Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Beer Bad   Rewatch 
August 12, 2015 10:15 PM - Season 4, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Still smarting from her fling with Parker, Buffy drowns her sorrows in beer. But the bartender, sick of know-it-all students talking down to him, has altered his wares to regress his consumers to the Stone Age.
posted by yellowbinder (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's why I loathe Parker:

At the end, he's not apologizing to Buffy Summers, the human being. He's apologizing to The Slayer. He doesn't get apologize immediately after Willow tells him that he hurt Buffy; it's only after Cave-Buffy saves his life.

It's pretty realistic in that most non-Slayer types who are used by Parker-types never get an apology, but it still pisses me off. So even though he gets punished like 3 different times (At least 2 more times than more people who hurt one of the Scoobies do), he deserves that last bonk on the head, too.
posted by creepygirl at 10:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Aw, I'm not sure this deserves the "worst episode ever" tag. It's not as painful as some. (Okay, it's not good, but...) And, hey, random Kal Penn as a fratboy caveman.

Why do I loathe Parker? How do I loathe thee, let me count the ways...basically let's just say I really love it when Willow laughs in his stupid face. I think for a moment the first time I saw this episode I was afraid she'd actually bought his garbage, but not our Willow.

Buffy's wish-fulfillment dream with Parker is, I think, slyly echoed in "Once More With Feeling," when she saves the random romance-novel-cover dude in "Going Through The Motions" and he sings, "How can I repay-" "Whatever," she cuts him off. There's a lot of damage that takes place between here and there; from all id to wanting nothing but to be able to want again.

The delivery on this scene about Xander's fake ID makes me smile:
Willow: I don't believe this is entirely on the up and up.
Xander: What gives it away?
Willow: Looking at it.

Poll: Who is the worst, Parker or Veruca?

I know Buffy comments on it in "Something Blue," so the subtext is text, but it's a decent flip that here, Willow is indignant about Parker causing Buffy to drown her sorrows, and four episodes later, Buffy has to drag an Oz-missing and inebriated Willow out of The Bronze before she insults everyone. The show's "alcohol is for losers" message is a bit heavy-handed.

I'm almost through the Buffy section of "Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion." I'm enjoying it, but some of the essayists write like those frat boys talk (I mean, before the caveman-ing), and I say this having experienced more than one of the hoity-toitiest of universities. It's interesting how much Buffy as a show seems to dislike and distrust formal education, vastly preferring the experiential. (I have also found some mistakes in references the scholarly essays have made about the show, which I think means I have a problem).

There's a "fire bad, tree pretty" callback when one of the cavedudes says "fire bad. Fire pretty" re: Xander's lighter.

Xander: Well excuse me, Mr. “I spent the sixties in an electric Kool-Aid funky Satan groove”.
Giles: It was the early seventies, and you should know better. (Me: snerk)

Given the actual appearance of Cave-Slayer in "Restless," the darkness of Buffy's origins could have been much more interestingly explored. But hey, my husband and I still sometimes say "Foamy!" when we're having a beer, so.
posted by ilana at 11:46 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

A lot of people think this is the worst episode Buffy ever created. These people are emperically wrong. While I would never claim that Beer Bad is a good episode, it's certainly pretty fun. Yes, it's technically a "moral lesson" episode, but actually if you look closely beer isn't portrayed that badly. Everyone drinking the beer is having fun, and even under the influence Buffy is able to save everyone's lives, and even deliver karmic justice to stinky old Parker. It also randomly has Kal Penn as one of the drunken students, back before he was famous. After all that, the episode concludes that what we learnt about beer was "Foamy."

Things I don't love about this episode? The whole tedious "Walsh explains the theme of the episode" thing which is such a writers crutch. Oh yes, this psychology lesson will illuminate what is happening on the show, how fortunate! Also, while Willow's prank turning around on Parker is cute, it's kind of annoying that she doesn't directly his weasley arguments. Parker says that casual sex shouldn't have to be given disclaimers, which might be true, but obviously he deliberately mislead Buffy into thinking sex wasn't casual (to the point that he just stops contact with her post coitus). Also, I say again to men who do this... wtf? Isn't the first time... not the greatest? Why would you continually seek out the first time again and again?

We also have the first Veruca encounter, setting up the next episode. Veruca is worse than Parker ilana, primarily because Parker, for all his badness, doesn't deliberately try to murder his romantic rivals.

