Soundtrack 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling

The art of the musical has been much maligned in recent years. The spontaneous bursting into song, the gay pageantry -- the gay everything, really -- have become a tough sell, which is strange given that the past few years have given us ample evidence that the form is ripe for subversion and reinvention: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dancer in the Dark, Moulin Rouge, South Park, and this beloved episode of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which everyone starts belting out their most private thoughts in elaborate song-and-dance numbers.

As with many musicals, it helps to have been there: The songs are a lot funnier if you're familiar with the characters and can see what's going on. So this is one for the fans, but for a Buffy fan (a Buffer, if you will -- and on second thought, please don't), it's sheer bliss. Joss Whedon's songs are no great shakes musically, and some of the vocal harmonies of the usually nonsinging cast are painful, but the lyrics are awfully clever and poignant in all the right places. Among the best are the small numbers sung by passers-by: A lady getting a parking ticket sings, "Why can't you let it go?/I think I've paid more than my share/I'm just a poor girl, don't you care?/Hey, I'm not wearing underwear."

Whedon is smart enough to give musical numbers, more often than not, to cast members who can actually sing -- with the understandable exception of chirpy Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy herself. Costar Alyson Hannigan's tiny bit of singing explains why all her character Willow's nightmares seem to revolve around performance anxiety. Willow's girlfriend Tara (Amber Benson) sweetly croons her sappy love song "Under Your Spell," unaware that Willow actually did cast a spell on her. James Marsters' demand as vampire Spike to be allowed to "Rest in Peace" is a bad attempt at grunge, but the murmury opening is actually chilling, as is Anthony Stewart Head's ballad as mentor Giles. Anya (Emma Caulfield) belts out a hard-rock tangent about evil bunnies and spills all her relationship reservations in a hilarious duet with Nicholas Brendan's Xander, "I'll Never Tell." And as Buffy kills him, a demon observes that she's just "Going through the motions/Faking it somehow/She's not even half the girl she -- ow."

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