People always looked at me sideways when I said didn’t like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“Wait, you like Joss Whedon though.”
“Like him? The man’s a genius.”
“You like Firefly, right?”
“Love it! Have I shown you my model of Serenity?”
“And you’ve got that whole Alyson Hannigan thing going on.”
“Boy, do I! Let me show that model of Sere…”
“No one cares. Why don’t you like Buffy?”
That was me six weeks ago. Today, having just finished the seventh and final season, I’m happy to grovel and gorge on that humble pie. In fact, throw in a side of crow and an extra helping of ‘my words’ please.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is required viewing.
A few months ago I bought Mrs. Beardman the boxset for a birthday. We weren’t really hooked on anything in particular and she recommended we watch it at some point. Her exact words were “I think I remember enjoying it”. Well what are we waiting for baby! We’ll feed the cats another day, put that thing on!
I can’t remember why I let it pass me by the first time around. I knew the basic idea. I knew it was about vampires being slain, I knew there was a spinoff series, Angel, and I had some odd idea that Billy Idol was in it but I had no idea it was this good.
It’s brilliant. It’s utterly brilliant. Even to begin with (the first series is arguably the weakest) Buffy is witty, creepy and weird in all the right ways. The first series, like an opening scene in a film, perfectly establishes the tone of what’s to come and it introduces the characters.
All of the strengths of the show; the writing, the dialogue, the direction, the
awful quirky effects, all of it is redundant without characters you can fall in love with and Buffy has them. Buffy, Giles, Willow, Spike and my beloved Xander (who I like to believe was based on me somehow) these are some of the most beautifully written characters I’ve seen on television. You buy everything in the show because you buy them. At the end of season six when a distraught Willow collapses into Xander’s arms you’re heartbroken because they’re heartbroken.
But the quality of the characters reflects the writing of the show in general. Any television series worth it’s salt will use it’s characters and stories to address various themes. Even fantasy shows like Buffy can address human trials and tribulations. Love, death, betrayal, loss, fear, all the things that make us human and define us. This is the real meat of the program and this is what the characters face… as well as weird snake monster things…. and a particularly awful robot.
And the cast? Sublime. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch. The young cast embody their roles. They may start as archetypes, but they grow into this wonderful ensemble of heroes. Sarah Michelle Gellar changes so much through the course of the show’s seven seasons she is nearly unrecognisable by the end. Initially Buffy is cocky and ditzy and that’s about it. But she turns into a deep, frankly damaged, hero. She makes terrible mistakes and pays dearly for them. There’s an old saying that if a Joss Whedon character is happy they must be immediately punished. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of fun but being the slayer is murder. She, along with her friends, is battered and hammered relentlessly and Gellar sells that slow difficult transformation from young girl to battle hardened warrior.
The whole cast is magnificent. I honestly don’t think there was an episode where Nicholas Brendan didn’t deliver at least one Xander line that killed me. Alyson Hannigan is adorable as Willow, but gets to unleash a terrifying darkness in one of the most memorable arcs. James Marsters’ Spike is a fanged Johnny Rotten and while some disliked his arc it feels natural. Marsters had to be frightening, funny and deadly serious and some how he managed it all at once.
Best. Watcher. Ever.
There are lows (a few episodes fall on their face) but the highs are dizzying. Season Four’s Hush, features arguably the scariest beasties ever conceived; The Gentlemen. These ghoulish creatures steal the voices form every person in the town and begin cutting out people’s hearts. For 27 minutes Hush features no dialogue, an inconceivable notion for a mainstream, prime time hour of television but the effect is incredible.
Pictured: The Gentlemen
Not Pictured: My Soiled Underpants
Whedon would challenge himself again in the musical episode Once More with Feeling. This is another example of just how willing this team was take risks to keep the show fresh and interesting. While the result was a critically acclaimed episode, James Marsters later revealed the cast weren’t particularly optimistic saying ”It’s obvious now that they were good songs but the thing was Joss and his wife Kai, they don’t sing very well. And they don’t play piano very well. The songs sounded really cheesy and horrible… We were saying, “Joss, you’re ruining our careers.”"
But even those examples are over shadowed by the Season five episode The Body.
I wish someone would have Clockwork Orange’d me to a television and shown me The Body years ago. It’s the best single episode of television I have ever seen. It’s a bold, bleak and shockingly honest look at death. There is no music, it’s deliberately slow and for most of the episode characters sit, as you do when in mourning, in silence. It’s breathtaking.
Today television is bursting at the seams with serialized genre shows, but back when Buffy was starting that format was seen as experimental. The X-Files, the closest show like it at the time, was in swing at the time, but a fantasy show, with series long arcs and ‘big bads’ (Buffy coined that term) was not the norm. Some individual episodes were groundbreaking but the series as a whole was hugely influential on what television looks like now. It’s sort of like listening to The Beatles and hearing where all your favourite bands came from.
So here’s my coming clean. I loved Buffy, I miss Buffy. I hate Twilight that little bit more now because Joss Whedon wiped the floor with that series years before it was even written. I have a birthday coming up and have developed a cough that sounds a lot like *Angel*. I want more, I’ll probably buy the comics that continued the story. I might die my hair blonde and adopt a London accent. Time to make room on the shelf the figurines won’t buy themselves.