The 25th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes at a difficult time for the show’s fandom. Last year, three Buffy stars—Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia Chase), Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn Summers), and Amber Benson (Tara Maclay)—spoke out about creator Joss Whedon’s behavior and the toxic environment he allegedly enabled on set.
And Whedon fanned the flames earlier this year when he defended himself in a New York Magazine interview, leading Carpenter to call out a certain “former tyrannical narcissistic boss who is still unable to be accountable and just apologize.”
But to dismiss Buffy the Vampire Slayer wholesale because of the actions of its creator would be a disservice to all the other talents who were in front of and behind the cameras of the WB-turned-UPN teen drama, one of the 2000s-era TV shows that heralded this current golden age of television.
So we’re marking Buffy’s 25th anniversary on March 10 by rounding up the episodes the cast have hailed as personal favorites—and then ranking those favorites! Here are those episodes, listed from good to great, in our humble opinion.
Season 2, Episode 11: “Ted”
Alyson Hannigan (Willow Rosenberg), to Entertainment Weekly: “John Ritter [Ted] was the best. We would all just hang out in his trailer and be like, ‘Hi, John Ritter!’ and he didn’t care. And we got to shoot at a mini-golf place.”
Our take: Ritter’s talent aside, the reveal that Joyce Summers’ (Kristine Sutherland) new boyfriend was the monster-of-the-week—a robot that a heartbroken, 1950s-era scientist created in his image—seemed a little too on-the-nose. (That said, a “nice game of Parcheesi” does sound enticing!)
Season 2, Episode 3: “School Hard”
James Marsters (Spike) to Channel 4: “I will always have a soft spot in my heart for ‘School Hard’ which is my first episode. That was an intense experience, and it was such a good one because I felt from the very first scene that it was working. That the character fit well, and it gave me a lot of room to maneuver—I was having a lot of fun exploring Spike. There is a saying in theatre that it’s called a play for a reason. The audience isn’t going to pay the actor to just walk; they are paying to watch an actor play. You’ve got to have fun, or it’s worth nothing. Even if you’re doing a really sad play, having fun is the center of it, and I was having a blast.”
Our take: This episode is a fun blend of the mythical and the mundane, as the 19th-century vampires Spike and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) enter the picture just as Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is trying to keep her mom away from Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) at Sunnydale High’s parent-teacher night. Meanwhile, we learn that the principal and town police chief know more about the town’s Hellmouth than they’re letting on.
Season 4, Episode 22: “Restless”
Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles), recalling to Vice an on-set conversation with Whedon: “I was not thrilled about my dream being the one that explained everything. I asked for the good news—that I could sing it. Initially, he said I’d have a white piano. I said, ‘What! That’s not Giles!’ And he let me be a rock star. We recorded it and then did it, and it was a quite extraordinary episode, which came about, as usual, from Joss saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’”
Our take: This unconventional season finale—a dream-filled but not dreamy coda from the climactic episode before—offered discomfiting glimpses into the Scooby Gang’s subconscious and clever hints to Dawn’s arrival in the Season 5 premiere.
Season 3, Episode 20: “The Prom”
Sarah Michelle Gellar, on Reddit: “I just love that whole story, and I thought it just encapsulated the show so well. It was beautiful and heartbreaking.”
Our take: While other supernatural shows have townsfolk just turn a blind eye to the unexplained, “The Prom” had Buffy’s classmates not only acknowledge the “weird stuff” but honor her for helping the Class of ’99 achieve “the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history.” And Buffy needed the pick-me-up, considering she had just realized the impossibility of a romance with Angel (David Boreanaz).
Season 3, Episode 16: “Doppelgangland”
Alyson Hannigan, to Entertainment Weekly: “I was in the vampire Willow outfit, and Alexis [Denisof, now Hannigan’s husband, who played Wesley Wyndam-Price] had some holy water, and he made this noise, like FFFFT! And it just cracked me up. I had such a crush on him.”
Our take: Is it wrong that we enjoyed watching Vampire Willow—an evil Willow alter-ego transplanted from an alternate universe—holding a reign of terror over Sunnydale? Sure, we were glad to have the real Willow back at the end, but we’re glad Hannigan got a chance to “vamp” it up for an episode.
Season 6, Episode 7: “Once More, with Feeling”
James Marsters, to Vice: “We decided, in the face of certain failure, guaranteed doom, we were going to go out swinging and try our best. I was proud of us. It was a huge risk. I think the only one who thought it wasn’t was Joss, because he knew he could pull it off. He actually rolled out a television on the soundstage because he needed to do a quick edit on the first scene that he shot, which was the Xander [Nicholas Brendon] and Anya [Emma Caulfield] dance. He showed that to us to allay our fears. After that, we knew it was going to be brilliant; we went from the depth of depression to the height of fun during that episode.”
Our take: TV buffs know that musical episodes are often where TV shows jump the shark, but this Buffy revue proved that the gimmick can work—thanks to its high production values, catchy music, and surprisingly emotional lyrics. (Did anyone consider that Buffy might have been happy in the afterlife?)
Season 5, Episode 16: “The Body”
James Marsters, to Channel 4: “I think Joss really proved that, with that [episode], the show didn’t need jokes, it didn’t need vampires or special effects. ‘The Body’ was just an episode about a young woman whose mother died, and I think that the show proved that it was dramatically strong.”
Sarah Michelle Gellar, on Reddit: “It was beyond difficult and heart-wrenching to shoot, and I don’t know if many people know this, but my entire first scene was all done in one take. It was 4–5 minutes of one long take.”
Our take: Joyce’s sudden death is still a gut punch—and a change that could never be reversed, even on a resurrection-happy TV show. Also, that long take is an achievement to behold, both in production and performance, with Gellar shifting from panic to shock to grief as Buffy’s world turns upside-down.
Season 4, Episode 10: “Hush”
Doug Jones (Gentleman), to Vice: “We knew we were doing something very special in series television with ‘Hush,’ because when the creator comes out of his office to direct that episode and has written that episode, that’s a big deal. The other thing was the daring step that he took to write most of that episode in complete silence with no dialogue.”
Sarah Michelle Gellar, on Reddit: “I think it’s not just the scariest episode we’ve ever done but the challenge to do a silent episode—I thought it would be easy, but it was way harder.”
Our take: The story goes that Whedon wrote “Hush” after hearing word that Buffy’s dialogue was the best part of the show. And this rejoinder, with ghoulishly grinning “Gentlemen” gliding through Sunnydale and ripping out the hearts of their muted victims, continues to be nightmare fuel more than two decades later.