The Puppet Master

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Until recently, I had avoided watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I didn’t think teen angst and vampires were my thing.

But series creator Joss Whedon did co-write “The Cabin in the Woods,” the funniest horror film I’ve seen in years, and his version of “Much Ado About Nothing” is being credited with reviving the rom-com. Add in a fangirl girlfriend, and I ended up agreeing to watch the first season. By the ninth episode, “The Puppet Show,” I thought I’d found an out.

When a student dies during rehearsals for the talent show, all signs point to the weird kid with a ventriloquist act. Buffy investigates but keeps writing off what seems obvious to the audience: the dummy is possessed by a demon.

I was ready to call this the worst episode yet, when it flipped. The dummy (1997 spoiler alert!) was a demon-hunter who needed to kill the actual demon to gain his freedom. If this all sounds silly, it absolutely is, but the twist turned standard, campy horror fare into an absurdly genius farce.

After Buffy and Co. kill the demon, a curtain rises to reveal a packed auditorium waiting for the talent show. The principal looks to the camera and says, “I don’t get it. What is it? Avant-garde?” Whedon was toying with the audience, and I was hooked.

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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Jeffrey Tomik · June 25, 2013