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Emily The Puzzle Slayer

Jun 12, 2014
Originally published on June 12, 2014 10:31 am

We quiz Emily Nussbaum, TV critic for The New Yorker, on her favorite show: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Why Buffy?

"Buffy was the first show that I actually became a deranged fan that would frighten the people involved with the show," said Nussbaum.

She was drawn to the combination of its "low-budget" feel "that was not pretentious, but funny and silly." As the show went on for seven seasons, exploring deeper themes of growing up, responsibility, family and power, "the more I was crying and discussing it maniacally with everyone. It had this operatic beautifulness. It was this very original combination of things that I'd never seen on television before."

We provided a lifeline in the form of Tom Lenk, the actor who played Buffy's evil-turned-beloved nerd Andrew in the later seasons. Can this pair slay a round of Slayer trivia?

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Please welcome back our very important puzzler, Emily Nussbaum.


EISENBERG: So of all the shows that you've been obsessed with over the years, the number one is...

EMILY NUSSBAUM: "Buffy The Vampire Slayer."



EISENBERG: You've even described your initial excitement about television as "Buffy"-oriented.

NUSSBAUM: Yes, it's true. "Buffy" was the first show that I became, not just like, oh, I like that show, I enjoy watching that show. But I actually became, like, a deranged fan that would frighten people involved with the show.

EISENBERG: But what is it about it exactly that spoke to you?

NUSSBAUM: I think I was excited by the fact that - it was this combination of things. It looked like a very junky show and like a silly show. And it combined all of these different genres.


NUSSBAUM: It looked like - it was a low-budget show that was not pretentious and was funny and silly.

But then the more it went on, the deeper it got and the more I was crying and discussing it maniacally with everyone, the more it had this kind operatic beautifulness. And just deep themes in ways that when you tried to describe them to other people, they would think you were crazy. It was this very, you know - it was this very original combination of things that I had never seen on television before.

EISENBERG: Joining us via the magic of technology - let's say hi to Tom Lenk, who played Andrew on "Buffy."


TOM LENK: Hello. Thanks for having me.

EISENBERG: Tom, thanks you so much. So Emily asked for a quiz about "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." And we have something that we have written up called If the Apocalypse Comes, Beep Me. Tom, you played Andrew. Now Andrew was a part of the trio, a group of nerds who became super villains. Would you describe yourself as a nerd in real life?

LENK: I am, I think, nerdy about other things. My character was specifically obsessed with, you know, comic books and Dungeons & Dragons. I'm more of a sort of a theater nerd and a comedy nerd. I like different things.

EISENBERG: Do you still get fan letters and e-mails from people that want to talk to you about the show?

LENK: I think technology has surpassed the fan letter, right? I think now it's Twitter. I think people, now they send a tweet.

EISENBERG: Recently, like yesterday?

LENK: No, I mean, like, in general. I'm huge on Twitter. I'm just letting you know.


EISENBERG: So you're going to be like Emily's lifeline? We are going to ask her questions, and if you have any trouble, you can always confirm.

LENK: I'm the worst lifeline, by the way. I'm the worst.


LENK: They have made a poor decision because...


LENK: ...I don't know if I can remember that long ago because I typically don't, you know, rewatch things I'm on. I mean, wouldn't you love if I just was lounging in a bathrobe watching old episodes of myself?


LENK: Just having some Chardonnay and just enjoying myself in many ways.

EISENBERG: So if you guys get enough right, Roz Dempsey in Hawthorne, New York is going to get a special ASK ME ANOTHER prize. OK. One of the most beloved characters on the show was Spike.

LENK: Andrew - was Andrew.


EISENBERG: One of the other most beloved characters on the show was Spike. He was a British vampire who, over the course of the series, goes from Buffy's ally to lover. He may have killed two slayers, but he's quite a romantic and has odd hobbies such as watching what campy NBC soap opera?

NUSSBAUM: "Passions."

EISENBERG: "Passions," yes.


NUSSBAUM: I literally just watched that episode today.

EISENBERG: You watched that today?

