"Welcome to Sunnydale — Enjoy your Stay." It's official, if you don't feel old yet, you soon will. Buffy the Vampire Slayer turns 20, but where other shows and their dodgy CGI have turned to dust in the sunlight, our feisty heroine and her ragtag gang of vampire hunters hasn't aged a day. For seven seasons and 144 episodes, #SarahMichelleGellar ruled as the Slayer of the quaint fictional town in this feminine first horror comedy.
Together with our titular Buffy, we grew up, we laughed, and we cried, but just what made #JossWhedon's #vampire vacation something to write home about? With all the high school angst you could throw a horny teen at, and all the gothic #horror of a Bram Stoker novel, here is why #Buffy was anything but your typical TV show!
Raising The Stakes
It was a bold move, taking a film that had pretty much tanked at the box office and bringing it to the silver screen. Whedon had served as a writer on the 1992 film of the same name, starring Kristy Swanson and Donald Sutherland, and he clearly saw the magic beneath its lackluster reviews. In 1997 #BuffytheVampireSlayer the series was born. Would Buffy have worked in 2017? Probably not; we have seen the likes of Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour flounder, while the sheer amount of vampire shows around at the moment is enough to put anyone off. However, Buffy had a trick up her sleeve — at her time, she was ahead of the curve.
Buffy was kicking vampire ass long before we met the Salvatore or Winchester brothers, and to this day makes Twilight look like the candy-covered mush that it is. Buffy would garner its own spin-off for five seasons when David Boreanaz left Sunnydale to start his own vampiric detective agency in Angel, but it pales in comparison to Sunnydale's macabre backdrop and the magic of what the Whedonverse created in the late '90s.
Hell On Earth
What made Buffy different was that it was more clever than it gave itself credit for. With an analogy that high school really is hell, Sunnydale's premier school of learning was built directly over the bad mojo of the Hellmouth. From faculty to students, there was a colorful cast of misfits and monsters.
Charisma Carpenter was the pastel-colored cheerleader as a walking Regina George, hooking up with the doughy, but lovable, Xander (a match made in heaven and hell). Alyson Hannigan of later HIMYM fame was the bookish nerd, who would later delve into the realms of dark magic; she also had a brief fling with a werewolf (Seth Green) before falling for lady-friend Tara. Obviously you had Buffy, rebellious against her newly divorced, but also hilarious mother, and everything was presided over by Buffy's "Watcher" Giles. Anthony Stewart Head's performance as the stoic Giles was the glue which held the "Scooby Gang" together as various people dipped in and out and tragedy faced them all.
However, my personal favorite part was the villains. Straying between "monster of the week" and overarching storylines, Buffy was nothing less than frightening and fabulous. Season 1 had Mark Metcalf's gleeful Nosferatu rip-off the Master, while Season 2 introduced us to Spike and Drusilla, a Sid and Nancy if ever we saw one. James Marsters excelled as Spike and became a great antihero of the show, lasting until its final season. Speaking of anti heroes, Season 3 introduced Mayor Richard Wilkins, an occult Ned Flanders, who corrupted Buffy's replacement, Eliza Dushku's Faith. Faith herself was a hugely important part of the show, seen as the opposite to Gellar's Buffy, she proved instrumental to the show's yin and yang.
Love And Death
Whedon's world was nothing short of camp and was usually hellishly OTT, so it is easy to forget that Buffy also helped people sexually. Just as Sunnydale was waking up to the demons around it, the cast (and large demographic of the audience) were waking up to their own sexualities. In particular, Willow and Tara's relationship, which heralded the first lesbian kiss on a prime time American network show.
Buffy herself had a string of men, showing that unlike most stereotypical final girls, she wasn't afraid show her softer side. The rules of horror state that the final girl is (usually) always a virgin, but Buffy threw that rulebook out the window with her slayer handbook. Easily her most memorable relationship was with Boreanaz's Angel/Angelus, who flipped between perfect boyfriend material and bloodthirsty vamp. That isn't to say she didn't get some elsewhere, Buffy had flings with Marc Blucas as the hunky Riley and even shacked up with Spike, however, as a Ross and Rachel, Buffy and Angel formed the crux of the show's heart.
