Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Episodes of Buffy and Angel

Are you having trouble finding something fun to watch on Halloween that's smart enough to entertain adults and yet appropriate enough to watch with children and young teens? Many a babysitter has found themselves in this conundrum, facing a choice between annoyance at watching a child's show or possibly giving nightmares to your wards by having them watch a conventional "blood and guts" horror movie. Does someone in this scenario have to suffer on Halloween night?
Our recommendation is to cut this Gordian Knot in half and watch any or all of these special Halloween themed episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and its spinoff Angel (1999-2004), both of which are easily available to watch on DVD and Netflix Streaming. Instead of picking something either for you or for them, pick something that will entertain everyone. Make it a win-win scenario.
Unlike most other TV series, you could watch pretty much any Buffy or Angel episode and have it feel right at home on Halloween. So unlike most TV episodes cobbled together with Halloween cliches, Buffy and Angel use the holiday as a chance to do some some of their funniest and most creative writing. And given their history as network TV programs from about a decade ago, neither program contains material too gory, vulgar, or otherwise inappropriate for mature young minds to watch.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 206 "Halloween"
In season 2 episode 06, "Halloween," we get an entertaining reversal as nearly everyone in town transforms into whatever costume they happened to be wearing that night for Halloween. The normally nerdy Xander becomes a brave, well-trained army man, while the super-powered Buffy is reduced to a simpering coquette. This episode also features one of the show's best (if ultimately under-utilized) recurring villains: Ethan Rayne. And instead of everything going back to normal afterward, Xander receives a permanent "power up" to his character as he retains all his false military training memories, allowing Xander to be a more formidable member of Buffy's crew from here on out.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 404 "Fear Itself"
In season 4 episode 04, "Fear Itself," a Halloween Frat party goes awry for Buffy and Co. when one of the party decorators inadvertently draws a demon's sigil as part of their homemade haunted house. As a fear demon's power is unleashed, each character must face his or her worse fears while attempting to find a way out of the house. Aside from each character's humorous yet poignant battle against their worse fears, the episode's ending is easily one of the funniest moments of the series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 606 "All the Way"
In Season 6 episode 06, "All the Way," Anya and Xander take it to the next level and agree to marry, Willow and Tara fight about Willow's growing abuse of power and overuse of magic, Dawn tries to play at the rebellious teen but gets in trouble far deeper than she anticipated, and Buffy tries to keep it together but her growing sense of apathy and detachment begins to seriously concern Giles. The Halloween elements of this episode are not played up quite as much as in the other specials, so skipping it is understandable. But all in all, this episode provides some good laughs and engaging drama and potentially sets up an interesting trilogy of episodes.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 607 "Once More with Feeling"
Depending on your interest and the amount of viewing time you have Halloween night, you might consider stretching out that last Halloween episode into a very entertaining three-episode story arc. In the very next installment of the show after the last Halloween themed episode, we get a fan favorite with Season 6 episode 07, "Once More with Feeling," otherwise known as Buffy's musical episode. Rather than just act as a gimmick, this brilliant game-changing episode challenges the status quo of the series and forces every character to reveal the innermost parts of their hearts in song.
And to top off this excellent trilogy is Season 6 Episode 08, "Tabula Rasa," which sees everyone experience a temporary state of amnesia when one of Willow's spells goes wrong. This makes a surprisingly good bookend to the first identity-confused episode "Halloween" from Season 2. Tabula Rasa sees everyone clamoring to reestablish their identities with some hilarious assumptions that mix things up in the group beyond recognition. Be forewarned though that this mini-arc of Buffy episodes is considerably more mature and risque than the standalone Halloween episodes would be on their own, so plan accordingly if you think it might be over your wards' heads.

Angel 505 "Life of the Party"
In season 5 episode 05 of Buffy's spinoff Angel, "Life of the Party," Angel and his crew try to get accustomed to their new corporate lives at Wolfram and Hart, but the strain of fighting a system that is slowly assimilating them proves too much for Lorne who cracks under the strain of his new duties and explodes into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the company's Halloween Party. A fun episode, but potentially too spoiler-filled if the new viewer might potentially want to watch Angel from the beginning some time.

While it's true that younger children in particular might not be ready for Buffy and Angel, these shows' Halloween episodes are a pretty good compromise between say, "The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" and "Nightmare on Elm Street." You'll have to use your own discretion, though, about what each individual child could handle. And although Buffy and Angel contain complex season-long story arcs, luckily their Halloween episodes are all relatively self-contained stories that can stand well on their own.
Remember to stay safe and avoid drawing symbols in your house that you find in old books on the occult. Extra points to anyone wearing costumes based on characters from Buffy and Angel this year. You can also check out our Buffy and Angel Viewing Order Guide for more recommendations on watching both shows in (near) chronological order. Have a happy Halloween everyone!

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