Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that began in 1997 as a mid-season replacement based on a flop film from the same director, with the same name, that became a cult classic of television and ran until 2001, clocking 7 seasons of slaying.
From *ahem* humble beginnings to a franchise that still continues to this day in the form of comics (although we shouldn’t praise that farce too highly), Buffy is a show that has received huge renown the world over, and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) remains a pop cultural icon today. With that being said, Buffy is far from universally adored, but here’s the thing; Like it or not, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, objectively, the greatest series ever made. And here’s why.
From season one all the way to season seven the characters of Buffy undergo some of the most consistent character development and growth seen in any mainstream television series on TV, both now and then.
Take my personal favourite, the peak damaged ‘90s girl, Faith Lehane (Eliza Dushku). First appearing in season three episode three, Faith is a slayer just like Buffy called to fight the forces of evil, the only thing is, Faith is the reckless, carefree and fun superhero Buffy never allows herself to be, despite all her ditzy wit and whimsy. Faith is a foil to Buffy in every aspect, and in the face of Buffy’s (let’s call a spade a spade) self-righteousness Faith becomes increasingly erratic and unhinged, her break triggered ultimately by the accidental murder of an innocent man. From this moment Faith spirals further and further out of Buffy’s reach and becomes one of the deadliest villains of the series. While this is all unfolding however, we see in dribs and drabs that Faith is just another wounded person who allows her pain to turn her into something dark and evil, something Buffy consistently avoids throughout the run of all seven seasons. To really get the fullest explanation of Faith you even need to watch Angel to round out her character, all part of an arc that’s never rushed.
At the penultimate moment of Buffy, Faith does return to The Chosen One’s side, but she never loses the edge that makes her Faith and Buffy never really lets her forget her transgressions. If we’re to compare the likes of Buffy to shows like Pretty Little Plotholes, oh sorry, Pretty Little Liars or even a single season of American Horror Story we can see that other shows just don’t put even a fraction of the thought into their characters that Joss Whedon has with Buffy. Madison Montgomery (AHS: Coven), and in fact the rest of the cast, float from one scene to another reacting in whatever way suits the direction the ‘plot’ has decided to corkscrew today. The effect of this is a show that just can’t hope to be as engaging because it loses credibility and the suspension of disbelief can only be pushed so far.
Buffy and the Scoobies have a sense of humour and a way of speaking that is genuinely unique to the show, a form of linguistic massacre so endearing its major aspects have come to be known as ‘Buffyisms’. The humour gives the show levity, and it comes in more than one package. The characters and dialogue deliver a great deal of humour to the show with lines obviously playing for laughs in the general chaos and campiness of some of the scenarios the characters find themselves in. These aspects of the Buffyverse humour are well acknowledged by the show’s writers and even played with, such as in the seventh episode of season six episode ‘Once More, With Feeling’. The season is the show’s darkest, and so the episode was written to add a brief reprieve. Despite this, the episode hosts some of the darkest content in the entire season, with an added absurdist touch. The show constantly plays on its own humour and the episode is the epitome of what makes Buffy just so great.
Bold Stylistic Choices:
Joss Whedon’s recent career has not been one without complaints. Some feminists have posted open letters to Joss Whedon announcing their disappointment in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Black Widow’s role in the movie was received with a touch of derision, along with the portrayal of two Jewish characters joining Hydra, a Nazi organisation receiving plenty of backlash online. Whether you agree or not, Whedon’s recent projects do seem to be far from Buffy. Buffy Summers was not the first female TV lead, but she sure is one of the most iconic. The whole concept of Buffy came from an image. A girl chased down an alleyway by a monster, and she’s got the monster exactly where she wants it. Buffy is an allegory for many issues in society, and none more than those that face women. The cast also hosts some of the baddest bitches (or witches) ever seen on TV. Nor is it, for one single second, a forced cringe display of corporate driven ‘empowerment’, it is what it is. Buffy Summers simply is a hero because despite all her extra Herculean struggles she is always ‘Mousy the Vampire Slayer’ at heart, a regular girl that pines over the insufferably broody Angel and struggles in school.
Not only that, but many of Buffy’s most memorable moments are the episodes that push the envelope and make stylistic choices that contrast with the rest of the show.
‘The Body’, season five episode 16, is one such episode. When Buffy discovers her mother’s body after taking a turn following a recovery from cancer, the entire episode is at a grim contrast to the show’s usual tone. Buffy’s reaction is shown in one continuous shot, without any music or monsters to distract you, and the episode is gripping. It’s probably one of the most intense and realistic portrayals of grief on TV.
‘Hush’, season four episode 10, is another. All of Sunnydale lose their voices in this episode and fall victim to The Gentleman, silent grinning monsters that ever so politely levitate around the town at night and steal hearts. While one of the show’s scariest ever episodes, it is also one of the most fun and creative. The Scoobies cannot talk in their usual droll way, and instead have to sign and write messages to each other. See the projector presentation scene for just how well the episode plays off the scenario.
Rather than let bold stylistic choices be an unnecessary frill to the show, they compliment it and raise it to an even higher level than before.
Thats right, I read a Vonnegut novel once, I can talk about symbolism and themes. In Buffy there are predominant themes for every season, some smaller ones per episode, and there are recurring themes in the show’s entire run.
While each season has its own theme, such as struggling new responsibilities as a young adult and growing up in season one, the overall theme of Buffy seems to be how to be knocked down, see life at its ugliest, and keep coming back to fight another day.
Okay, granted, that’s incredibly cheesy. Buffy is cheesy too though, and just like the show the cheesiness doesn’t stop just how effective and powerful the message is. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, despite all its monsters, vampires, and ghouls, is a celebration of life, and everything just a little weird. With every season, this becomes more and more cemented.
So, all in all, as anyone can see, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an iconic and brilliant show and if you haven’t watched it yet, you really should. No better way to celebrate Buffy’s 20th anniversary than starting it all over again.