Welcome to the Hellmouth
On March 10, 1997, creator, writer, and oftentimes director, Joss Whedon unleashed Buffy the Vampire Slayer upon the world in a television series that drew in fans from a multitude of demographics and a multitude of countries. The show featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a high school student forced into accepting her fate as vampire slayer in mythical Sunnydale, California.
With a kickass theme from Nerd Herder, and her watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy kept her “Scooby Gang” close (Nicholas Brendon as Xander, Allyson Hannigan as Willow, and someone just as reluctant as Buffy, the “better than you” Cordelia Chase, played by Charisma Carpenter), as she tackled, drop-kicked, and staked vampires, destroyed demons, and more in an effort to thwart the Hellmouth and save the world.
Each week, we’d find something different than the average show at the time, and for a dramatic comedy/horror/fantasy/action series, Buffy had more drama in one episode than a month’s worth of “ER” or “Chicago Hope.” Unlike other television shows that entertained and faded away by morning, people just didn’t talk about the show at the office, they incorporated the “lexicon of Buffy” in their speech, much like many of “Twin Peaks” fans who know that you can trust the Bookhouse Boys, but “The owls are not what they seem.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t just a television show people talked about, but an event that changed how they talked.
Beyond words, we had a vampire slayer who fell in love with not just one vampire, but two, while still kicking ass and never turning her back on her friends, the world, and the woman she was becoming. Other than “Xena the Warrior Princess,” it’s hard to think of another show that presented woman as strong, powerful, and self-assured, and who wouldn’t give a man the satisfaction of seeing her fail. Where men rescued women at nearly every turn throughout television history, Buffy saved every man, woman, and child she ran into. And even if she told others to run for safety, Buffy didn’t stand tall to play martyr or find sympathy or become a legendary figure, she just wanted to fight and win every damn time.
And with strong females at the center of the show, Joss introduced the love of two young women without exploitation or apology, and once again, the show only became stronger, more multi-faceted, and more ahead of the curve in social consciousness. If anything, on this front, Buffy brought us some of the most depth-ridden romances ever to appear on the small screen regardless of gender.
As Buffy grew, so did her Scooby Gang: Cordelia became a woman who respected others instead of laughing at them, Xander developed a spine, and little Willow Rosenberg became a witch of epic proportions. Others came into the gang, from vampire lovers Angel (David Boreanaz) and Spike (James Marsters), as well as Tara (Amber Benson), Oz (Seth Green), Anya (Emma Caulfield), and baby sister Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg). Wait, Buffy had a sister?
New Moon Rising
I remember when Dawn appeared at the beginning of season five. Michelle Trachtenberg not only appeared in the opening credits as if she had been there forever, but Buffy and her mom (Kristine Sutherland) acted like she’d had a room in the house the whole damn time. A head scratcher for certain, and many of us didn’t know the key to this sudden introduction, but that’s what Joss Whedon always did: He kept the story fresh without jumping the shark, having a special wedding episode, or the worst damn thing imaginable, the birth of a child. Instead, we got Dawn, unexpected deaths, bad-grrl Faith (Eliza Dushku), Buffybot, a slew of evil adults from high school administrators to scientists at a secret base, and an endless flow of demonic forces with their own cruel agendas. Joss changed Buffy like a pro bono plastic surgeon: He improved the exterior but didn’t mess with the heart and soul.
At one point, Buffy stated, “My mother said my life is fruitless. No fruit for Buffy.” But the entire show bore fruit. “Angel” became one of the best spinoffs of all time, and people even gave the failed Buffy the Vampire Slayer film another chance, where Pee Wee Herman’s Paul Reubens crushed it as vampire kingpin, Amilyn, and Seth Green played a vampire – which makes him the only actor to appear in both the movie and the series. The stars went on to other projects on television or the silver screen, and twenty years later, Buffy continues to be recognized and appreciated by first generation fans to Millennials and Generation Z as if the season finale had taken place last week.
Once More, With Feeling
Some shows have survived the test of time: “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files,” and “Firefly” because they were “big damn heroes,” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues in that off-the-beaten path vein of absolute coolness. Yet, at the end of the day, Buffy hasn’t held up for twenty years simply because it’s cool, but it had something to say about youth, exploration, love, bureaucracy, judgment, parenting, friendship, goals, desires, humanity, and ultimately sacrifice. Even so, at its heart, at its very core, Buffy wasn’t afraid to venture into the darkest regions of the brightest characters or find blinding light within the abyss of demons. If Whedon taught us anything, it’s that there’s good and bad in everyone, and we all need to do our part to not only help bring that greatness to the surface, but to forgive those who falter at times, and give them love, respect, and a second chance.
Because when it’s your turn to save the world, you never know who’ll be fighting by your side. So hush…
Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, and his professional website.
(Photo of Buffy from Buffy Wikia.)