Written by David Greenwalt
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Original Airdate: 24th March 1997
There are many flaws that one cannot escape with ‘Teacher’s Pet’, but the one thing that cannot be overlooked is that it builds up to a somewhat silly monster.
This is the one episode of the first season of Buffy that belies the low budget nature of this first season and which one could easily beat these first twelve episodes over the head with in terms of not being as high quality as the subsequent seasons of the show.
Yes, the monster is not the best, and it pains one to observe that given that the Buffyverse is a series with some great prosthetic work, but it’s fine because ‘Teacher’s Pet’ is not exactly the best example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which comes as something of a surprise given the writer of the episode.
There’s no denying that David Greenwalt is an important part of the Buffyverse; very much becoming a key part of the writing staff of Buffy throughout its first three seasons, he would eventually co-create Angel with Joss Whedon and become its showrunner and most important voice, a voice that Angel lacked in a very impactful way when contract negotiations with 20th Century Fox fell apart and he left to join ABC Television and develop projects for them.
(On a side note, the fourth season of Angel is a major sore point that I am both eagerly awaiting and dreading to explore when I get round to it and which might rank as the most disappointingly bitter season of television in my lifetime.)
A Xander-centric tale, ‘Teacher’s Pet’ puts Nicholas Brendon’s character front and centre in what is at times an obvious tale of a hot teacher being lusted after by male students, including Xander.
The ‘hot teacher’ trope is a very obvious one for many teen comedies or dramas, and while Buffy had already shown with ‘Witch’ that it was very capable of taking obvious coming-of-age and high school tropes and doing really interesting and original things with them, ‘Teacher’s Pet’ never quite feels like it’s delivering anything new here, apart from the whole giant praying mantis element, not to mention its head-spinning use of 90s TV budget CGI.
The most male centric episode of the series so far, the episode opens with a dream sequence where Xander imagines saving Buffy and then doing a music set in The Bronze which is a brilliant portrayal of the inner workings of the character’s mind as well as how heterosexual pubescent teenage boys are prone to thinking about the world.
It’s a funny opening to the episode, but the rest of it then centres around an abundance of fragile masculinity jokes that are kind of the point but also done obviously and in a manner that feel somewhat lazy. Maybe being the first episode that puts its focus outside of Buffy’s point of view indicates that the beating heart of the show truly is Sarah Michelle Geller’s portrayal, at least at this early stage, but Greenwalt will show an ability to really get into the heart of many of the show’s best characters and next time out of the gate is going to deliver the first full blooded classic of the show’s run which is why it’s so easy to forgive ‘Teacher’s Pet’ for being so obvious.
Thankfully, everything else going on around the central plot line is very enjoyable. The dialogue is as sharp as it has been up to this point, while David Boreanaz finally feels more like Angel at this stage, being more brooding and intense in a manner that feels more befitting the character going forward, while the murder of Buffy’s favourite teacher, the events that kickstart the episode’s plot, has genuine heft and drama to it.
There are some genuinely funny moments dotted throughout and the nightmarish scenario that Xander finds himself in come the final stretch of the episode does have an element of surreal humour, and made even more strange by the not so brilliant monster, although the episode does the smart thing of keeping it in the shadows.
Growing up and sex do go hand in hand together a lot of the times in our media, and what’s so disappointing about ‘Teacher’s Pet’ not being better than it is, is that it could have done something even more potent with those ideas. They are there, just on the surface, but it never quite grasps them as interestingly as the show is capable of, while still resorting to two teenage boys being locked in a cage being afraid of having their head eaten off after losing their virginities, while the reveal of their virginities is done at the surface of an obvious joke about their embarrassments.
There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s the first not-so-great Buffy episode at this stage, and while jokes about boys bragging about their sexuality are under the microscope, it still comes down to jokes about boys bragging about their sexuality, although since it’s told mostly from Xander’s point of view, it’s hard to decipher if that truly is the point and it’s gotten a little lost in coming across on screen or just simply the way the story has been told.
The silver lining is that we’ve got a better Xander episode coming not long after this, and Greenwalt is going to deliver something very special with ‘Angel’.