It has recently come to my attention that “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” (hereafter referred to as BTVS) is the most brilliant television show ever created. As is often the case with awesome things (slap bracelets, text messaging, Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” video), my realization of this fact is somewhat belated; however, it hasn’t stopped me from nonstop enthusing about the show for the past few months as I have watched and re-watched every episode in lieu of schoolwork. “Have you ever seen ‘Buffy’?” etc. For a show that was quite popular back in the day–it ran from 1997-2003–a surprising amount of people my age, who would have been in high school during the heyday of BTVS, are apparently too sophisticated to admit that they ever watched the shows on WB. Do not become one of them. Immediately rent/Netflix/pirate/borrow the entire series and watch them. Then look me in the eye and tell me, TELL ME, that you didn’t tear up just a little during the episode “Passions” in Season 2 when Buffy has to punch Giles in the face and screams, “You can’t leave me! You’re all I have left!” My god, that is compelling television.
Having seen a mere handful of shows during its syndicated run, I was largely unaware that BTVS had quite the fan base–complete with board games, figurines, conventions, and a ton of slash erotica. It was also a feminist critical darling: Bitch magazine recently called Buffy “the most complex portrayal of female power ever attempted in prime time” (Issue no. 38). Joss Whedon, the creator of the show, has stated in multiple interviews that Buffy is a feminist show, and was conceptualized in part to give the blonde girl in every horror movie you’ve ever seen–you know, the one who’s always being chased down a dark alley or through an empty house before meeting an untimely meat cleaver–the chance to fight back. This may sound passe, but recall mid-90s TV geared toward a teen audience. (Sound of crickets chirping.) Exactly.
So BTVS was born. It can be quite violent, and quite funny, and quite melodramatic, and it’s even unafraid to be totally, utterly, cringeworthily cheesy. The first season is cute, pretty light, and leaves you thinking, “Well, that was nice, I’ll try another.” The second season digs its hooks into you. The third has you by the balls. By the fourth, you are so endeared to all of the characters that you may begin shouting at the television whenever something terrible is about to happen. During the fifth you to wonder whether you’ll ever be able to return to other TV shows. The sixth (my favorite) explores the dark side of human nature and also contains the episode voted No. 1 on TV Guide’s list of Best Sex Scenes. In the seventh, you are so sad it’s ending that you need a week to recuperate.
Much ink has been spilled on the show’s masterful use of metaphor and subtext and subversion and feminist theory and sexual imagery, so I can’t say anything that probably has not already been said better by Joss Whedon himself. Yet one thing that surprised jaded little me as I watched the show was how exactly I remembered certain feelings or situations as they were depicted in the show, even though I had a curfew and did not live in an affluent Californian suburb. Buffy’s life parallels mine in many ways despite the obvious: we were born the same year, transferred high schools as sophomores, had few friends, and wore lots of eyeliner. I remember walking into the cafeteria and having no one to sit by, and crying really hard into my pillow at night so nobody could hear, and dreading what I assumed would be the futureless, college-less great wide open after high school graduation. Stake! Heart!