning and was very articulate and poised for her age. I'm excited to see her on Gossip Girl!

I would definitely like to see Sarah Michelle in more things as well. As Joss and the other writers attested to, she is a skilled actress and people do not give her enough credit.

And I can't wait to see Joss' short film!
Anonymous said…
Great seeing the cast but thought the moderator was horrible. He cut off the cast during answers and didn't allow some of them to answer questions that they wanted to and was annoyed that fans weren't asking questions he wanted to ask.
Anonymous said…
It was a lot of fun. At first, I wasn't thrilled that they were showing OMWF, as I'd just watched it at my sister-in-law's Halloween sing-a-long party, and wanted to see something I hadn't seen in a long time (Like Hush or The Body), even though I'd predicted that would be the screened ep. But once those first few moments appeared, I was thrilled to be seeing it on the big screen, with an audience. And I still sang a little. I couldn't help myself.

My favorite part of the panel: SMG. I was pleasantly suprprised to see her be so chatty, grateful and seemingly happy to be there.

My least favorite: NB - he seemed to be trying way too hard to be funny all the way through, and trying to match Seth's more natural wit. He just kinda bugged.

Thanks for getting me popcorn!
Anonymous said…
Great recap! Thank you from a person who couldn't get a ticket.

As for the reason Seth didn't make another appearance in the show; I went to a Q&A featuring Seth and he detailed the fall out he had with Joss which resulted in his leaving the show (Joss wouldn't allow Seth time off to do a film, lawyers got involved) IIRC, they didn't truly patch things up until the show ended.
Anonymous said…
Everyone was great except Brendon, who was a total disaster.
The CineManiac said…
I actually thought Nicky was funny, maybe it's just my love of Xander, but I just didn't think he was as annoying as everyone else.
4 Sport Group said…
was there any talk of taking OMWF to the stage? it would even get me to my first West End/ Broadway musical
Tom Plumbing said…
I heard that they were going to bring once more with feeling to the stage which I would love to see. Is there any more news on this?

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