Over the course of its first year on UPN, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has gone from wonderfully witty to downright depressing. However, leading lady Sarah Michelle Gellar promises that after the finale (airing tonight at 8 pm/ET), the series will resume — as the title heroine would have put it in cheerier times — making with the funny.

"[This season] was a little dark even for me," she admits to TV Guide Online. "So I think we're going to go back to a much lighter Buffy. This whole arc was, she was buried alive, she got out, and now she realized that she wasn't living and she wants to. So I think it's going to be — and I'm hoping for — the fun Buffy. I miss quippy Buffy."

The rising movie star — who will hit the multiplex next opposite fiancé Freddie Prinze Jr. in Scooby-Doo (opening June 14) — won't reveal whether she plans to continue on as Buffy after 2003. "Everything is one day at a time," she insists. "That [decision] is about everyone sitting down and [evaluating whether] there's story to tell and if I think it'll be, you know... interesting."

Yet she believes that the show could — and should — forge ahead, even if a new Slayer must be chosen. "Absolutely," she says. "I don't know if it would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer per se, because you kind of need Buffy for that. But it doesn't mean that there's not [Buffy's kid sister] Dawn and [reformed vengeance demon] Anya. There are a lot of characters that could easily go on, and I'd hope that they would."

As a matter of fact, she hints that the powers that be may already have started to set the stage for a changing of the guard. "I think next year is really going to focus on Buffy teaching Dawn," she suggests. "Of course, this is totally speculation, because I really have no idea.

"I could tell you it's about Buffy joining the Peace Corps, and it could be just as accurate," she adds wryly. "Designer Peace Corps."

Hallelujah! Quippy Buffy is back!