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March 05 2017

The top ten underrated Buffy episodes. As a Yahoo! writer puts it "here's to the unsung greats, the ones people don't tend to talk about".

Many of these aren't underrated by me, at least. "The Initiative" is an amazing episode. But not enough "The Pack" or "Restless."
I probably wouldn't choose those episodes, apart from maybe Who Are You? - which is well regarded, but probably not as much as it should be, as it relatively rarely mentioned in the Best Buffy episodes lists. Restless, I think, is regarded as one of the best (rightfully so), but maybe it's slightly underrated as it somehow gets mentioned less often than Hush, The Body or OMWF in terms of great experimental episodes?

My list of most underrated episodes would probably include (in chronological order): Out of Sight, Out of Mind, When She Was Bad, Lie to Me, Anne, Beauty and the Beasts, Consequences, Forever (it follows The Body so it gets overshadowed, but it's still pretty great) and several season 6 episodes - Dead Things, Seeing Red (controversial and people hated it for the things that happen, but amazingly written and acted throughout and really emotional and intense), Villains, Grave. A few other season 1 episodes could also be included (Nightmares, The Pack - maybe even Prophecy Girl, it's an excellent season finale, minus the over-easy way the Master was finally defeated). Possibly add I Only Have Eyes for You, Restless and Who Are You? because they're definitely in my top 10 favorite episodes, but don't always appear on these lists.

On the other hand, most overrated episodes are IMO are Halloween, Band Candy, Surprise, The Prom, and especially Chosen. Normal Again is slightly overrated - it's an excellent episode, but no better than a few other excellent season 6 dramatic episodes, and it gets a lot of praise because of the "is it all in her head" concept, which is not that original, and the 'twist' doesn't work (it's clear it can't all be in her head).
The two I always considered underrated are "I Was Made to Love You" and "Normal Again". The former is classic sci fi tragedy, well executed (well except for one SFX shot), and also overshadowed by The Body. The latter is ignored because it can't be real unless the rest of the show is fake, and I've found a dearth of people willing to deal with it on its own terms.
@jclemens: I don't understand what you mean by that. What happens in Normal Again is that Buffy is made to believe that her world is in her head etc. There is no additional explanation needed.

The idea that her world is really just on her head is not something people "don't want to deal with" - it's simply obviously implausible and easy to disprove, since BtVS has never been a from Buffy's POV and has always featured a lot of scenes between other characters that she wouldn't know about, and sometimes wouldn't even be able to guess or imagine. Plus, you know, that entire other show, Angel... definitely not in her head.

If anything, like I said, Normal Again is overrated because people emphasize the whole "is it in her head" thing as if it adds some great ambiguity to the show, when it really does not. (Plus, it's not that original - Deep Space Nine had done it in a very similar way.)
I've occassionaly written in Whedonesque threads about 'Normal Again' being one of the very, very few Buffy episodes I dislike. After investing in the show for 116 episodes already, the whole suggestion that everything is imagined really doesn't sit well with me - in fact I feel insulted by it. What does the episode want to tell me? Do I really need to re-examine how I am taking the show's supernatural aspects for granted, or should I become convinced of the alternate reality, dismiss the series as a lunatic's fantasy and stop watching?
But someone (I forgot who) once responded to a critical post of mine about the episode, that they thought that the key of the episode is that it doesn't matter what is real or not, but what matters is Buffy choosing for her friends. I like that approach better than the 'novelty ambiguity' (which indeed isn't all that novel).

For me, 'Normal Again' doesn't necessarily belong on a list of over- or underrated episodes, it is maybe more a love-it-or-hate-it episode. It's not that people don't talk about it. I've seen it discussed several times, I've seen people sharing my dislike and I've seen people list it as one of their favourite episodes.
(As a positive note I always feel the need to mention that at least the acting in Normal Again is excellent, SMG does a tremendous job in it.)

'Beer Bad' and 'Doublemeat Palace' are other episodes which seem to be love-it-or-hate-it, although they both only tend to show up in lists of worst Buffy episodes. In those cases, I can't even understand what is supposed to be so bad about those episodes (I find them very enjoyable), and I would actually call them underrated, just not in the sense that people don't talk about them.

In recent years I've often seen negative comments on (the most of) Season 7 altogether, which I personally think is full of amazing episodes. Maybe one I'd call an 'unsung great' would be 'Potential': overall it comes across like an earlier season Buffy with a new group of young students, which to me works as a nice revisit of that atmosphere; then at the end the episode always hits me with Xander's words to Dawn - it's such a strong, heartwarming scene and one of my favourite moments in the entire series.
I like a lot of stuff in season 7 (arcs, character development, scenes etc.), but I don't think it has that many episodes that are really strong and satisfying overall. Most of them fall in the in-between category of being good or OK but they lack something to be great, and Chosen has some brilliant moments but also a whole bunch of flaws. The only episodes I'd put on my list of great episodes are Conversations with Dead People (one of my all-time Buffy favorites) and Selfless.

With Normal Again, my attitude is that I neither love nor hate the "is it all in her head?" concept, I just think it's been overblown and that it's really not that big of a deal.

[ edited by TimeTravellingBunny on 2017-03-06 17:40 ]
Normal Again would make my list of underrated, or perhaps Love-It-or-Hate-It (can I just like it a lot instead of loving it?). Like so many other episodes (and the series in general), it's a clever and extended riff on cliches and tropes of TV: this time, the "it's all in her head" gimmick, possibly invented by the showrunners on Dallas (Bobby in the shower) and reprised by St. Elsewhere (if I recall correctly, the entire show was depicted as the interior world of an autistic child ... or something like that).

What works about it is that it invokes that queasy, disorienting feeling you get when suddenly everything you thought you understood and knew about something turns out to be, perhaps, completely wrong. This has happened to me a couple of times in my life. A body of received truths suddenly falls apart, and you've landed in Bizarro World (hmmm ... maybe Superman was the first to try this?). What do you do? Do you accept the painful, ugly truth or return to the (false) comforts of the myth? The neat irony of Buffy's choice in Normal Again is that because she loves her friends so much, she's willing to choose the myth (which is actually true) over the ugly truth (which is actually false!). Good stuff!
Beer Bad! Hahaha. I am literally the only person who loves that one. (Btw hi guys - sorry I've been lurking the past couple of years!)
Mort: Sorry to bust yer bubble, but I'm another fan of "Beer Bad". Including Buffy's clocking what's-his-face over the head at the end. :-D
Hey, I mentioned Beer Bad in a positive context! The last time I went through the series, I did so over the course of several years together with one of my best friends who had never seen the show before. When we got to Beer Bad, I said before we started that it is often said to be one of the worst episodes, if not the worst, but I thought it was alright myself. We then found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the episode and tried to understand its unpopularity afterwards - we didn't get it. It's great fun. (We later had the exact same thing with Doublemeat Palace.)
I've never understood why Doublemeat Palace is so unpopular. I also think Beer Bad is fine until the last ten minutes. To me Hush is the most overrated episode, and Restless the most underrated.

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