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Buffy The Vampire Slayer: 10 Casting Decisions That Saved the Show (And 10 That Hurt It)

buffy and angel

Putting together a TV show is always a daunting task. The casting is critical as many a series has been made or broken by the right person in a critical role. When he turned Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a box office bomb to a hit series, Joss Whedon made a lot of casting choices, backed by his slews of producers. They chose parts that ended up becoming very critical and launched numerous careers. David Boreanaz was an instant star as Angel and used that role to become a huge TV favorite ever since. Ditto for Amy Acker, who turned her small role as Fred into a terrific TV career. Other actors have done well even in small roles to be a big aid for the show. So often, a seemingly minor character blossoms into a huge one thanks to the actor to show how some castings were genius for the series.

Sadly, for every casting that works out perfectly, there’s another that doesn’t. Sometimes, the actor is good but just not right for that particular role. The poor writing can hurt as fans can agree the series has had some bad storylines over the years. However, even a talented actor can’t work for a part to ruin what could have been a good role. There’s lots of examples of each but a few truly stand out. Here are 10 casting changes that helped make Buffy amazing and 10 that hurt the show to remind fans of how important the acting chemistry was in making this series a hit.

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20 HURT: LINDSAY CROUSE AS MAGGIE WALSH

Season 4 of the series has its ups and downs. Most fans agree the Initiative wasn’t a bad concept but fell apart in execution. The idea of the military taking down demons and then studying them was sound and using a college as a cover for it all wasn’t bad. The person in charge was Maggie Walsh who was also Buffy’s professor. Lindsay Crouse was to play the character as a tough woman who thought she was doing the right thing even if her methods were harsh. It should have been layered a bit with fans even sympathizing with Walsh.

But Crouse made the character far too cold for fans to get into. Her arrogance was on display as she refused to acknowledge Buffy’s input and even tried to have her picked off. Instead of showing her own side, Walsh was just a total nuisance. Her obsession with creating Adam led to her death and also made her look like an idiot for putting together a Frankenstein demon. Maybe a different actress could have made this role a bit better for fans.

19 SAVED: CHARISMA CARPENTER AS CORDELIA

Cordelia in Buffy Season 2 promo

Casting a 27-year old as a high schooler may have been a wild idea even for Hollywood. However, Charisma Carpenter perfectly looked the age for the role of Cordelia Chase. At first, this vapid high school queen was the non-demonic heavy of the show. A rich elitist, Cordy constantly put down the gang and was mostly around just to be abducted. Even when she found out the truth and worked with them, Cordy was just having savage lines and caring about herself. But her surprising relationship with Xander showed the heart she had deep down and actually putting herself on the line for the gang.

The big move was in season three when Cordelia’s family lost all their money and she had to learn some humility. She and Xander left on good terms as Carpenter had transformed the character into a loveable presence. That convinced producers to make her part of the Angel spin-off where the character grew even more. It was thanks to Carpenter that Cordelia went from just a smoke-show to a wonderful character to be one of the Buffyverses’s best.

18 HURT: ELIZABETH ANNE ALLEN AS AMY

Amy Madison on Buffy

There was so much potential for Amy Madison but it somehow never connected into a major character. Her debut was notable as she appears to be a wicked gal using magic to become a cheerleader. It’s revealed this is actually Amy’s mother, Catherine, who switched bodies with her daughter to relive her glory years. The real Amy showed magic abilities that included casting a love spell gone wrong on Xander. When she was about to burned at the stake, she turned herself into a rat that was kept around for a while.

The character was finally restored in Season 6 but Elizabeth Anne Allen didn’t make her too much of a standout. It seemed Amy was now into darker magics and dragged Willow along for the ride in a complex storyline. Any charm was now gone for a selfish woman who rubbed fans the wrong way. The character was already marred by the plot lines yet Allen’s performance also pushed Amy from a potential supporting role to one fans were glad to see gone.

17 SAVED: ANTHONY STEWART HEAD AS GILES

Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

On first glance, Rupert Giles is as cliché a British librarian as you can get. Buffy’s Watcher, he brings her and the rest of the gang into events in Sunnydale and is often the voice of exposition. The idea is him just the quiet man with some dry wit who’s annoyed by these teens. Yet from the start, Anthony Stewart Head gave the character the aura of a man with a dark past. It came out he had been “the Ripper,” a truly wild youth who was into dark magic. This was shown as Giles became a better fighter and some rough edges. When Angelus destroyed his love, Giles unleashed an incredible fury on him and was not ready to forgive Angel later on.

The character could still have funny bits from running a magic shop to affected by magic candy to go back to his teen ways (and bedding Buffy’s mom). But he truly cared for Buffy as a fatherly figure and was there to tell her if she was wrong. He warned the others of dark ways such as Willow’s magic but cared for them all deeply. Head made the character a key part of the show to back him up as a truly layered character.

