It's the 10th anniversary of the very first airing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and TV.com is joining the slayerbration! We suspect you'll be spending most of the day entombed in your living rooms watching every episode you've got on DVD, but please take a moment to revel in this momentous occasion with your friends at TV.com. Read stories of bloodlust from some of our most ardent Buffy devotees, stake out our photo gallery and video playlist, and don't forget to listen to our all-Buffy episode of The Scoop!
Okay, I'm really excited. Ten years ago (March 10, 1997, to be precise) the very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on the fledgling Warner Brothers network. The series ran for seven seasons, and its spin-off Angel ran for five, and today we get to celebrate (sorry,
"Slayerbrate") the 10th anniversary of that landmark event in television history.
Wait, what was that? No, no, I distinctly heard someone say, "What's the big, fat, hairy deal?" Well, you know what? That's...actually a pretty good question.
I mean, plenty of other shows started airing at around that same time. Seven seasons (twelve if you count Angel) is pretty darn impressive, but it doesn't break any records or anything. The series has a loyal fan base, but you could say the same about any number of shows.
So what makes Buffy special?
Oh boy, am I ever glad you asked.
Joss Whedon is the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and he was very deliberate in what he was setting out to do. He wanted to create an icon. A character that would live outside of the original medium, in books, comics, action figures, and most importantly...in people's dreams.
In part, Buffy was a joke. Every horror movie used to have that petite, cute blond girl who would (for no readily apparent reason) go wandering, alone, into a dark alley, deserted house, or spooky graveyard. The blond would then, of course, be killed. Well, Joss being a feminist at heart, he thought it would be hilarious if the big, hulking monster came up behind the little blond girl and then the cute little cheerleader turned around and kicked its otherworldly butt. And thus the seed was sown.
The idea of the pretty girl who can take on the big, ugly monsters struck a wonderful metaphoric chord. She was a perfect symbol of any of us who have ever had to face obstacles that seemed overwhelming. The Slayer was every woman who ever fought for equality, every scrawny geek who ever stood up to a schoolyard bully, every individual who ever fought city hall, every flop of a movie that ever got made into a successful TV series. She was everyone who was outcast, different, special, or downtrodden, and she demonstrated that all of us could still stand up and fight the good fight, no matter how hopeless it may seem from the outside.
By accepting her own power, Buffy gave a bit of that power back to we who watched. And we loved her a little for it.
But Joss didn't stop there. The concept of the Slayer was brilliant, but it simply wouldn't have been enough to carry a show all by itself.
So Whedon surrounded Buffy with her own gang of friends and allies who helped her to fight against the darkness. And he surrounded himself with the best writers, directors, and producers that he could find. Joss demanded a level of quality far above the usual TV fare from cast and crew alike, and because he has a genius for finding talent, he was able to get what he wanted. Every week, Buffy and Angel managed to turn out episodes that could rival anything on the major networks in terms of writing, cinematography, acting, effects, sound, lighting, and the like, and all for a small fraction of the budget.
Throughout the run of each show, and his short-lived but much beloved space Western Firefly, Joss proved that he could do the impossible. He didn't settle or cut corners in any aspect of his art, and he showed us what was possible from a TV show. This ushered in a whole new era of television with higher standards and more attention to detail in just about every genre. He also proved that you could make a sci-fi/fantasy series, treat it seriously and with respect, and that the audience would respond. Since Buffy came on the scene, we have seen a virtual explosion of quality fantasy in TV and in film, and I honestly do not think that this is a coincidence.
Since the series went off the air, there has been no shortage of extracurricular activities. Fans of the show can read dozens and dozens of novels, watch DVDs of every season, collect action figures and statues of the characters, even buy re-creations of the props that were used in the show like stakes, amulets, even swords and other weapons.
And now we are about to get the 8th season of the series.
