Prototypical Valley girl Buffy Summers has been chosen by destiny to eliminate the world’s undead in a series that takes off from 1992 feature, also scripted by Joss Whedon. In its TV incarnation, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” plays like an uneasy cross between “The X-Files” and “Clueless,” with a slightly harder edge than the original, if less outright gore.
Two-hour pilot begins shortly after film’s conclusion, with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her mother (Kristine Sutherland) moving to suburban Sunnydale after Buffy is thrown out of her Los Angeles high school for burning down the gymnasium — nobody knows that she did it to wipe out a colony of L.A. vampires (insert your own punch line here).
She soon meets pretty near everybody who will be important (or at least recurrent): popular, snobbish Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter); dweeby but enthusiastic Xander (Nicholas Brendon); self-esteem-impaired computer whiz Willow (Alyson Hannigan); and school librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). Giles, it turns out, has just arrived in Sunnydale himself; he’d been, explains Willow, “a curator at a museum in Britain, or the British Museum.” He’s also an expert in ancient mythological creatures, including vampires, and is Buffy’s guide, or “watcher,” corresponding to Donald Sutherland’s role in the feature.
Surprised that someone is interested in such stuff, Buffy scoffs, “Come on, this is Sunnydale — how bad and evil can it be?” Plenty, as it turns out: The town’s cemetery and sewer system are connected to what one character calls “the mouth of hell.”
Other than Buffy, only her mother, originally played by Candy Clark, makes the transition from feature to small screen. So oblivious is she to her daughter’s role in ridding the world of evil, one night when Buffy is in hot pursuit of creepy-crawlies, Mom grounds her, sighing, “Everything is life or death when you’re a 16-year-old girl.”
Other major characters in the pilot include chief vampire “The Master,” played by Mark Metcalf; his right-hand man, Luke (Brian Thompson); the school principal (Ken Lerner); shy high-schooler Jesse (Eric Balfour); and a mysterious fellow who pops up unexpectedly from time to time to assist Buffy and who calls himself “Angel” (David Boreanaz). All of the young men and women — even the wallflowers and nerds — are attractive, except when some of them slip into grotesque “special makeup effects” credited to John Vulich.
Direction by Charles Martin Smith and John T. Kretchmer is OK; if story sags a bit in the second half, it’s a script problem (feature ran a trim 85 minutes). Series has potential for early-teen viewing, though a second episode viewed was far less amusing than show’s original seg.