As you may have noticed, I’ve done a whole lot of not-updating over the past year or so. In my defense, I was helping to get a fledgling company off the ground (which is what pays the bills, my friend). I’ve also done a whole lot of “not going to see movies every single weekend like I used to in college.” However, what I have been doing is using Netflix Instant Watch to catch up on all the cultural touchstones I’ve missed out on. And that means TV shows!
I’ve never been a huge TV person. I can count on one hand the shows I watch(ed) with any regularity while they were on the air. But, thanks to Netflix, I get to go back and fix that. And one of the first TV shows I caught up on was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Though I’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool Browncoat since Serenity came out in 2005, I had never seen the show that really put Joss Whedon on the map. Then, after it was put on Instant Watch in its entirety and a good friend of mine raved about it, I had to check it out.
First off: watching a show originally filmed in the mid-’90s is like traveling back in time to middle school.
Second off: while I was originally expecting something similar to the 1992 movie with Kristy Swanson, I was quickly proven wrong. The TV show is phenomenal.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original movie well enough, but this was better. I fell in love with the characters after the first two episodes. They felt like people we may have gone to school with, if perhaps a little wittier. Speaking of, the dialogue has given us some of the most entertaining quotes ever.
If you hadn’t guessed, the show is about a girl named Buffy. She kills vampires, with a little help from her friends Willow and Xander, and her Watcher, Giles. A simple premise, but it did well enough to span seven seasons of a TV show and an eighth season in comic form. Plus, they’re talking about remaking it in a movie now. (Of course, they’re remaking everything nowadays, but still.)
So, much like I did for Doctor Who, here are a few reasons I love the show, and why I think you should give it a chance. (Of course, this is only if you’re a philistine like me who missed out on this when it was originally airing.)
6. The bad guys are great.
One of the things I noticed through the series: The show was typically only as good, arc-wise, as its villain.
Seasons 2, 3, and 5 are easily the best, with the Big Bads of Angelus, the Mayor, and Glory, respectively. All three were phenomenal antagonists and developed characters in their own rights. In fact, the Mayor remains one of my favorite villains to this day.
Seasons 4 and 6 are the weakest of the bunch, with Adam and the Trio as the season antagonists. Adam is interesting as a concept — he’s part human, part demon, and part cyborg. However, the execution just didn’t work.
The Trio were just silly throughout most of the sixth season — which was kind of understandable, given the emotional gut-punch of the last half of season 5 — but they were never that threatening for Buffy. (And in fact, the final showdown is not between the Trio and Buffy, but another villain who shows up for the last 3 episodes.)
Seasons 1 and 7 fall squarely in the middle. The Master had some great moments in the first season, but since it was shorter than normal (only 13 episodes), they didn’t get as much of a chance to build him up as a threat the way they did with villains in later seasons. Season 7, with the First Evil, worked really well as an incorporeal villain who could take on the bodies of the dead, but the cast of characters had grown rather unwieldy by the time the season reached its conclusion.
Of course, it isn’t just the season-long villains who stand out. Some of those who just show up for a single episode — like the Gentlemen and Sweet — are some of the most memorable. Plus, some of the recurring villains (Spike and Faith) have some of the best character arcs.
And speaking of Spike…
Yes, Spike is one of my top reasons that you should watch this show. He’s a bleached-blond punk rock vampire who is different from all the other vampires we’ve seen up to that point in the show. He rolls into town in a classic car with the windows blacked out, and crashes into the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign. (Actually, that’s always how he rolls into the town.)
He likes to fight, and doesn’t much care who he’s fighting. He can come up with plans, but tends to get impatient and move forward on them anyway. He’s the polar opposite of the angsty Angel and the prophecy-bound Order of Aurelius, and he’s a breath of fresh air. (Really, it’s no wonder that the fans liked him so much they saved the character from biting it halfway through the second season.)
Spike and Drusilla are the first vampires we see who have a relationship — a creepy relationship that involves lots of killing, but they have genuine affection for each other. Ninety percent of Spike’s motivation for the second season is taking care of Drusilla.
Spike is one of the characters who ends up sticking around for all seven seasons, and as such, he grows, changes, and loses a little of his bite. But, that being said, he’s still my favorite character from the show and he’s always fun to watch.
4. The dialogue
One of the things Joss Whedon is known for is the dialogue in his shows. They all have great dialogue, endlessly quotable lines, and each character has a distinctive way of speaking.
Buffy was really the first chance we got to see that, and it’s one of the best things about the show. It’s funny, witty, and works wonderfully to lighten the tension in some of the darker moments. In fact, the dialogue style has even gotten its own name among the geek crowd: Buffy-speak.
However, Whedon’s skill with dialogue led to a lot of critics saying that the dialogue was the only thing worth watching about the show. So, he decided to prove them wrong…
3. “Hush” and “Once More With Feeling”
Normally, gimmick episodes are something that may be entertaining, but aren’t that great overall. However, ask any Buffy fan, and they’ll probably rank these two episodes at the top.
As I mentioned earlier, critics claimed that the dialogue was the only thing good about the show. So, Whedon wrote the fourth-season episode “Hush,” which is almost completely silent. Demons (the previously mentioned Gentlemen) steal the voices of everybody in town, leaving everybody attempting to communicate via notepads and hand gestures.
“Once More With Feeling” is better known as the musical episode. For this one, a demon causes everybody to randomly break out into song and dance, but occasionally they dance so fast and furious they burst into flames.
Both episodes aren’t just one-offs; they’re integral to the plots of their respective seasons. They’re both turning points for the characters, especially “Once More With Feeling,” which establishes several major plot threads for the sixth season.
I do find it amusing that the two worst seasons overall have the two best episodes overall.
2. The Scoobies
Every superhero needs a sidekick. In Buffy’s case, she has several. The self-proclaimed “Scooby Gang” is made up of Buffy’s various friends. Willow, Xander, and Giles (Buffy’s Watcher) are the core group, but throughout the series it grows to include (at different times) Cordelia, Oz, Anya, Tara, Spike, and Dawn.
These are the people who aren’t just there for the supernatural shenanigans that go down in every episode, but they’re also there for the normal, mundane life stuff, like boy troubles and family drama. It’s the solid relationships in the core group that make the Scoobies so great. Even though they don’t have the physical prowess that Buffy does, their support is vital to her. And in fact, some of the most “normal” members of the group end up being the most important. (A great example of this is the episode “The Zeppo” in season 3.)
1. Joss Whedon is not afraid to off people.
If you’ve watched any of Joss Whedon’s stuff, you would know that he is not afraid to kill off characters, especially characters that people like. (See: Serenity. I still haven’t forgiven you for Wash, you rat bastard.) It’s the same way in Buffy.
No one is safe from the axe, and that really ups the tension in the story and sends a ripple effect through the characters left alive. This isn’t something that goes away after one episode; entire subplots are attached to some character deaths. The result is that there are episodes of the show that drag you through an emotional wringer. (In fact, I had to quit watching for a few days after the end of the second season.)
When a TV show can do that to you and you keep coming back, you know it’s something special.
There are far, far more reasons that you should pick up and start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but those provide a pretty good summary for it. Although it has some weak points, overall, it’s a solid show that stays that way for a full seven seasons. And how many TV shows can you say that about?
All images courtesy/copyright 20th Century Fox.