Published on March 20th, 2017 | by Bean1
20 Years of Buffy – A Celebration
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AT 20 – One Nerd’s Perspective
What does Buffy mean to me? Good grief, it’s almost too vast to perceive. When recommending the show to the uninitiated, I’ve always claimed that “Buffy is a guide book to life”, that whoever you are and whatever you’re into, the show has something for you. As a young woman entering adulthood when I began my journey with the Scoobies, the empowered and compelling heroine was a strong draw, but it was not the only thing about it that kept me coming back. Attempting to distill why Buffy mattered to me then, and why it still does now is like unravelling your favourite sweater to see why it fits so well. Hopefully this’ll not be such a self-defeating exercise; my love for this show endures, and I feel a renewed desire to share why.
I came to Buffy, oddly, in Season 4 at the end of 1999. This is not how I do things, mind. I’m a firm believer in continuity, that one should not faff about with the timeline. Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into by checking out that initial episode (Harsh Light of Day, and yikes, we’re straight into Buffy’s questionable choice in menfolk – Parker, D-bag extraordinaire). Back then, Sky would play new episodes of Buffy and Angel, it’s brand new spin-off, back-to-back. This was a choice introduction, immersing me fully in the two halves of a world I would soon be intimate with, and by the time their second crossover had occurred with “Pangs” (BTVS 4.8) and “I Will Remember You” (ATS 1.8), I had just about caught up on Buffy seasons 1-3.
Inhaling television in bingey crack-a-thons has become the norm these days with the availability of Netflix, TEVO and the like, but this was prior to such proliferations, and unless I wanted to fork out £30 per HALF season (one way to spend a student loan, I guess?!), a more frugal approach was required. The librarians where I hired out the back catalogue got to know my sweaty cravings in a few short weeks.
What made me cleave this programme to my heart so? The snappy dialogue? Sure, that’s front and centre. My favourite Willow line runs “So, I said to myself, ‘Self,’ I said, ‘it’s time to shake and shimmy it off!”; all delivered with a spring in Allyson Hannigan’s proverbial. The great performances? By cripes, yes! A show that can legitimately cross emotional borders (comedy, pathos, adrenaline fuelled jeopardy and back again) all within a single episode must rely heavily upon a powerful cast as much as it’s stellar script; Buffy boasts this in spades, from it’s anchoring lead performances to it’s distinctive supporting turns and incidentals. No filler here.
So, great weekly stories balanced by strong narrative arcs across each season and the entire series then? Buffy staff writer and now Executive Producer for Netflix’s recent Daredevil series, Steve DeKnight quotes Joss Whedon as having said that “clarity and emotion are above all else”, and this can be felt in every move the show makes. Story is nothing if you don’t care about the characters.
I suppose this is where it all comes together for me, and Buffy truly set the bar for the monster-of-the-week genre that came before and blossomed after. Lesser shows of the era were fun but hacky or throwaway. There may have been the occasional mis-fire (Bad Eggs?!), but even the less gripping tales still had something of value to say, and standout moments for their characters. Everything and everyone mattered, however small the detail; a background character like Jonathan Banks might have seemed subsidiary in another show. But from his first appearances in Season 2, he is afforded depth and his troubles gravitas, so that by Season 6, we can understand how his path has led him to such extremes.
I have probably bitched somewhere before about how tedious shows become when they make no room for character development. Nobody could accuse Buffy The Vampire Slayer of holding it’s players back; their individual journeys are each worthy of a spin-off (oh, how I still long for Giles’ ‘Ripper’ show once mooted by Joss Whedon and the BBC). To say I care about the travails of these characters doesn’t cover it. Buffy’s battle with her power and purpose, Willow’s turmoil as she fights addiction and contemplates her identity, Xander’s drive to find his sense of self-worth and Giles’ attempts to balance his role as mentor and proxy-parent; these are the tip of the iceberg. And nothing is what it seems.
Look further and we discover Cordelia’s arrogance masks profound insecurities, Anya’s verbal diarrhoea translates her feelings of displacement, Spike’s bravado shields his poet’s heart and Angel’s duality as romantic lead/psychotic villain offer enormous leaps of intention. No character is lazily drawn, so none can be lazily read or observed.
But what makes their travels truly worth watching is Joss Whedon’s dedication to letting these people evolve, transform; when they change, they do so irrevocably, as we do in real life. Their lessons are hard-won and we feel each one with them, even if they make mistakes over and over. As a heroine, it was always Buffy’s fallibility as much as her bad-assery that really earned my love. Her super-powers didn’t stop her being a fucked-up human, a young woman who sometimes stumbled through life’s challenges. But her spirit? That was indomitable.
This is all just the tip of the nerdberg, and in next installments I will attempt to walk us through Buffy The Vampire Slayer, using some of my favourite episode from each season (if such things can be picked), poring over their many meanings and glorious idiosyncrasies. The enormous significance of Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a cultural movement still ripples through modern television, so why does it remain so very special? (HINT; it’s because it combines inspiration with aspiration – inaspiration? Sounds like a lung disease…)
Case in point; many years ago, living in shabby shared accommodation, I was trying to make kindling for a fire to heat our cold and draughty abode. As I trod ineffectually on a plank of wood, bending but not breaking the sodding thing and muttering to myself, a friend caught my eye and quietly said “Buffy could do it.”. As if fuelled by Slayer-power, I stomped the plank noisily in two. Probably one of my favourite Buffy moments right there, and that’s saying something.
by Nina Clark
Coming next week: Season 1 – how to deal with responsibility (as The Chosen One).
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