by Marty Demarest

If it weren't for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'd probably forget what television was like. Because good television is becoming more and more like big-budget filmmaking: The Sopranos, 24, Six Feet Under. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but where are the guilty pleasures these days? It took a little show with a laughable title to remind us how much fun it was to watch television. Now we can buy it on DVD, just like a studio feature.

Season Three of Buffy is, for many fans, the series' best year. The original premise was still there: Real-world problems are manifested as cheesy horror-film clich & eacute;s, and solved by a pretty teenage girl kicking ass (or whatever demons and vampires have to kick). But where the first season was about falling in love, and the second about how people change, the third tackled the much more sophisticated concept of moving on. And Buffy is too smart a show for easy answers, even if it does seem that killing a swarm of zombies might help. As the season progresses and Buffy herself tries to dismiss her old issues, she conjures up her lost love, the vampire Angel. Oops -- somebody's not moving on, and things get messy.

But the real pleasure of this box set is in the details. Some of the best episodes ever, including one in which the characters get to explore an alternate reality ruled by their evil doppelgangers, are not only as smart as anything else on television, but they are loaded with some great verbal humor and sexy fun. And things are happily complicated by the appearance of a second vampire slayer, Faith, who is the bad-girl version of Buffy. If viewers marveled during the first and second seasons that Buffy could do her homework and kill demons at the same time, the third season wisely lets us hate the overachiever a little bit. And the year's "big bad" (read: ultimate nemesis) is played with quirky abandon by the wonderful stage actor Harry Groener, making him one of the series' best creations.

All this, and the Buffy sets remain one of the best bargains on the DVD shelves. The few interviews with series creator Joss Whedon included are pretty scant and uninformative, but who cares? For less than $60 you get 22 one-hour episodes, each of them worth rewatching. With TV this good, who needs movies?

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