16 HURT: PAIGE MOSS AS VERUCA

veruca in buffy season 4

When Seth Green announced he was leaving the series, fans were upset due to how much they liked Oz and Willow together. The laid-back guitarist werewolf and the witch were a wonderful couple with their banter and fans hated losing that. They hated even more how Oz was written off. He began to bond with Veruca, a rough singer for the band with a wicked attitude. When they woke up in a park naked, Oz discovered Veruca was also a werewolf but not as caring about people as Oz was.

Paige Moss played the role very poorly, nothing but pure sass and attitude that made her annoying. That made it all the more confusing for Oz to fall into bed with her. He claimed it was a “wolf thing” but the lack of chemistry between him and Moss made it difficult to accept. Oz takes out Veruca when she goes after Willow and then leaves town to handle the wolf side. That just made Veruca more hated than ever with Moss not aiding in the role.

15 SAVED: JULIET LANDAU AS DRUSILLA

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Juliet Landau as Drusilla

As the daughter of Oscar-winner Martin Landau, Juliet naturally had acting in her genes. She used it well for her performance as the mad vampire. Once an innocent girl, Drusilla was brutally hunted by Angel who wiped out everyone she knew, drove her to a convent and then turned her when she was about to take her vows. This drove Drusilla completely insane and thus she walks around with a dreamy expression as if listening to voices no one else can hear.

Her love for Spike was obvious although she was also drawn to Angel when he turned back to evil. It was his love for Drusilla that pushed Spike to briefly unite with Buffy. The character may have seemed offbeat but proved her deadliness by taking out Kendra. She made a few more appearances on the show and Angel to show a deadly side as Landau made the character one of the more intriguing regular vampires on the show.

14 HURT: ANDREW J. FERCHELAND AS THE ANOINTED ONE

Throughout the first season of the show, the Master was the main villain. The ancient vampire worked his plans to break free of his underground lair and conquer Sunnydale. Colin was a young boy made a vampire after a bus accident. The Master believes he is to be the Anointed One, a legendary evil who will help him achieve greatness. The plan was that after the Master was killed, the Anointed One would be the new villain. The producers enjoyed the idea of how this innocent child could be such an evil force.

Sadly, Andrew J. Fercheland came off a total bore in the role. He never seemed committed to his lines and not believable as a major force leading evil. The bigger issue was that between seasons, Fercheland endured a growth spurt that meant he couldn’t be playing an immortal child anymore. Thus, Spike declares he’s had enough of this kid and pulls his caged seat into the sunlight. It wasn’t totally his fault but Fercheland’s casting is why this was the shortest-reigning “Big Bad” of them all.

13 SAVED: EMMA CAULFIELD AS ANYA

Emma Caulfield Ford as Anya on Buffy

Every now and then, a character comes along that’s meant to be just a one-off appearance but becomes a regular. Anya is a great example. In the classic episode “The Wish,” Cordelia makes a wish Buffy never came to Sunnydale to new student Anya. She’s really Anyanka, a vengeance demon who grants the wish to nightmarish results. She lost her powers when the spell was broken and that seemed to be that. But Emma Caulfield was so excellent in the part that the producers brought her back a few times in the season. Anya was now struggling with being human and having a hard time of it.

She became a regular in Season 4 and won fans over with her wonderfully witty remarks and lack of any social graces whatsoever. Her relationship with Xander was well done, moving from just fun to truly in love. They had ups and downs, including a mess of a wedding but Anya still kept helping the gang in her own way. From her fear of bunnies to her love of money, the character never ceased to entertain. It’s all thanks to Caulfield’s performance which turned what could have been a brief role into a memorable hit.

12 HURT: CHARLIE WEBER AS BEN

Glory was a fantastic Big Bad for the series. The idea was this ancient goddess long bound to a human form and wanting back to her home dimension. The genius was that this all-powerful being was portrayed by Claire Kramer as a spoiled brat who enjoyed being pampered in nice clothes rather than pure evil. She was bound to Ben, a normal paramedic who had no idea Glory was able to switch forms with him. This included a spell so anyone who saw the switch forgot about it (save Spike).

Sadly, the Ben character was ruined by Charlie Weber’s bland performance. There were hints of a romance with Buffy but the character just didn’t connect at all. He was all looks but existed solely to be Glory’s avatar into it and his appearances just sucked energy out of an episode. Getting rid of him was a good move as Ben was the weakest part of the otherwise very strong fifth season.

