Back in the 1970s, there used to be a trend for cartoons to follow the same ghostly mystery pattern. Week in, week out, the set-up would run along the same lines of a group of teens investigating a ghostly mystery with the aid of a quirky but lovable sidekick. Scooby Doo. Goober. The Shmoo. Three good examples of this tried and tested brand, and the cause of many a happy childhood memory for thirty and forty somethings.
Of course a cynic would say that this set-up could get a bit samey, but then, these cartoons only lasted between 10 and 20 minutes. If you're trying to string this out for 45 minutes though, there's a chance that this argument might hold water.
Enter Some Assembly Required. After the trials of When She Was Bad, Buffy finds herself settling into the comfortable Season One groove of storytelling with a mystery of grave robbing weirdos. It's more of a stand-alone type tale rather than a big season arc game-changer.
Nothing wrong with that, but the problem with Some Assembly Required is that it's so one-dimensional. The previous season's stories at least had some sort of depth to give them that extra dimension, but there's none of that to be found in this tale.
After the navel gazing intensity of When She Was Bad, it's back to horror homage central. Some Assembly Required most notably looks to the tale of Frankenstein with its central premise of a zombie jock brought back to life. And just like Frankenstein's monster, Daryl the zombie jock returns to his 'creator', demanding a stitched together girlfriend.
The grave robbers do not turn out to be flesh eating demons or voodoo practitioners as Giles initially theorises, but Daryl the jock's whiny brother Chris and Chris' creepy friend, Eric. They've been trawling graves for female corpses and aiming to fulfil Daryl's wish. Which would be a pretty dumb plan anyway – there's not exactly many places that Daryl could take Miss Cobbled Together in the first place. The Bronze bouncers would throw them into the street faster than you could holler “It's alive!!!”
Just like the subject matter, Some Assembly Required's script is all over the shop. The main premise of the tale is overly familiar, but the characters' motivations and reasonings change more times than the weather. Daryl's pleas for a bit of lurve are all well and good, but like I said, his dates will most likely be confined to his mother's basement. Given that he's stolen corpses from graves, Chris seems remarkably freaked out when asked to capture and kill Cordelia. “Please don't ask me to do this,” he whines to his zombie brother. “Don't ask me to take a life.” That's just a sample of the whining and agonised face pulling that Chris provides throughout the episode. Given that he's successfully helped to pull off a modern scientific miracle that also reunites him with his brother, Chris is a curiously morose chap, forever walking around with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Most likely it's because he has spent too much time in the company of Eric.
Eric's your bog-standard pervy freak. He takes photos of random college girls, leers and winks at them like a sleazy pimp, and even has curtain cut hair that looks like he has two horns sprouting out from his head. And yet, being a Grade A sleazeball seems to be the sole motivation for Eric's involvement in this sorry charade. There's no back story or quick explanatory dialogue as to why or how he came to agree to help stitch back Daryl and help to make him a cut and paste girlfriend. Buffy The Vampire Slayer is normally very good at creating fully formed characters and backgrounds, but in Some Assembly Required, there's little evidence of this. Perhaps the only half effective character is Mrs Epps, Daryl's grieving mother who cuts a tragic figure slumped in front of the TV while chain smoking herself into an early grave.
Another surprise is that the regulars get a mixed deal this time around. It takes the Scooby Gang a surprisingly long time to figure out the obvious and they only do so when they stumble across Eric's and Chris' crudely assembled mock up photos.
The bitchiness between Cordelia and Xander seems too forced this time around. They're at loggerheads like hammer and nail, but this overdone bickering only serves to suggest that a future pairing is on the cards. Having said that, Xander does get some good dialogue, most notably his summary of unrequited love: “People don't fall in love with what's right in front of them,” he frowns. “People want the dream...what they can't have.” In true Xander style, what he wants is a girl to fall in love with, but even when Cordelia attempts to thank him for saving her from a flamey death in the Epps basement, he rebuffs her!
Pop the question and have done with it, man.
Buffy thankfully gets a better press this time around, discussing events over doughnuts with Willow (while Giles and Xander do the work), mending fences with Angel and coming up with great lines such as “Speak English, not whatever they speak in...” The pompous “This ends now!” rant aside, it's a thankful return to form.
However, it's Giles who steals this show, as he desperately tries to muster the courage to ask Jenny Calendar out on a date. Amenable and indecorous aren't really words you'd find in the lonely hearts columns, so it's amusing to see Jenny invite the bumbling Watcher out to see a football game and to chow down on some Mexican food. These two work brilliantly together, despite being polar opposites. They also get to indulge in some notably witty banter, the crowning glory being Giles' comment on American football: “I just think it's rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on 40 pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby.” Anthony Head and Robia LaMorte continue to develop their characters into a well-matched unit; the interplay between Giles and Jenny is a big saving grace of this story.
Which is generally OK as a whole, if unremarkable. The plot and the script are competent enough, but the story is too predictable by half, even down to the inevitable denouement with Daryl croaking it in flames over his girlfriend to be – for some reason, when calling out to his brother, Chris makes a strange shrieking noise that sounds like a cockatoo with a peanut stuck in its throat.
The ghostly mystery cartoons would stick with the 'Ordinary Joe Dressed Up As A Ghost' trick throughout the 1970s, but the formula had a certain charm. Some Assembly Required, despite sporadic moments of Giles 'n' Jenny inspiration, struggles to find that elusive formula, and instead makes do with petty point scoring, half-baked characterisation and overly obvious plotting. It's superficially enjoyable, but given Buffy The Vampire Slayer's reputation for providing superb characterisation, high octane drama and intelligent, well reasoned plots, Some Assembly Required fails to satisfy.