Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Canon: Buffy Episode Rating-Palooza

An ongoing series of lists that provides the definitive order of things in the universe.

Of course I've watched every episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer (multiple times). Of course, I own every episode. And I frequently got in discussions with other fans over "which episode is best?" or "which season is best?" But I had never put any serious thought into it until a couple of years ago, at least from a statistical perspective. I was introducing some folks who had never seen the show to all seven seasons on DVD, and decided to start "grading" each episode as we went through the rewatch in order. I used a 10 point scale (with one decimal point), and then put the results into a spreadsheet, and some of the results shocked me when I looked at them in totality.

Top 10 Episodes of BTVS:
Okay, this isn't actually a "Top 10." Depending on how you look at it, it's actually a "Top 14" or "Top 7." Because of the numerical grades and the ranks, some are tied.

66: Hush 10.0 1
100: The Gift 10.0 1
107: Once More, With Feeling 10.0 1
94: The Body 9.7 4
108: Tabula Rasa 9.6 5
144: Chosen 9.5 6
25: Surprise (1) 9.4 7
26: Innocence (2) 9.4 7
29: Passion 9.4 7
34: Becoming, Part 2 (2) 9.4 7
71: This Year's Girl (1) 9.4 7
72: Who Are You? (2) 9.4 7
85: Fool For Love 9.4 7
92: Crush 9.4 7

The numbers to the left are the "episode numbers" in order of airing. The second number is the rating I gave them on the 10 point scale. The the last number on the right is the "rank" they were given in the statistical summary of episodes.

Episodes just missing the cut include: Becoming, Part 1, Something Blue, Two to Go and Conversations with Dead People. (all scored 9.3 in my book).

As you can see, the top three, and perfect scores of 10.0 are not really surprising. Most fans put these eps at the top as perfectly crafted hours of TV excellence.

By season, there are no eps from S1, 4 from S2, 0 from S3, 3 from S4, 4 from S5, 2 from S6 and 1 from S7. While seasons 2 and 3 are typically lauded as the most "critically acclaimed" I was astounded that I had no "top 10s" from S3 and a whopping 4 from S5. And while I'm a huge fan of Glorificus, I've always thought that The Mayor is my favorite season long "big bad," so it was interesting to see that no individual eps from that arc cracked my top individual episodes.

Bottom 10 Episodes of BTVS:
Actually, the numbers here worked out to be 10 exactly.

32: Go Fish 6.9 135
61: Beer Bad 6.9 135
17: Reptile Boy 6.8 137
4: Teacher's Pet 6.5 138
14: Some Assembly Required 6.5 138
16: Inca Mummy Girl 6.5 138
24: Bad Eggs 6.5 138
5: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date 6.0 142
74: Where the Wild Things Are 6.0 142
6: The Pack 5.9 144

Not surprising that 80% of the "bad" episodes were in the first two seasons, when the writing staff and actors were still trying to find their footing and the tone of the show. 3 from S1, 5 from S2, and 2 from S4. What was startling to me was that I didn't have any eps ranked in the bottom from seasons 6 and 7, when a lot of fans complained about the influence of Marti Noxon, the "magic is crack" heavy handed storylines or the generally dark tone of the show. (Though Doublemeat Palace, along with Witch, Gingerbread and Killed by Death, just missed the cut).

It should also be noted that I scored these according to the show compared against itself. I'd much rather watch Beer Bad on a continuous loop than one minute of The Bachelor or According to Jim.

Best Seasons of BTVS:
Next, I took all the individual episode rankings, totaled them, and divided by the number of eps in the season to get an average episode ranking for that season. Granted, this is a wee bit misleading, as it doesn't take into account the overall narrative flow of the season, and a few really poorly scored individual episodes can drag down the average for the whole season.

Season 3 Average 8.58
Season 7 Average 8.35
Season 6 Average 8.32
Season 4 Average 8.25
Season 5 Average 8.21
Season 2 Average 8.07
Season 1 Average 7.51

You can see that S2 scores poorly in this regard. Actually, S2 is a fantastic season and contains a lot of the mythology that will drive the show through its conclusion, but a number of "bad" episodes (see above -- 4 in the "bottom 10") bring down the average significantly. Also interesting, as I noted above regarding S3, is that even though none of the eps cracked the Top 7/14, this season consistently delivered the goods, episode after episode, for quality. I was also shocked by the showing of seasons 7, 6 and 4, since many fans though the show declined after the move to UPN in the last two years, and didn't like Riley Finn nor the "Initiative" storyline (I'm one of those rare fans who didn't hate "Captain America" and the government getting into the demon business).

When you start using this methodology, it definitely opens your eyes. Until I looked at the data, I would have said S2, S3 and S5 would have been ranked most highly.

So, there you have it. Obviously, your mileage may vary. Agree or disagree?

(And if you'd like to undertake this little exercise on your own and use my spreadsheets -- or just see the entirety of the rankings, e-mail me and I'll be glad to share).

Sometime over the next few months, I'll do the same thing for other cult shows (and personal favorites) like Battlestar Galactica, Angel and Star Trek: TNG.


  1. That's a really interesting list. I've been thinking about re-watching some Buffy lately, and this is a good impetus to actually do it. I agree completely with your top three, although I'm not as huge a Hush fan as others. And I'm glad to see you've got The Body there. I tell people that it's the best episode of television I've ever seen dealing with death. From start to finish, I think it's brilliant. In my top ten, I'd also include Helpless which I've always thought is really underrated. Maybe it was just because Giles was my favorite character, but I thought it was the best example of the great relationship between him and Buffy.

    Love the list! I'm looking forward to BSG!

  2. I had helpless "tied" for 52nd, with an 8.5 rating. I also really enjoy that one. You're right, a good episode and a critical one in the Buffy/Giles relationship. Plus, the always creepy Jeff Kober, who later showed up as strawberry lover Rack.