11 SAVED: AMBER BENSON AS TARA

Viewers today may not realize how huge a risk the series was taking when it began the Willow-Tara storyline. Back in 2000, female-female love stories on prime time were not a regular thing and there was serious concern over a huge backlash. Having Willow move on from anyone after Oz also risked alienating audience members. However, it worked thanks to the casting of Amber Benson as Tara. At first seriously shy with a huge stutter, Tara connected with Willow as a witch and they bonded. It took a bit before they became a serious couple with great episodes such as Tara standing up to her controlling family.

The duo had a wonderful chemistry in everything from Willow tending to a brain-damaged Tara to the musical episode. That made it sadder when they broke up thanks to Willow’s addiction to magic. They reunited but it was tragically cut short by Tara’s demise. It was a heartbreaking moment because of how Benson made the character so loved by fans to always be the one who had Willow’s heart.

10 HURT: GEORGE HERTZBERG AS ADAM

Adam in Buffy Season 4

In the ranks of the Big Bads of the show, Adam is seen as one of the worst. Buffy works better with full magical enemies, not a literal Frankenstein monster. Created by Dr. Walsh, Adam was several demons spliced together into a creature to take on the team. One has to credit George Hertzberg with handling the complex costume and makeup. However, the character was just damn boring.

His constant monologues on understanding human nature were very dull to listen to and even the attempts at touches (he’s the only one who sees through Jonathan’s self-centered fantasy world) didn’t work out. Trying to make him the main foe of the fourth season is a reason that year is hampered down. A case of the concept being okay but falling apart via the casting.

9 SAVED: JAMES MARSTERS AS SPIKE

Spike on Buffy

Believe it or not, James Marsters is actually from California. Yet he was so believable as Spike that most think he is in fact British. Obviously based on Billy Idol (although he’ll claim Idol “stole from me”), Spike came in as a tough guy who had taken out two Slayers and a smart mouth. He emphasized he was in it for the fun of it all and truly loved Drusilla. His wicked humor made him an instant fan favorite to the point the producers couldn’t kill him off. Instead, thanks to a chip that prevented him from hurting humans, Spike was made a reluctant member of the team. This led to nice deepening (like the flashbacks to how he’d been a foppish poet).

Marsters deepened the character more with an attraction to Buffy that led to some dark moves. That included getting a soul and dealing with the guilt of his many actions. Yet the character still had that sardonic humor that won fans over and could be a wicked asset in a fight. He appeared to sacrifice himself to save the world but was brought back for the final season of Angel. It just showed how Marsters made this vampire from a guy fans loved to hate to just loved.

8 HURT: IYARI LIMON AS KENNEDY

Mark Metcalf played the part of one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s more fascinating big bads—The King of Vampires, The Master. The season one villain wasn’t too often visible on screen, typically acting as an ominous threat behind the scenes. Yet he was still formidable enough to give the then nascent Slayer pause and wreak considerable havoc on Sunnydale. Despite his minimal inclusion in the series, it is fair to argue the actor hasn’t followed up the role with anything of note since. Be that as it may, Metcalf has still kept busy, thanks to guest roles on a number of television shows. In addition, the actor’s also been cast in several smaller films over the years, such as Playback and the Corey Feldman starring Operation Belvis Bash.

It was always going to be a daunting task to have a love interest for Willow after Tara. Kennedy had potential as a young teenager who was among the Potentials and joining with the gang. She made it clear from the start she was interested in Willow but the character came off way too rough for many fans. Iyari Lemon looked attractive yet Kennedy was deeply flawed. Her “drill sergeant” training of the other Potentials drove one to take her own life. She ignored Buffy’s orders in the field which got other Potentials lost in a trap. The character was selfish and often egotistical and fans couldn’t buy her and Willow as a couple.

Maybe she was always doomed but Lemon’s performance didn’t help as it just exaggerated the worst parts of an already unappealing character to the extreme.

7 SAVED: ALEXIS DENISOF AS WESLEY

Fans were ready to hate Wesley when he first came onto Buffy. Giles had been fired by the Council of Watchers for violating orders to help Buffy. Wesley entered as his replacement, every inch the stuffy Englishman scholar. He boasted of his skills but it was obvious he had no real field experience at all. His first “mission” had him and Giles abducted and Wesley close to begging for his life. There was also a hinted romance with Cordelia that ended when they kissed and realized they felt nothing.

However, Alexis Denisof did imbue the character with some charm and under his bumbling, there were hints of some steel. The producers of Angel remembered and added Wesley to the cast early in the first season. The character soon had an incredible evolution, going from a joke to an incredibly tough fighter and one of the show’s best characters. By casting Denisof, the producers laid the seeds for Wesley becoming a huge fan favorite.

