[Editor’s Note: We asked Juss, from
Major kudos to Tabitha Smith and all the guys at Buffy Between the Lines for undertaking and pulling of such a bold and daring project.
I’ve kept away from expanded universe Buffy material including books comics and fan-fiction mostly as the quality of the TV show (and Season 8 comics) has been so high it would seem like desecration and only make me angry. However, having heard about Buffy Between the Lines, a radio production which follows the lives of the Buffy characters inbetween seasons 5 and 6, my curiosity got the better off me; this project was so ambitious It’d either be immensely gratifying to see it pulled off or at the very least it would give me a good laugh for 30 minutes listening to a bunch of Whedonites pretending to be Willow, Xander et al and falling flat on their faces.
There are immense difficulties involved in portraying characters so loved and cherished as the Buffyverse characters, with the acting styles and mannerisms of the Buffy actors so ingrained on our consciences it was always going to be difficult to convince listeners of the validity of this project, particularly with an amateur cast. Worse for them maybe is that Whedon and Co’s scripts are so tight, fast paced and funny whilst simultaneously containing such smart character development and genrebusting ideas that it’s going to take a scriptwriter of some talent to make it worth these actors getting out of bed for.
Well, Between the Lines was certainly something of a nice surprise. By no means a masterpiece or an essential part of the Buffyverse, this is however a pleasantly enjoyable listen. There’s obviously been a lot of love and care gone into this at every stage, from acting, scripting to production. Different actors have been chosen from around the world based on their ability to act like rather than sound like the characters an for the most part this has been an astute and successful strategy. There are some real gems on the cast; Chris O. as Xander and Tabitha Smith as Anya particular stand out as being not just good mimics but able to time their lines and deliver good comedy in a similar way to the original cast. Tasha as Dawn, Cliss as Tara and Nick Edwards as Spike all make the most of their roles too, although if anything Edwards isn’t quite over the top enough to be any kind of a match for James Marsters. There are some disappointments; Willow’s gentle but passionate manner was a little too much for xMadxScientistx to capture this time around whilst Anthony Stewart Head’s obvious theater background is obviously missing from Brian Brown’s performance and it hurts it, though it seems churlish to blame Brown for that!
Scriptwise, Tabitha Smith tried to do too much too early. Given the post Buffy death setting it was inevitable that there had to be a grieving scene but it’s far too long and overwrought. In the first episode it a big enough call to get the listener to accept a brand new Buffy cast and a new format; to have to buy heavy emotional drama all on top of this is too much. A better decision would have been to find a way to put off the grieving scenes and start out with some action/comedy adventure instead. When the action comedy does finally kick in the show improves tenfold. Tabitha Smith’s narrative pacing may be a bit off but she sure knows how to write a good joke in the Buffy style and when the delivery is good, that’s when it all feels worthwhile. Another tough call for the scriptwriter is going to be bringing these characters up to the point they’re at in “Bargaining” in an interesting and entertaining manner without giving them too much to do that they become overly experienced. Willow has to become powerful but with reservations, whilst the rest of the gang will still have to look a little lost without Buffy around to save their necks. Doc was a good stop gap villain for this and that the gang are saved from needing to dispatch the guy worked out well. I like how Smith, in Buffy tradition attempts to weave together the personal drama and the evil threat, allowing the two to bounce off of each other and if the script was a little disjointed for it to work out this time around, I’ve confidence that after a few episodes she’ll nail it.
On of the major problems perhaps come with the production. Having different actors from across the globe is a wonderful and exciting thing, but it does mean icky and imbalanced sound quality that’s hard to make consistent. Sound effects and scene transitions are not always implemented well and even though the idea is nice, those damn persistent commercial breaks really are unnecessary. All these criticisms may sound like quite a big deal, but really they aren’t. If you listen to this expecting high quality audio production then you’re probably listening to the wrong thing anyway. If you’re listening to Between the Lines for the right reasons then it’s easy enough to gloss over these inconsistencies and problems which I’ve no doubt will improve as the series continues anyway.
Buffy Between the Lines is unfortunately not going to replace the TV show or your monthly comics fix. However, if you enjoy the Buffyverse, are open to the idea of fan interpretations and enjoy good quality audio plays then you could do far worse than to check this show out. I’m certainly eager to see what Tabitha Smith comes up with next.