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'Buffy' nostalgia react: Xander Harris really is 'The Zeppo'

Season 3 | Episode 13 | “The Zeppo” | Aired Jan 26, 1999

Xander Harris is the Zeppo, as in Zeppo Marx. It’s a really hipster (before things were described as “hipster”) way of calling him useless. Coming from Buffy‘s perhaps least culturally aware character, Cordelia, it’s an especially delightful insult. Now, fans had known for a while that Xander was the useless member of the group. By the time “The Zeppo” aired in season 3, he and Cordelia were the only two members of the Scooby Gang without any distinct supernatural gifts or powers. After their breakup, Cordy ditched the group as fast as she could, leaving Xander as the lone normal in the group.

Side note: I know that right now a few fans are probably defending Xander in their heads, jumping in with references to “Halloween” and how he retained some of his super military knowledge, but that faded fast in the grand scheme of things.

“The Zeppo” is great because it’s the first time the show acknowledged Xander’s supernatural uselessness, but it’s not the last. Xander is the “heart” of the group. He saves the world with hugs and stories about yellow crayons. Actually, let’s just highlight Xander’s Zeppo-est moments throughout the series. It’s worth mentioning that Xander is at his least helpful (actually, often downright hurtful) when he tries to overcome his inner Zeppo and intervene in situations he can’t really even begin to control.

“The Becoming: Part 2”

An early but standout example of Xander’s most malicious Zeppo-ness is “The Becoming: Part 2.” Buffy is about to go fight Angeles, and Willow has sent Xander with the urgent message that she is attempting the curse to restore Angel’s soul again. Xander, unable to really help fight or cure Angel, and driven by the jealousy of a hormone-driven teenage boy, decides to tell Buffy a boldface lie instead. Given the timing, Buffy probably would have still had to kill Angel to close the Hellmouth, but the lie is still infuriating and pretty much a direct result of Xander’s inability to cope with how powerless he feels in the supernatural situations of Sunnydale, especially when compared to his amazing group of friends.

“Revelations”

Still not over the whole Angel thing, and presumably feeling a little castrated by his inability to do anything about it, Xander once again tries to manipulate a Slayer into doing his dirty work. This time it’s Faith, whom Xander convinces that Angel is dangerous and needs to be done away with (because Buffy is too lovesick to do it herself). It’s not that I don’t understand that human weaknesses at play here; I do. I just have a hard time empathizing more with Xander for those weaknesses than I do with everyone who gets hurt terribly by the aftermath. Faith was already fragile, and this moment certainly didn’t help keep her on the side of good.

“Buffy vs. Dracula”

Xander literally becomes Dracula’s lackey because of his weak will. COUGHZEPPOCOUGH.

“Fear, Itself”

Season 4’s Halloween episode, “Fear, Itself,” gives us a more internal look at Xander’s Zeppo-ness. As everyone’s deepest, darkest fears come true, Xander becomes invisible to his friends. He knows he’s the Zeppo. He knows he doesn’t contribute as much to the group or to the world-saving as everyone else. I don’t think he’s quite as self-aware about the damage he causes when trying to alleviate those insecurities, but regardless, Xander’s part in this episode was all about coming to terms with his insecurities.

“Restless”

Xander is the heart of the group, foreshadowing his big hurrah saving the day (and the world) from Evil Willow in “Grave.” It’s an attempt to give Xander a place in the group that doesn’t rely on being supernatural and, in fact, relies on not being supernatural.

I know it’s cynical of me, but I never really bought this. Xander is a nice guy, but that doesn’t make him any more useful in most of the Scoobies’ battles. Being friends with Buffy changed most of the “normal” people whose lives she touched. Willow discovered magic, and Cordelia eventually found magic and strength of her own in Los Angeles with Angel. If Xander were the human element, the heart of the group because of some fierce loyalty to his own humanity, I might feel different.

But Xander doesn’t remain strictly human because he decides that’s the path for him. He attempts magic, always to disastrous results (see “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Once More with Feeling”). He wants to be special and to contribute more than he does (see every insecure moment in episodes like “The Zeppo” and “Fear, Itself”). He just never really tries to become anything more or works toward any of the greatness he seems to wish he had. He’s not grounding the Scooby Gang in humanity for any reason other than apathy and laziness.

“Grave”

I want to like the moment when Xander saves the world from Willow and Willow from herself, but … yellow crayons. After six seasons of Xander desperately wanting to save the day, we get … yellow crayons.

I guess the point is, love Xander or hate him, you have to admit he is the Zeppo. And “The Zeppo” is actually, funnily enough, his one, big, true hurrah at saving the day. Xander usually craves the accolades and the glory, but in “The Zeppo,” it’s almost enough for him to bumble through things, be a little bit of a hero, and just be content to know that for himself.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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