When She Was Pretty Good
Buffy S2's start is stronger than Sarah remembered.
Despite the carryovers from the first season -- all the main characters, of course, and the continued wannabe influence of the Annoying One (tm Spike) even after the gang dispenses more finally with the Master's remains -- BtVS's second season feels different almost right away. By "different," I really mean "better"; the truncated S1 isn't bad, but by comparison, it's kind of small-time, puppyishly eager to please.
S2 starts out darker. It's not a complete success, at least from this vantage point, because again, Buffy's snotty attitude when she returns from her summer vacay is both understandable and not nearly as nasty as everyone's making it out to be, really -- but we see any number of variations on this theme of "I pull boo-boo-kitty faces at my destiny," and it's not so much tiresome here as it is tiresome to contemplate all the other ones I'll have to sit through. As well, it's the customary season-premiere "let's start undoing what we did at the end of last season" furniture-moving. But whether it's because I know what's coming in a dozen episodes or not, the writing seems more serious and focused in the second season's early going.
The writing's funnier as a result, too; it's just sharper all around. Angel gets a couple of decent lines, and the touchstone references are rolling in at a good clip ("bitca"; "Mice that were smoking?"; pretty much anything Cordelia says). I thought it would take longer to get rolling, but despite the fact that it's about to hit a big old wall with "Stinka Mummy Girl," Buffy's first few S2 episodes impressed me.
Better Than I Remembered
Spike I didn't always dislike Spuffy, but by the end, it had become the Megan Draper of BtVS: it might have worked once, for a while, but the show's insistence on its interest and significance made me think less of everyone involved. WITH THAT SAID, Spike and Buffy have an immediate chemistry -- not sexual or romantic, necessary, but the meeting of two warrior minds. And Spike himself is dimensioned so quickly, this notoriously horrible demon with a punk sensibility but endless patience with his manic pixie dream vamp girlfriend.
Dru This isn't to say she's "good." She isn't. She's annoying; if she misses Prague, she's welcome to go back there and take her insufferable dollies with her. But she's not as bad as I remembered.
Jenny See above. Still off-putting at times ("dissing my country's national pastime" -- 1) shut up, 2) the national pastime is not high-school football, and 3) shut up), but I'd forgotten how quickly she just rolls up her sleeves and gets with the Scoobing, which is great. The bangs are a problem, but not her fault.
"Some Assembly Required" Individual parts of it don't do very well -- Buffy and Angel's fight (see below), the blocking (you can see the doubles' faces in almost every shot), how long it takes the gang to twig to the Bad du jour -- but taken all together, it really works. The "Monkey's Paw" idea is one the show revisits in various ways many times, and it's somewhat bungled here, but Giles's visible ensorcellment at the mere sight of Jenny is adorable, and everyone else is on their acting games. (Trivia alert: the dude who plays Eric wrote the screenplays for both Jump Street flicks and Scott Pilgrim!)
"School Hard" Spike + Anointed One getting strung up and sun-dusted = I love it already, but I'd totally forgotten what a jam-packed, fun episode it is. Fights; longing looks; Joyce wielding a fire axe; Willow snark; Snyder's evident loathing of children (and a nifty bit of business with the Sunnydale PD at the end: "The usual -- gang-related, PCP?"); sugarless lemon-"ade"; and one of my favorite leitmotifs, Xander and Angel very reluctantly working together. It's the season's coming-out party and gets even more done than I recalled. (Trivia alert #2: the girl who plays Sheila is now a documentarian, and produced that Eliot Spitzer doc I liked a lot!)
Worse Than I Remembered
Buffy/Angel jealousy spats This probably landed cuter the first time around, but no one with functioning senses could consider either Xander or Cordelia a serious player for their respective affections, and it has the effect of making Buffy seem even too-younger than she already is -- and Angel like a big weirdo for thinking that's hot.
The waistlines Realizing how long we'll have to wait before these crazy high-waisted AND TIGHT pants go out of style is bringing me down. The Cordel toe is out of hand in "When She Was Bad."
"When She Was Bad" It's okay, but Buffy's whinier than she is "bad," and that slo-mo dirty-dance sequence goes on three times longer than it needs to. There's some C-minus shit happening on the soundtrack, too. Necessary when it aired, but superfluous now.
Cordy (the offended bafflement she packs into "just skipping foundation entirely now?" is gold)
Bras (Smidge needs to holster up for these fight scenes before she gets a black eye)