-The whole snooty college put down of Xander is something I think exists in writer's heads rather than reality. To be honest, Xander trying to hit on a girl he's serving is pretty skeevy.
-Xander is the worst bartender. "Iced water, do you want that on the rocks?"
-"Dresses like Faith. Sounds like an albatross."
-"Four? Oh.... Ow!"
-"Then came beer." "Then group sex?"
-Apparently only these 5 drunk black frost?
-"Who's van was that?" "I dunno, it wasn't locked."
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:56 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I actually kind of like this episode. Having spent too much time in my 20s either using alcohol as a way of coping with fraught social situations or temporarily drowning my sorrows, I totally have sympathy with Buffy's motivations. Sometimes I still wish that worked! For me it's less heavy-handed than the magic = drugs = bad, mmkay that comes later. And I still think cave-Buffy is hilarious. Foamy!

Willow's lack of gullibility is great. Though I do wonder whether she was just trying to teach Parker a lesson, because I can't imagine Buffy reacting well to being told that Parker tried it on with her best friend.

I do hope they went back for the guy who got hit by the car. And the bar owner definitely has a point, I'm just not sure how exacerbating their worst drunken tendencies was going to help anything. Bad, bad man.

And yes, I agree with Cannon Fodder, Veruca is worse than Parker due to the murderous tendencies.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:07 AM on August 13, 2015

Poll: Who is the worst, Parker or Veruca?

Veruca is worse both as a character and as a plot contrivance.
posted by Etrigan at 5:58 AM on August 13, 2015

The show's "alcohol is for losers" message is a bit heavy-handed.

Now that I am several years older than the characters, rather than several years younger as I was on first watch, I am amazed at just how little drinking these characters do.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:22 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bear in mind that American beer at this point in time was still basically synonymous with cheap, undrinkable swill, especially in collegiate drinking contexts. I remember foul crap like Natty Light being the dominant beer on my campus, solely due to it being the cheapest thing available. Nobody drank beer for the taste, outside of a handful of hobbyists who knew their stuff. But that knowledge wasn't mainstream yet, and wouldn't be until a few years after the episode aired.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:22 AM on August 13, 2015

Have college students really stopped drinking terrible cheap swill?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:10 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Absolutely not.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:17 PM on August 13, 2015

Hmm, when I was still living in the US I hung out with people who drank beer for the taste. A lot of it was non-American beer, but there were some microbrews and lines that were a bit more obscure at the time but are now wildly popular. I didn't think it was particularly unusual. This would have been early 90s.

But sure, there is definitely the old joke about why drinking American beer is like having sex in a canoe. Terrible, cheap swill exists everywhere. In Australia, we pour it into Fosters cans and sell it to Americans.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:34 PM on August 13, 2015

I see your point. I do feel like beer culture (by dint of greater accessibility and higher science-nerd participation) has gone up a few pegs in the mainstream-respectability department in the last 15 years or so. Which makes a lot of the OMG BEER IS SO DUMB U GUYS messaging of the episode seem kind of like something from an old Ladies' Temperance Union tract.

That said, it's far better than anything that I would qualify as the "worst" Buffy. The Scooby gang bits were good, and the Willow/Oz subplot came across better than I remembered. People give Oz (and the writers) such a hard time about him instantly going into full schwing with Veruka around, but I think it's all pretty well explained if you keep in mind all the crazy werewolf pheremones. As we learned tonight, chemistry makes fools of us all.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:36 PM on August 13, 2015

It's also possible that some places in the US got hip to craft beer culture well before it reached my neck of the woods, so my perception of the rise of craft beer might simply coincide with my reaching adulthood and finally finding a positive model of beer consumption that doesn't involve frat houses and puking on my shoes. YMMV.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:26 PM on August 14, 2015

Beer Bad is no classic, but IIRC, much of season 7 was way, way worse. Maybe I should rewatch that season again, because it almost seems like it CAN'T be as bad as I remember.

The show seems rather primly anti-booze. There's this, and the episode where Giles gets drunk with his old warlock pal and wakes up as a demon. And the episode where Spike passes out in a drunken depression over Drusilla leaving him and wakes up to find his hand on fire. When alcohol comes up, it's almost always in the context of drinking to wretched excess and suffering dire consequences.