NUSSBAUM: I watched "Something Blue" where he's talking about - he's desperately - he's trapped in a bathtub, and he's desperate to watch "Passions."

EISENBERG: That is the most unbelievable part of this entire series - that he likes that show. This question's about you. Andrew was probably the least evil of the nerd trio. He kept having to remind everybody about the evil thing he did in high school, but for some reason, Buffy and her friends never seemed to remember it happening. What, Emily, did Andrew say was his evil claim to fame?

LENK: I know this one. I remember it.

NUSSBAUM: Did you release wild monkeys or something? Was it...

LENK: Yes. Demon - flying demon monkeys at the prom or something like that.

NUSSBAUM: Yes. So you released demon flying monkeys at the prom, and they never remembered it.

LENK: Yes. But I only talked about it. It was just alluded to the fact that I had done that. We didn't actually see flying, demon monkeys. You just have to use your imagination. I was a vampire with bleached hair, OK. Isn't that enough?

EISENBERG: All right, well, you guys got that one right, collectively. Well done.

LENK: Go team. Team Emily.


EISENBERG: The episode titled "Hush" was nominated for an Emmy award for its writing. For the majority of the episode, what unusual thing happens?

NUSSBAUM: Oh, come on.

EISENBERG: That's a gimme?

NUSSBAUM: Yeah. Well, it's called "Hush."


NUSSBAUM: They all can't speak during the entire - during most of the episode.

EISENBERG: Right. So wasn't that insulting to the writers to be nominated for an Emmy award?

NUSSBAUM: It was very visually beautiful.

EISENBERG: I have not seen the episode.

NUSSBAUM: It is fantastic. It's a good standalone.


LENK: I mean, I wasn't in that one, but I hear it's pretty good.


EISENBERG: The show did a musical episode called "Once More With Feeling" where Sunnydale denizens break out into song and dance not just for kicks. It's the work of a Broadway-loving, demonic forest, naturally. Do you know that one? It's going to be exciting because you're going to finish the lyrics.


JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: Every single night, the same arrangement, I go out and fight the fight. Still I always feel the strangest estrangement. Nothing here is real. Nothing here is right. I've been making shows of trading blows just hoping no one knows that I've been...

NUSSBAUM: ...Going through the motions.

COULTON: That's right.


NUSSBAUM: That was strangely satisfying.

EISENBERG: And beautifully sung. Nice job.

LENK: I applaud your efforts.


EISENBERG: "Buffy" characters hang out, go on dates and occasionally battle at a Sunnydale dance club called the bronze. Conic werewolf weighed myself reading has a been brutally plays at The Bronze. Oz, an laconic werewolf played by Seth Green, has a band that frequently plays at The Bronze. What is the name of the band?

NUSSBAUM: It is called Dingoes Ate My Baby.

EISENBERG: Awesome name. Yes. Did you know that one?

LENK: Nerf Herder. I don't know. What? What did they sing? Did they do the theme?

NUSSBAUM: They do the theme song.


NUSSBAUM: All I know is Nerf Herder, Cibo Matto and Dingoes Ate My Baby.

EISENBERG: All right, this is the final question. Finally, in season two, another slayer named Kendra gives Buffy her trusty stake. What is the steaks name?

NUSSBAUM: Do you - I mean, I know it.

LENK: I know it. I think I know it.

NUSSBAUM: OK, Andrew, say it.

LENK: Stabby?


NUSSBAUM: Mr. - I think it's Mr. Pointy.

EISENBERG: Mr. Pointy is correct.

LENK: Oh, no. I ruined it. I'm sorry.


EISENBERG: John Chaneski, puzzle guru, how did our VIP and lifeline do?

JOHN CHANESKI: Emily and Thomas slayed it. They got them all right. Congratulations.


EISENBERG: Thank you so much. Thank you for playing, Emily, Roz Dempsey in Hawthorne, New York is going to receive a Rubik's cube. And let's hear it for our lifeline, Tom Lenk.


EISENBERG: Thanks, one more time, to our VIP, New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.