There are few things that fit the clich & eacute; of "someday you'll look back on this and laugh" better than the high-school musical. Whether you love theater or not, there's an innate sense that it's going to be scary, and the best you can hope for is to have some fun. So it seems a perfect topic to be tackled by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in a musical episode written by series creator Joss Whedon.
With Buffy, Whedon has slyly given us our old teenage fears in campy horror-movie guises: popular crowds as brain-eating zombies and exams as battles with the undead. But why, oh why, didn't he decide to turn the high-school musical into some supernatural menace? Far better the sounds of shrieking demons than what he summons from the pits of hell here: a perfect rendition of a "high-profile" high-school production, replete with the jazz band and the vamping chords of a piano accompanist.
It would all be funny, and possibly brilliant, if we just didn't have to hear it on its own. On television, it almost worked. Hey, that's the angsty vampire singing punk! There's a tribute to the antagonistic romance of Fred and Ginger! And look: a lesbian witch love song! As pure words and music, though, it's mostly painful.
How else can you feel when Buffy harmoniously observes that "Life's a show / And we all play a part. / And when the music starts / We open up our hearts?" Witnessing a character's rock diatribe against bunnies (yes, bunnies) is funny when the spectacularly loopy Emma Caulfield gives it an even-eyed performance, but when it's only her voice, it just becomes a 'huh?' moment. And Nicholas Brendon's Xander has always been a charmingly one-note male foil for the show, but here, even one solid note proves to be beyond the actor's range.
Sure, there are a few good voices here. But do you really want to hear them sing lines like, "Where do we go from here? / The battle's done, / And we kind of won, / So we sound our victory cheer." No, if you really must experience Once More, with Feeling, wait a few years. The fifth season should be out on DVD by then. And maybe, just maybe, we'll all be able to look back on it and laugh.