It's inevitable. When a television show gains a certain level of popularity,
the product merchandising begins. For a genre show like Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, it often starts with companion books and novels. And while companion
books promise the fans many things, they seldom actually provide much more than
a lot of shiny pages full of press kit photos. Nice to look at but without any
real style or substance.
The Watcher's Guide is the ultimate in television companion books, and
it's a notable exception to norm. Written by veteran genre (and Buffy
novelization) authors Christopher Golden (X-Men: Codename Wolverine)
and Nancy Holder (Dead in the Water) along with Keith R.A. DeCandido
(Farscape: House of Cards), The Watcher's Guide is packed with
enough information to keep you reading for hours. It starts right off by giving
the reader a thorough grounding in Buffy lore largely through the use
of excerpted conversations and episode quotes. From Watchers and Slayers to
a guide to Sunnydale to individual character guides, this compilation of background
information reveals a complex underlying mythology which even the most loyal
fans may not have fully picked up on while viewing the episodes in question.
By far the best part of this book is the episode guide, which covers all episodes
from the pilot through to the end of Season Two. It is a veritable treasure
trove of information, including the best quotes, pop culture references, notes
on continuity from previous episodes, as well as dialogue from the original
scripts which didn't make it into the finished episodes. Sprinkled throughout
are little side boxes which contain funny odd bits of trivia ranging from the
boring (The pine trees outside Buffy's bedroom window are deodara pines.) to
the very interesting (Buffy spent time as a rat during "Bewitched, Bothered,
and Bewildered" in order to free up Sara Michelle Gellar to spend a week
in New York City to host Saturday Night Live). Thankfully, the very interesting
trivia way outnumbers the dull, and these little bits really help to give you
a glimpse behind the scenes on the Buffy set.
The latter half of the Guide is an in-depth look at love and monsters
Buffy-style. "The Monster Guide" has quotes and information on all
the monsters, demons, and baddies which have appeared or been referred to during
the first two seasons. "Sunnydale Love Connections" contains a look
at all the romantic relationships on Buffy. Buffy and Angel. Angel and Darla.
Xander and a praying mantis and a mummy girl and the entire female population
of Sunnydale. Willow and Xander. Willow and Oz. Of course this was back before
she gave up "driving stick", as Faith later put it. These only scratch
"Behind the Scenes" wraps up the Guide with more interviews
than you would believe. Not only are the obligatory cast interviews here, but
you also get interviews with the actors who play the more minor characters (Hello,
Principle Snyder), the stunt team, the producers, the writers, and Joss "The
Man" Whedon himself. There is everything from storyboard sketches mapping
out the stunts for an episode to an interview with special effects make-up artist
Todd McIntosh about how he prepares make-up effects for the creatures. By the
time you reach the end of this section, you'll feel like you're in sensory overload.
Too much great information.
As a long time Buffy fan, I consider The Watcher's Guide to be
an essential part of my library. It is an insightful journey behind the scenes
of one of the best shows on television. It will put a smile on your face as
you recall Buffy's most memorable early moments, and it will give you a better
idea of all the hard work necessary to make this show a reality.