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Why ‘Once More, With Feeling’ is still the perfect musical episode, 20 years on

Twenty years ago this week, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aired “Once More, With Feeling,” an all-out musical episode that many (including us) believe to be the best ever made. The passage of time hasn’t diminished the Season 6 entry’s bold artistic statement, either — even if the reputation of its writer-director, “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon, has been tarnished by allegations of on-set misconduct. So in honor of the episode’s anniversary, The Times’ resident musical lovers and “Buffy” fans — Dawn Burkes, Tracy Brown, Ashley Lee and Jevon Phillips — gathered to discuss its momentous airing, standout scenes and continuing impact on musical storytelling on television.

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Ashley Lee: I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this episode first aired! I must confess that, in those 20 years, I had never seen it, or any other episode of “Buffy.” Watching it for the first time the other day — the series is available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video — I was floored. This episode f—ing slaps. I am low-key pissed that I wasn’t allowed to watch this show as a kid because this would have radicalized me. What was it like for a devout “Buffy” fan to see this back then?

Jevon Phillips: Fans knew that Whedon had wanted to do a musical episode for a while. We knew Anthony Stewart Head, who plays Giles, and James Marsters, who plays Spike, could sing. We had heard glowing reviews of Amber Benson’s voice, so Tara was set too. But what about the rest of the cast? While at a previous job, I actually took an hour-long break (which I never did) to watch it in a conference room. Dawn Burkes: It really was a capital-E Event for “Buffy” fans. And it came during a time when people were still reeling from the show changing networks and well-loved characters changing too. “Where Do We Go From Here,” indeed. (And now I’m singing the entire soundtrack, of which I own a hard copy.)

Tracy Brown: It’s not hyperbole to say that I’ve probably seen “Once More, With Feeling” more times than any single episode — a tally mostly racked up when DVD boxed sets were the only way to revisit your favorite TV. This was before “Glee” or “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” so the only real frame of reference for “musical episode” I had at the time was, like, “Xena: Warrior Princess.” (“Bitter Suite” remains a favorite.) And it went on to be shown in theaters for fan-driven, interactive sing-along events, at least for a while.

Phillips: I went to that “in-theater experience” twice and even brought dry cleaning with a sticky note that said “no mustard.” At one screening in Westwood, “Buffy” writer-producer Marti Noxon thanked everyone for coming and said, “Someone else wants to thank you.” Down the aisle bounded Joss. The crowd went wild.

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