Whedon has made no secret of smoking pot, so it's not like he's totally anti-intoxicant. But he does seem strongly anti-alcohol, to the point that he had a show about a bunch of CA college kids in 1999, and none of them were drinkers. (I never got the impression that any of them were smoking pot either, with the possible exception of Oz. The closest the show got to dealing with drugs was Willow's magic addiction.) In a show about a girl who slays vampires, the tee-totaling stands out as one of the more unrealistic elements.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:04 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Strange Interlude, I also started drinking beer in the company of people 7-12 years older than me, who were past the initial college enthusiasm of drinking any swill as long as it was alcoholic and cheap. So that probably helped.

Ursula Hitler, I am so with you on S7. If it weren't for the musical ep in S6, I'd write off everything after S5. And I hadn't really noticed the consistency of the alcohol = bad until you pointed it out, but you're right. Interesting, and definitely implausible.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved season six, but I know I'm one of the few. To me that season seemed really dramatic, with high stakes and consistent characterization. (Most fans seem to think it was just depressing, which I've never gotten at all. It's drama! Things are supposed to go wrong!) Season 7 seemed like the show went wildly off the rails, with a lot of iffy plotting and the characters just not feeling right. It's the only season I remember with a handful of good episodes amidst lots of bad, while the others were either consistently pretty great or (like this season) swerving between mediocre and great with a couple of actually-not-goods. I haven't seen season seven since it was new, but maybe I'd like it better now. (I cringe when I think of that episode with the magic jacket.) For me this season and season 7 suffer by following truly great seasons with a bunch of episodes that felt unfocused and weird. Season 7 felt like weird fan fiction to me. I remember constantly thinking that the characters were acting in ways that just didn't feel true.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:18 PM on August 14, 2015

My reaction upon seeing this during the original broadcast was that this was without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured that I was on alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.
posted by Pong74LS at 6:32 PM on August 14, 2015

I'm another one in the Worst. Episode. Ever. crowd (or at least, it's in the conversation). The small thing that really grinds my teeth is the bartender (owner, whatever) saying "My brother-in-law's a warlock." Like, we spend so much time and effort keeping the hoi polloi from finding out the truth, and yet we've got Random Schmuck the College Bartender just casting spells on kegs that will make them ruin his shit, and that's all the discussion of it we get.
posted by Etrigan at 7:26 PM on August 14, 2015

Worst episode ever probably is some forgettable S7 entry (I remember taking some Sporcle quiz to name every episode and I got something like 127 out of 144 - I missed one episode in the first six seasons (Villains I think) and fully half of Season 7) but there's no way this isn't super high (or low) on the list.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:15 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think this episode is hilarious and have never understood the hate for it. I mean, it's light and silly and kind of dumb, but it cracks me up. The "my brother's a warlock" never bothered me because they dropped in stuff like that every now and then, that the world of magic and demons was much vaster than we see in the show.

As for the latter seasons, I'm also a S6 fan. It's not the best season (that's 3) but not the worst (that's 7). I enjoyed 7 on rewatch more than I did watching it when it aired. It starts really strong, which I'd forgotten. It has the worst episodes of the series in the middle, but the ending made me happy and made me cry, and I'm willing to be forgiving for that.
posted by Mavri at 10:08 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

It does start super super strong! I was really excited at the time! I enjoy Season 6 more and more every time I watch it, but back then I wasn't a fan. So with the starting theme of going back to the beginning and a stellar run of episodes, I was really jazzed. Lessons is solid, Beneath You is a little meh for me, but Same Time, Same Place is one of the forgotten creepy classics, Help is a great distillation of the series, Him is hilarious, and Selfless is just incredible. I'll be interested to see where I fall on the Conversations with Dead People love/hate scale when we get there as I loved it on first watch but time hasn't been kind to it in my memory. Shame how the season developed, as it had such potential (har har). Chosen was mostly satisfying though for sure.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:56 PM on August 14, 2015

Mavri, it's not unlikely I'd agree with you about season 7, on a rewatch. I think part of the problem was that we knew the series was ending, and that upped the stakes. Some not-very-good episode felt like it was eating up precious, dwindling showtime! Two bad episodes in a row seemed like a big problem! I think they also had a lot of disasters behind the scenes. I remember reading a lot of stuff at the time about how they had to write around stuff because of this problem, or change something because an actor wasn't available. IIRC they wanted Amber Benson to play the main face of the First Evil, which probably would have given the character a lot more oomph. But Benson didn't go for it, so they had to do some rewrites. I could be wrong, but I think they also filmed a lot of that season without knowing if it was really the last one or not, or if there was going to be another spinoff or TV movies or whatever, so that had to put everybody in a weird, confused state. And the gossip at the time was that SMG had become a real diva, itchy to leave and making everybody miserable. (But, that's all 2003 gossip rag fodder, FWIW.)

