Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) looks like your typical perky high-schooler, and like most, she has her secret fears and anxieties. However, while most teens are worrying about their next date, their next zit, or their next term paper, Buffy's angsting over the next vampire she has to slay. See, Buffy, a young woman with superhuman strength, is the "chosen one," and she must help rid the world of evil, namely by staking demons. The exceptional first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduces us to the treacherous world of Sunnydale High School (where Buffy moved after torching her previous high school's gym). The characters there include "watcher" Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and the original "Scooby Gang" members--friendly geek Xander (Nicholas Brendon), computer whiz Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and snobbish popular girl Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter)--who aid Buffy in her quest.
The second season took the romance between Buffy and hunky Angel (David Boreanaz) from ecstasy to agony in a now-classic plot arc that catapulted the show from WB teen drama to true TV greatness. You see, if the cursed Angel ever experiences true happiness for a moment, he'll revert to being an evil vampire again. Buffy found its true momentum during the second season, as Xander fell in love with Cordelia, Willow gave up her crush on Xander in favor of werewolf boy Oz (Seth Green), and watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) began a sweetly tentative relationship with computer teacher (and witch) Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte). Mayhem came to Sunnydale, though, in the form of evil vampires Drusilla (Juliet Landau) and Spike (drolly wicked James Marsters), who were more than ready to aid and abet Angel as he turned bad.
The third season was marked by the arrival in Sunnydale of renegade slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku), a moody loner who seemed to like her demon-staking calling just a little too much. While Buffy was always wary of Faith, the two developed a deep friendship and appreciative rapport--that is, until the evil mayor of Sunnydale (Harry Groener) tapped into Faith's dark side and lured her into his plot to take over the world, first as a double agent spying on Buffy, then as out-and-out nemesis. And as the mayor's ascension approached--which happened to fall on Sunnydale High's graduation day--Buffy and Faith's battles got nastier and nastier, as Buffy attempted to wrestle with her dark side (literally and figuratively), save the world and her friends, and keep her lover Angel out of Faith's evil clutches. Chock-full of exceptional episodes, the third season started out with a bang (the superb season opener "Anne," in which a runaway Buffy finally returns to her Slayer calling) and never let up.
Buffy truly hit its golden years in the fourth season--just when you thought this show couldn't get any better, Joss Whedon and his creative team pulled out all the stops and took Buffy and co. into rich new territory. By far, the highlight of the season (and the entire series) was the Emmy-nominated "Hush," a nearly dialogue-free episode in which the creepy "Gentlemen" rob Sunnydale of its collective voice, and Buffy and Riley finally come face to face with each other's hidden identities. Throughout, the entire cast, headed by the unparalleled Sarah Michelle Gellar, worked television magic of the kind rarely seen on the small screen. This is Buffy at its best. --Mark Englehart