Before I delve into some quite severe and incredibly lame arse-kissing, I would like you first to understand why I revisited Joss Whedon’s seminal TV show. Picture the scene: you’re skint, you’re unemployed, you have a bottle of gin left over from Christmas and all your pals are at work. What are you going to do? Well, I was posed with 3 options. 1) Do some actual job hunting, 2) Play playstation, or 3) watch something on a screen which is conducive to the consumption of said gin. Since I’d already done plenty of the first option, and playing video games drunk inevitably leads to frustration, I settled for the latter. Now, everyone knows that alcohol and nostalgia go brilliant together. Your drinking reduces you to an infantile state (emphasis on ‘state’), and so combine that with something that you loved from your childhood, and it’s like being a kid again! Apart from the chain smoking of course, and that feeling of malaise that slowly creeps in as you realise that you’ve not changed your clothes for 2 days and you’ve finished your last packet of super-noodles.
If you’ve ever been unemployed then you’ve been there before: when you’re not job hunting, you’re wallowing in your own self-pity. In my case, I needed something to the pass the hours between endlessly scrolling S1jobs and trawling facebook. I needed something to invest in. When I was unemployed previously Quantum Leap was on every weekday on ITV4, which felt like a genuine life saver, if only because it gave me something to get out of bed for. Imagine then, to my absolute delight, that I discover that every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is available through LoveFilm instant. That was it: crack open the gin, close the curtains, and stay as stationary as is physically possible.
I’ve always liked Buffy, but when I say ‘like’, I mostly mean I have fond memories of it. When I started watching at the beginning of January this year, I hadn’t seen it since it ended in 2003. I never followed it religiously; I watched it in the late 90s because it followed on from The Simpsons on BBC Two, and was something entertaining to watch while you ate your tea. I was never madly caught up in it as some were, particularly many of my female friends, who would write ‘I ♥ David Boreanaz’ on the front of their jotters in scented gel pens. I always had a soft spot for Giles though, and so I feared that writing ‘I ♥ Anthony Stewart Head’ in full view of other students would not have helped my popularity in the slightest.
I’ve always liked and admired it, but it has never gone further than that. Re-visiting the show has made me appreciate just how great it really is, and how genre television has the ability to be so consistently creative. For those who are unfamiliar (in which case; have you been living in a cave?!) I will enlighten you. The show follows the trials and tribulations of the the title character (Sarah Michelle Gellar): a young woman growing up in the fictional town of Sunnydale in southern California. She also happens to be a ‘slayer’: one girl who has been chosen to fight the forces of darkness, and has been gifted with super strength and some mean martial arts skills. She fights with the help of her watcher, Rupert Giles (Anthony Head), her mentor and trainer, and her best friends Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon). The remainder of the characters come and go, but the most memorable of the regulars include Angel (David Boreanaz), a mopey, brooding vampire who becomes Buffy’s first love, and Spike (James Marsters), another vampire and peroxide-blonde bad boy, who becomes a love interest in the later seasons.
It’s clear to see why it was (and still is) incredibly popular: it has the perfect balance of action, humour and romance that makes for excellent entertainment . Most notably, it depicts young adults, and in particular young women, in a way that commands your affection and respect. They’re silly, immature and occasionally annoying, but most importantly they’re likeable. They’re not the obnoxious teens of recent hit television show Glee, and they’re not the selfish, shagging, drug addled brats in Skins. You care about what happens to them; they have a tangibleness that makes them relatable. Most importantly, Buffy herself is a breath of fresh air. Yes, she was a stereotype: blonde, white, skinny, with her weaknesses including pretty boys and cheerleading; but it’s her humanity that ultimately makes her such a multi-faceted and consistently interesting character. She wrestles with her responsibilities and selfish urges in every episode; but her emotional maturity and strong sense of morality always prevail, for better or worse. She’s more than that patronising, lazy cliche of a ‘stong, independent woman’ that a lot of post-feminist characters get lumped into: she’s human and deliberately flawed. A role model.
If the show does become weaker in its sixth and seventh seasons, then that only becomes testament to how attached we become to the characters. As they get older and move further apart, we long for the earlier seasons where the gang were all together. By season 7, Giles has been reduced to a recurring character rather than a regular, and the rest of Buffy’s friends are committed to jobs or their own personal issues. It makes us nostalgic for the earlier series, but of course this is all a part and parcel of the natural order of maturity and responsibility. We have watched these characters from the ages of 15 to 22: time passes in a way which makes sense, even if it does lose some of its earlier sense of fun. It’s not always appropriate to be fun, either: the episode where Buffy’s mother dies (‘The Body’ from season 5) is one of the most heartbreaking episodes of television I’ve seen, and incredibly important to the development of many of the characters; Buffy in particular. Thankfully though, vital as these episodes are, they never threaten to send the show completely into the realm of the depressing.
Its real strength though, is in how it takes advantage of the idiosyncracies of its genre. Like that other 90s phenomena The X-Files, they use the supernatural element to create incredibly inventive and entertaining scenarios. What about if Buffy could hear everyone’s thoughts? Or if all the adult characters regressed to their teenage state? Or in the case of the series’ most memorable episode, what if everyone uncontrollably burst into song?! It lets its creators work to their strengths, and thankfully the show never takes itself too seriously to let the sense of fun be lost. This is where the continuing strengths of Joss Whedon’s approach to genre really shines: for example who can forget the seminal episode ‘Hush’, where the characters lose the ability to speak for majority of the episode? Or in ‘Restless’, when the entire episode is made up of the character’s dreams like some weird, Lynchian nightmare? With the willingness to take risks whilst keeping his tongue firmly in his cheek, Whedon delivered some of the most memorable episodes of television in memory.
Of course this isn’t all down to Whedon. Kudos also goes to the actors and long-term contributors, including regular writers Jane Espenson and David Fury. The cast for the most part are very likeable, if maybe not excellent: David Boreanaz’s Irish accent is beyond hilarious, and James Marsters can’t do much beyond his Billy Idol impression. The core cast are great though; Gellar, Head and Hannigan in particular are stand-outs, and help to give the show an unshakable emotional core. Brendon provides much needed comic relief (for the most part) as Xander, and Emma Caulfield (Anya) and Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) are great at playing the slightly bitchy characters. Each character has its positives and flaws… apart from Dawn. Let’s just forget she exists.
Despite the fact that it ended 10 years ago, the show still remains as relevant as ever. It has even generated its own academic field known as ‘Buffy studies’, which continues to generate countless books, essays and papers which have been compiled in Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. Pretty impressive for a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Its legacy lives on in countless TV shows and films, even if that list does include the horrendously sickly Glee and the infamous Twilight. However it has also paved the way for a plethora of other successful female centric television shows, including Veronica Mars and Alias to name just a couple. Whedon is now an incredibly successful filmmaker, having made The Avengers last year, and now has plans for a S.H.I.E.L.D television show in the works.Revisiting Buffy also made me disappointed in the whole Firefly fiasco all over again; not necessarily a bad thing, just a reminder of how great that franchise could have been. Whedon isn’t perfect: he has a huge legion of followers that won’t hear a bad word said about him, but it’s hard to imagine someone else who is as dedicated to invigorating genre as he is.
Having watched six seasons in just under a month, I have to admit that it got me pretty severely hooked: out of all the things that I’ve revisited in the last few years, it has been certainly been the most surprising and rewarding. I’m almost thankful that I’ve been unemployed for a month, considering that it gave me all those hours of free time. I said almost.
Now, watch the opening credits and tell me you don’t feel nostalgic. C’mon, all together now: Dooooooo, do do doooooo…[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp_uS59WmQs]