Elsewhere, it was anything but roses and romance — every season of Buffy dealt with the real-life heartbreak of losing those you love. Where shows like Desperate Housewives had a disproportionate amount of death for the suburbs, it didn't seem out of place in a town whose main demographic was demons. Giles's love interest Jenny Calendar was the first main character to perish, a point which Whedon called necessary to drive the plot forward.
We lost others on the way, but Buffy will always be remembered for its least Buffy episode ever in Season 5's "The Body." Giles had served as Buffy's father figure, with her father largely absent from the show, but Kristine Sutherland's Joyce Summers had always been a constant. Tragedy struck when Buffy found her mother dead on the sofa, not from curse or vampire bite, but the natural causes of a brain aneurysm — it rightly deserves its place as one of the greatest hours of television ever!
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Thanks For The Memories
The other skill of Buffy, unlike many shows, is that even in its early days, you can actually remember the episodes by name and not just synopsis. The aforementioned "The Body" was a poignant respite from the horror, but it joins a long lineage of stellar episodes. For example, when the school's biology teacher is actually a praying mantis in "Teacher's Pet," which put a spin on teachers seducing their students. Season 1 also contained "Nightmares," where a little boy pulls the cast into his own nightmare after being abused by his Kiddie League coach.
Buffy's imagination was untold, frequently dipping into "What If?" episodes and alternate realities without taking itself too seriously. Later highlights include Tara's introduction alongside the floating "Gentlemen," which wins the award for Buffy's scariest creations, while everyone remembers the musical episode "Once More, with Feeling." With its own album release, it is still the perfect way to spend a long car journey to the in-laws. Few shows can pull off a musical episode, but with Buffy it worked. Arguably, "Once More, with Feeling" will have helped the likes of American Horror Story's musical interludes and the entire premise for Ryan Murphy's Glee. You gotta' hand it to Buffy, the show had balls!
A Stake To The Heart
Buffy herself was among the great final girls like Ellen Ripley, Laurie Strode, and Nancy Thompson, because she too would also perish on our screens. After briefly drowning in Season 1, the Season 5 finale saw a much bigger affair as Buffy plunged into a hell portal to save the life of her newly-introduced sister, Dawn. Season 5 saw one of the most divisive seasons for the show; the Dawn plot was already rubbing people up the wrong way, seeing her arrival three years in as a cheap ratings ploy. There was also the introduction of Dracula, as well as lot of retreading old ground with Buffy and Angel; however, the introduction of Clare Kramer as the blonde bombshell Glory was seen as a master stroke.
The vamps were certainly aging, and many saw Season 5 as jumping the shark, while everyone knew Buffy's death would be temporary. Sure, there were another two seasons, but was Buffy ever quite as good after that? Season 6 had some brilliant moments, such as Tara's demise at the hands of the nerdy "Trio," but Buffy was inevitably limping towards a finale. Thankfully, Whedon and co. at least knew when to call it quits. The last season saw Buffy creating her own slayer school, while the various activated slayers being trained in the arts of the Scooby Gang. Buffy came to a head in a final battle against an omniscient entity called The First Evil, aided by a well-cast Nathan Fillion as preacher-cum-hitman Caleb.
Digging Up The Past
Our time in Sunnydale literally came to an end when the whole town was sucked into the Hellmouth beneath, in one of the best series finales on record. Where many have remained optimistic for a revival, everyone from Sarah Michelle Gellar, to Boreanaz, to Whedon himself have all claimed that Buffy is as dead as the vamps within it. Luckily for fans of the franchise, the Buffyverse was already so large, it had continue.
As well as various novels and rumors of spin-off shows, an official Season 8 was published by Dark Horse comics in 2007, continuing regularly until Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 11 in 2016. Whereas we never got the Giles-centric Ripper show or a Faith spin-off, you can't hear the word "Buffy" without someone mentioning a revival. Whedon has expressed his displeasure at plans to create another Buffy film for cinemas, but with that news being quiet since 2011, we can assume that one is dead and buried (for now). In the meantime, it is best to dig up your old DVDs, sharpen your stake, and lock the door. Settle in for a well-timed Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon to celebrate two decades of debauchery, danger, and delight — just don't skimp on the garlic.
Check out the superb "Something to Sing About" from Buffy's musical episode, and don't forget our poll below!
Do you think 'Buffy' deserves the acclaim it gets?
(Image source: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' - 20th Television)