Joss Whedon will be writing the first few issues of a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book, which, unlike the novels and the previous comics, will be officially canon, and a part of the Buffyverse. This will be the story of what happened to our heroes after the events of the final episode. And judging from the fan response, this should be a big, big hit.
So that, in a nutshell, is what makes Buffy so special. The series drew us in with amazing quality, kept us with an exciting plot and wonderful characters, and held us fast by burrowing into our dreams. This 10th anniversary seems like a great time to look back and appreciate all the wonderful nightmares and beautifully inspirational dreams that have followed. We have been shown what power is and told that we have that power. That we can change the world. That we, in short, are also Chosen.
So thank you, Joss. Thank you for creating a world so rich that we still enjoy playing in it 10 years later. Thank you for teaching us to see a little of ourselves up on the screen, and a little of the Slayer and the Scoobies within ourselves. Thank you for just giving us so much fun.
And thank you, Buffy. Wherever you are.
I was a hater. I'll admit it. I hated Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it first aired. I called it Muffy the Campfire Maker, mocked the fans, and called them nerds. It's true. I never watched a single episode during any of the regular seasons, never watched a rerun, and once hid a coworker's copy of the Once More with Feeling CD so I wouldn't have to listen to it for the 400th time. I'd actually contemplated throwing it out a third-story window, but the window didn't open.
I feel I need to confess these things because years later, during one of the darkest moments in my young life, Buffy the Vampire Slayer saved me. In a strange twist of fate, that coworker, whose CD I'd cruelly stashed beneath a heavy pile of banker's boxes, would become my girlfriend. And it would come to pass that I'd move in with her, unemployed and penniless, and sit on her couch watching hours and hours of daytime TV. This is when I discovered Buffy.
Daytime TV, as most of you already know, is depressing and terrible. Game shows, soap operas, infomercials, and far too many reruns of Wings, Full House, Family Matters, and on and on; lucky for me, though, Melissa (that's Melissa's name) had quite an extensive DVD library. Unlucky for me, this library was filled, for the most part, with old black and white movies and Morissey and Smiths concert footage. Faced with absolutely nothing that really interested me, I picked up Season 3 of the Buffy DVD box set. Why? Because Faith, played by Eliza Dushku, is smoking hot. I know that sounds incredibly shallow...probably because it is incredibly shallow; but you have to remember, at this point, I was still not a fan. I am, however, a big fan of hot chicks, and so I gave it a spin.
I watched the first few episodes out of sequence. I scanned the episode guide for plot lines that seemed interesting, never taking into account Joss Whedon's incredible gift for storytelling, and started watching. I watched five episodes that day. When my girlfriend got home from work and saw what I'd been watching her face lit up and she said to me, in a good-natured though slightly mocking tone, "so, been watching Buffy?" Still not a true fan, I played it off and told her I just like watching pretty girls perform roundhouse kicks. All she said was, "Uh huh..."
The next day I watched seven episodes from various seasons (she had the entire collection), and again, I jumped around, looking for interesting plot lines. Melissa came home from work as per usual but this time, this time I had questions. "Who turned Oz into a werewolf, how come there's two Slayers, and is that Spike guy really British?" Melissa smiled at me and gently told me I was hooked. And she was right, I was hooked. I needed to know how it all started. I needed to know how Willow went from nerd to witch and why Faith was such an irritable B-word. I was enamored with this guy they called "The Mayor" and those silent fiends called "The Gentlemen." I wanted to know it all and, luckily, being unemployed, unshaven, and alone for several hours a day, I had all the time in the world to find out.
To make a long story short, or shorter than maybe it could be, or maybe just a little less long, within four days I had watched every episode Joss had to offer. Aside from Season 4, which I felt, and still feel, is weak, and Once More With Feeling, which I still can't stand, I have to say that I enjoyed it all. My relationship with Melissa was better than it had ever been. We'd watch our favorite episodes together on the weekends, sometimes entire seasons, and talk late into the night about how Giles was actually the coolest character on the show. I was now and forever a proud Buffy fan. I didn't cry when the last episode ended, but I would have cried had I been less manly than I obviously am.
