Somewhat less cerebrally, B. and I have started rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the beginning. In the absence of The West Wing (we're waiting for our usual suppliers to finish with their Season 6 box set so that they can lend it to us), we've been getting through it rather quickly. We finished Season One over the weekend, have already worked our way through the first appearances of Spike, Drusilla, Oz and Jonathan, and last night completed a rather unenviable double-bill of Inca Mummy Girl and Reptile Boy.
I'm enjoying revisiting these old episodes, and particularly seeing the younger versions of the characters with the knowledge of what they'll grow into later. There's either a lot of incredibly clever foreshadowing, or else the later production teams were constantly rewatching old episodes in search of good lines to follow up on. It's bringing home to me, however, how much of the respect generally paid to the early seasons is based on nostalgia, rather than on a sober assessment of worth.
Many fans will tell you that this series -- like The X-Files, Babylon 5 et al -- was never as good again after Season Three. Most of these early episodes, however, suffer from serious problems of pacing, tone and in some cases acting. The later seasons may never have quite recaptured the same engaging spark, but they were a hell of a lot more polished and professional at almost every level. It isn't just the characters who mature.