Thanks to a housemate, I've recently acquired the full seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched the first couple of seasons in the late 1990s on the BBC, and I always enjoyed the somewhat censored version that aired back then. So, more than 10 years later, I've finally got back into the series.
Season one is truncated and uneven. There's an element of inexperience about the whole thing. The casting's spot on, but at this point the characters are works in progress rather than the rounded beings they'll become. The series veers unevenly between teen angst drama and monster hunter action series. It isn't bad, far from it, but against another Joss Whedon truncated series (Firefly), it pales in comparison.
So we move on to the (not shortened) second season. The first season serves a purpose in establishing our setting and characters. The second season builds on it. Those characters grow into their roles. There's Buffy, the wise-cracking slayer with emotional issues; Xander, the sarcastic everyman; Willow, the obligatory cute-as-a-button nerd (good thing!); Giles, the librarian and watcher. The cast is pitch-perfect, with the characters balancing and offsetting each other beautifully.
Compared to season one the balance of the series is far more evident. It's grown into its position, managing to combine the teen angst with the action to a point where it feels like they're not juxtaposed against each other. It could have been narmy (a technical word - look it up on TV Tropes), but it isn't.
The writing is quirky. Again, it's all about balance, and this is something Joss Whedon and his team can manage constantly. They can tug heartstrings one moment and make you giggle the next. It's drama and comedy combined, and then there's the (noticeably late 1990s) action scenes. A writer could learn a lot from watching Buffy season two and seeing the (that word again) balance the writers manage to strike.
Plotlines wise, you see so many things relevant to teenagers and young adults interspersed with the undead bashing. Why does my boyfriend (not mine, obviously) act differently now I've slept with him? In most cases, the answer isn't that he's turned into a soulless demon, which is the answer in this instance, but you catch my drift. Let's add to that, it's just plain good telly - how often do you get to watch a teenage girl with superpowers kick someone's backside up one door and down the other? We see young characters take responsibility, get their hearts broken, learn to live with circumstances. For what is ultimately teen TV, it's remarkably true to life (unlike that more recent 'sensation', Glee). This, despite the presence of the walking bloodsucking undead.
And season three is even better (it has Eliza Dushku playing Faith - and the dark ones are always more fun to watch and, in my main hobby, write).