Shortly after I became a Buffy fan, I found a job, which was good because soon I'd again be faced with the horrors of daytime television. During my first interview I was asked by the two folks conducting the interview if I watched a lot of TV and which shows in particular. I told them I'd just watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer--every episode--and was about to move on to Angel. I related a few of my favorite episodes, characters, and the like, and was hired on the spot. Thank you, Joss Whedon, and thank you, Buffy. Had it not been for the brilliant writing, outstanding ensemble cast and more than a few hot chicks, I might be working in a law firm--and that is scarier than any vampire, any day.
I am not a sci-fi/fantasy fan. Apologies to those who are (and to those who might take offense that I grouped the two together), but I never understood the appeal of magical netherworlds and futuristic machines that conquer human civilizations. Why live in those realities when this one is crazy enough? Yet one of my favorite shows of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, could squarely fit in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Then again, it could also fit in "coming-of age/bildungsroman," or "drama," or "teen horror," or...
People talk about films and TV as an escape from reality, a chance to get away from everyday woes and problems and issues and let the sheen of Hollywood paint a Brady Bunch picture to replace it. For some, perhaps, what better way to do that than to become immersed in a world completely different from your own--the magical world of Lord of the Rings, perhaps, or even just the secrecy of The Sopranos or the glitz of Las Vegas. To a certain extent, Buffy was and still is that show for me. Watching Buffy allows me to escape reality--where, let's be honest, I often don't know what the heck is going on--to this other reality, where I (as Buffy, or Willow, or sometimes Xander or Giles) do. What to do when you run into some scary dude in a dark alley? Beat the crap out of him, of course! And if your boyfriend turns evil after a not-so-chaste sleepover? Draw upon the strengths and talents of your friends to collectively send him to hell.
But Buffy, with its humor, characters, issues, and villains, isn't just an escape from reality--it turns back and gives a reality check on fantasy. For all its fantastical elements of demons and hellmouths and ever-impending apocalypses, Buffy, at the heart of it, is about the new girl in town, just trying to fit in and navigate the waters of teenage and young adulthood. She deals with issues common to everyone: crushes that don't work out, overdemanding teachers, parents that just don't understand. But Buffy also lives in the real world with the rest of us, where love comes in unconventional forms, where a loner student brings a gun to school, where death can strike without discrimination. And who wants to totally escape reality anyway? Escaping into fantasy only delays that inevitable return to reality, making you resent reality more for...well, for not being the fantasy.
That is what is so great about Buffy, what makes it smart and entertaining at the same time. Buffy uses the escape element to the extreme, creating a pseudo-fantasy world in which you can go to hell for pissing someone off, you can erase that incident from your lover's memory, and there really is something in the pipes. It commits to this world where Buffy can die twice (and still come back stronger than ever), all the while knowing that you probably shouldn't ever fully commit to it. When Angel's smooth face despite his inability to cast a reflection perplexes Willow ("Angel, how do you shave?"), and Anya talks about putting in "a full day's work" and getting just compensation for it as a vengeance demon, the offbeat humor and witty sarcasm are not just creative devices to make you laugh, or for the writers to give themselves a pat on the back for being so smart. The wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes keep one foot in reality, giving you permission to laugh at yourself for watching--and loving--a show about vampires with souls, demons turned human, and a slayer named Buffy.
In the end, Buffy is much more than vampires and hellmouths and the panoply of demons that wreak havoc upon Sunnydale (and beyond). It is the human elements, elements that any of us can identify with, elements that are not specific to any one genre but are universal to the human experience that make us laugh, cry, and laugh and cry while watching. And that makes the escape from reality--and the inevitable return from fantasy--that much sweeter.
So, my fellow Chosen Ones (male and female), watch on, I say. Watch on, and rock on for another 10 years and more.