Anyway, as great as this show was when it was great, it certainly did bring us a few groaners. Beer Bad doesn't have many defenders.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:57 AM on August 15, 2015

Yeah, there's a big difference between having to wait 2 or 3 weeks to get past some draggy episodes to a good one vs just having to wait a few hours. That's a big reason why binge watching is kinder to S7. There sure are some stinkers in there, though.
posted by Mavri at 10:25 AM on August 15, 2015

I'm a defender of Beer Bad. (S7 is by far my least favorite season and one I usually leave off during a rewatch.) Here's the reason why I love it:

Willow appears to be going along with Parker. The first time around I was like "OH GOD NOOOOO WILLOOOOOOWWWW NOOOOO" and then Willow turns on him and says "How gullible do you think I am?" Both the audience and Parker up until this point believe that Parker has been sucked in even though the audience should at least know better as Willow proved savvy about Parker correctly identified that his "It's ok to make mistakes" comment was all part of his schtick and not a genuinely supportive comment. When Will asks, "How gullible do you think I am?" she's not just asking Parker, but also in a way asking the audience. It shows how far she's come as a character. She's no longer the girl who gets easily sucked in by a robot love demon.

Parker deserves the bop on the head (and more) because shortly after this he'll be trashing Buffy again (likening her to a toilet seat....keep it classy, Parker) so he obviously doesn't feel that badly about how he treated her or very quickly reverted to type.

I'll be honest. I didn't drink in high school and neither did most of my friends. I really enjoyed that there was a show about hs students that didn't involve drinking that wasn't, you know, on the disney channel or something.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:10 AM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not saying it's BAD that they didn't drink! I very rarely drink myself, and I'm not going to judge anybody for avoiding alcohol for whatever reason. It's fun to get drunk, but booze itself is nasty-tasting, stupid-making, addictive stuff.

But by this season the gang is in college, and as the show goes on they're becoming young adults. And nobody drinks! You end up with a show about people in their early twenties, but nobody drinks or smokes pot or anything. In real life, if you're not drinking at that age, people comment on it like it's weird.

But come to think of it, maybe they all got so freaked out by Buffy going cavegirl after she drank beer, none of them ever touched booze again. I could see that, maybe. Honestly I suspect Whedon just strongly dislikes booze for whatever reason, and he wanted to do this episode to say, THERE, now we've dealt with the whole booze thing and we never need to talk about it again!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:29 AM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

The show was pointedly anti-alcohol at least partly because, according to Wikipedia,

This plot was written with the plan to take advantage of funds from the Office of National Drug Control Policy available to shows that promoted an anti-drug message.

Though it didn't pay off for the show in this particular case:

Funding was rejected for the episode because "[d]rugs were an issue, but ... [it] was otherworldly nonsense, very abstract and not like real-life kids taking drugs. Viewers wouldn't make the link to [the ONDCP's] message."
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:02 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

No confidence in the power of metaphor. I hope Mutant Enemy at least consoled themselves with this episode's Emmy nomination (for hairstyling).
posted by yellowbinder at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2015

This plot was written with the plan to take advantage of funds from the Office of National Drug Control Policy available to shows that promoted an anti-drug message.

Huh. I'm surprised the Buffy folks tried to do that. I'd like to think they were already planning the anti-beer episode and then they realized, "Hey, maybe we can get some fed money for this," because if they heard about the policy and THEN decided to make this episode, that sounds kind of cynical and greedy to me. Who knows, maybe they were obeying a network edict or something. TV production is complicated and weird and I'm not judging anybody because I don't know the full story.

But still, finding out this episode was part of a covert govt. anti-drug campaign is kind of... icky.

There was a line on MASH where somebody was ranting about a maddening call to some army minion, "whose crewcut I could HEAR!" I can kind of hear the crewcut on the govt. rep who called this episode "otherworldy nonsense" for not being on-the-nose enough.

Anybody know if the Freaks and Geeks episode Tokin and Chokin was part of this scheme? That one always struck me as rather preachily anti-pot, which was surprising for a show with such a no-bullshit sensibility (and a cast that went on to make a bunch of stoner comedies).
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:25 PM on August 23, 2015

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