6 HURT: MARC BLUCAS AS RILEY

buffy-animated-series-riley-15

Ah, Riley. No one could fault Buffy for trying to move on after Angel left town. After the mistake of falling for womanizer Graham, Buffy began to click with Riley, a handsome guy on campus. Of course, there had to be a complication: Riley was an agent for the Initiative , the military unit hunting and capturing demons in Sunnydale. It took a bit for each to discover the truth of the other which did push them together. However, Marc Blucas was seen by fans as just incredibly bad and lacking real charm.

The producers did their best but nothing could win fans over. It wasn’t helped by ideas like Riley letting himself get bit by vampires in a bizarre addiction. They finally got the hint and wrote the character off as he accepted a new mission for the military. He later returned to reveal he was married and, oddly, he and Buffy seemed to get along better that way. The character wasn’t terrible but Blucas failed to make him believable as a serious love interest for Buffy.

5 SAVED: ELIZA DUSHKU AS FAITH

Faith was set from the start as a rebellious Slayer from a pretty rough background. Eliza Dushku naturally looked stunning in the part. She showed herself as a party gal who enjoyed a good time as well as a good fight. With her wicked smirk and nice humor, Faith caught on with viewers. Yet there were hints of darkness within her such as a rough relationship with Xander and too much into a “party” mentality.

It came to a head when Faith accidentally caused the demise of a regular human and claimed to feel nothing. It set her on a dark path, joining the evil Mayor and clashing with Buffy in brutal rights. Her return had her back to being bad, even swapping bodies with Buffy, before Angel convinced her to turn herself in. Prison time matured Faith as she returned in Season 7 now a leader to help Buffy out. Even as a bad gal, Faith was something to watch as Dushku made the character’s journey one to watch.

4 HURT: BIANCA LAWSON AS KENDRA

Kendra Young from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The idea of a second Slayer being called after Buffy (briefly) perished in the Season 1 finale was good. Sadly, the casting marred it. Kendra was meant to be a far more by-the-book Slayer, all business and refusing any friends or connections. But Bianca Lawson was just too cold in the role and had little chemistry with Gellar.

She also didn’t look that believable in a fight scene. Her demise should have been a big deal but was really just answered with shrugs as Kendra didn’t win fans over. It wasn’t a bad part but the casting just made it forgettable.

3 SAVED: ALYSON HANNIGAN AS WILLOW

The original pilot had Willow played by a different actress as a bit intense. Alyson Hannigan was cast in the role when it was picked up for a series and it was a genius decision. Hannigan made the character loveable with her charm and obvious crush on Xander as well as great humor. She rose up more with a romance with Oz and soon breaking out as a computer hacker. Hannigan grew more confident in the role with Willow becoming more outgoing and embracing her femininity.

Season 4 ratcheted it up with Willow becoming a powerful witch and her relationship with Tara a highlight of the show. She became more powerful which led to the drama of Season 6 as Willow’s magic becomes an addiction and nearly destroys her (and the world after Tara meets her demise). Hannigan could still be a nice showcase in the last season to show a wonderful evolution of a quiet character into a powerhouse.

2 HURT: MICHELLE TRACHTENBERG AS DAWN

Dawn in Buffy Season 7

To be fair, Michelle Trachtenberg is a good actress. She’s shown that in various roles, such as the conniving, scene-stealing Georgina Sparks on Gossip Girl. But her performance as Dawn just wasn’t that good. The character had a bit mountain to climb, coming in without warning as Buffy’s magically created sister who everyone “remembered” always being around. The character could be a bit of a brat and it got worse when she found out she wasn’t real. While Trachtenberg had a bit of charm, it wasn’t enough to make up for the character’s flaws with her whining and desire to help.

Of course, before long, Dawn became the constant hostage and a ton of bungling that landed the gang in trouble. Even beefed up more in season seven didn’t help her at all. The character has been a tad better in the Season 8 comics but despite her talents, Trachtenberg made Dawn the Scrappy-Doo of the Scooby Gang.

1 SAVED: SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR AS BUFFY

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It’s a famous story that Sarah Michelle Gellar originally went in for the part of Cordelia. Having played a conniving character on All My Children, Gellar figured she was better for that part. However, Whedon saw something in Gellar that made her a good fit for Buffy. His instincts were right as Gellar nailed the witty Slayer perfectly and looked great in a fight. She also captured the emotional tones of the character, the weight of the world on her shoulders and the desire for a normal life. Her chemistry with Angel was terrific and she sold the heartbreak of him turning evil and then having to destroy him.

“The Body” was a masterstroke of Gellar showing Buffy’s agony losing her mother and the aftermath was griping. Gellar really came to the fore in Season 6 with Buffy struggling with coming back to life and her agony of being ripped out of Heaven. Even the musical episode had Gellar pretty top notch in her vocal talents. Then, in Season 7, Buffy hits rock bottom but manages to claw her way back up to being a great leader. It makes sense that the star of the show would have to be the best casting, and Gellar was brilliant.

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