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DON'T LET THE TITLE FOOL YOU -- TV'S 'BUFFY' KICKS

Your friends may laugh when you say that you watch a show titled "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Don't let that stop you from watching it -- you'd be missing what is one of the best-directed and -written shows on television.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer," created by Joss Whedon, has all the basic elements of a popular teen series: good-looking guys, girls in tank tops, prom date worries and a California setting. What separates "Buffy" from the pack is that supernatural powers, demons, the battle between good and evil, vampires and other things that go bump in the night are also parts of each week's plot. Set in the fictional town of Sunnydale, Calif., the show follows the life of Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, and her Scooby-like gang of friends who assist in her vampire slaying. Sunnydale lies atop a mystical force known as the hellmouth, a mecca of evil forces. Consequently, the small town is the main party place for vampires, witches and other various demonic figures.

Buffy, as her title indicates, is the chosen one of her generation to fight the forces of darkness. A girl blessed with the fighting skills of Jackie Chan and a keen sense of fashion, Buffy makes a hilarious and admirable character as she has basic teen-age girl concerns but gives fighting like a girl a good name.

She is joined by her watcher, played by Anthony Stewart Head (a k a the Taster's Choice guy), who masquerades as the school librarian, and three friends who are in on her secret identity. The first is the classic best girlfriend, Willow, played by Alyson Hannigan. A brainy, sharp-witted computer expert, Willow is secretly in love with Xander, another of the gang. In any other high school on earth, Xander would be the most sought-after male on campus, but in TV land he is considered a dork by most in his high school. Unaware of Willow's undying love for him, Xander is in love with Buffy but forced to play the good guyfriend. Xander and Willow are joined by Cordelia, the campus snob, who has rather unwillingly become a part of Buffy's secret vampire club. An opposites-attract relationship between Cordelia and Xander provides the show with a teen romance, laughable and sweet at the same time. Willow will also get a crack at the wonderful world of dating as Oz, a sometimes-werewolf, joins the cast this fall.

These characters deliver one-liners perfectly in nearly every episode. It is through the dialogue of the supporting roles that the quality of the show's writing becomes evident.

What would a teen series be without a male character who makes girls swoon every time he appears on the screen? Buffy's got one in the character of Angel, played by David Boreanaz, who is Buffy's would-be boyfriend. But it's a little complicated. Angel is a vampire under a curse that returned his soul to him. As a result, he feeds and lives as a vampire but has all the emotions of a human, including guilt for his past actions as a vampire. So he teamed up with Buffy to fight his own kind but hit a bump in the road -- he fell in love with the slayer.

The exchanges between Buffy and Angel are funny, romantic and tragic as hunter and hunted dating each other really doesn't mesh that well. This is a relationship more complicated than Brenda and Dylan's, Julia and Griffin's or even any Melrose romance could be.

Like successful movies such as "Scream," "Buffy" thrives on its ability to make fun of itself. The dramatic irony when Buffy's mother tells her that the world won't end if she doesn't go out is wonderful. (In fact, Armageddon will come forth if Buffy doesn't go out and fight the powers of evil.)

"Buffy" starts its third season this fall on WB (Channel 49) Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

Caroline Brancatella will be a freshman at Boston College this fall.