Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Lady Kills- Why I Love Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Giles: “Into each generation, a slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a chosen one. One born with the ...”
Buffy: “… the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil, blah blah, I’ve heard it, okay?” – Welcome To The Hellmouth.

I would like to say that this was the biggest incredible scenario of the whole series (which it is though) but what is more incredible is the fact that one of the successful and influential series in our time is the second chance of a preposterously silly film back in 1992 starring Kirsten Swanson, a film so silly that it became a massive flop and something most critics didn’t bother remembering. Cut to March 1997 on the WB and I’ll bet all those memories of said silly film came flooding back. If I had seen the movie before tuning into the series, I certainly wouldn’t have been enthusiastic to have sat through this show. It might be good thing that I didn’t.

The concept is pretty simple – a bright and perky sixteen year old blonde girl named Buffy Summers discovers that her destiny is to slay all kinds of supernatural nasties in an attempt to protect the world while following orders from a group of disciplinarian men called watchers. Her watcher in LA being Merrick, her attempts of doing her slayer role forced her to burn down a gym and get a transfer to Sunnydale as her parents’ marriage collapse.

Damn this girl already has got it hard, so it’s a good job that you’ve got an actress as charismatic and dare I say it, convincing as Sarah Michelle Gellar taking on what is essentially a surprising. This may be fantasy aimed at teenagers but this is show in which the writing was strictly on an adult thinking while successfully giving off the message that teenagers can be flawed and engaging to watch. Again this series succeeded more than it failed.

While the first season of Buffy is easily my least favourite (don’t kill me), it is on the other hand, one of the best debut seasons to any series (Six Feet Under IMO will be remaining at Number 1 for the foreseeable future) and it’s opening episodes “Welcome To The Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” saw convention turned on it’s head in a big way. Instead of a pretty blonde girl in an abandoned school in the middle of the night being a prey for a randy jock, the poor said ending being her snack. That pretty blonde girl being Darla, who when you look back is incredibly influential in the a lot of the series’ vampire based mythology (Angelus, The Master, Spike, Drusilla).

Our main blonde butt kicker Buffy stemmed out of creator Joss Whedon’s love of horror and unabashed sympathy of the blonde girl always getting a grisly ending. Buffy would face a mess load of hardships in the seven TV years we got to know her but in the end she would always come out of top and as a dedicated viewer you would want her too as well. Gellar perfectly played and added lairs to a character that in the hands of inferior writing and casting would have suffered the same fate as the 1992 movie had suffered.

But Gellar was far from the only casting joy on this show. Nope, there was British actor Anthony Stewart as her trustworthy and slightly uptight watcher Rupert Giles (who was more or less Buffy’s surrogate father), Nicholas Brendan as goofy but kind hearted geek Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as the meek computer nerd/all mighty powerful Wicca Willow Rosenberg, Charisma Carpenter as the delightfully bitchy Cordelia Chase and David Boreanaz as the dark and mysterious and tortured ensouled vampire Angel.

Throughout Season One I enjoyed learning about Angel’s dark past, Cordelia and her array of caustic putdown, the ongoing saga with The Master and of course, Buffy’s reluctant acceptance of Willow, Xander and Giles as her allies. Instead of being accessories and random people for Buffy to always save, they became part of the reason why she won many of her battle.

The one thing I always loved about Buffy though is the fact while in later years we lost Angel and Cordelia to a spin off for Buffy’s tortured lover and even Oz (werewolf/musician boyfriend of Willow’s for three years and all round nice guy), the show’s constant need to reinvent itself and stay fresh made it even more addictive. I loved Seasons One to Three. I loved the high school angst, the slow break ups and reboots Buffy went through with the Scoobies and her parents, I loved the study of her slayer calling, the introduction of the Watcher Council and darker side of being a slayer as wonderfully demonstrated through Faith but some odd reason, I love Seasons Four to Seven just a little bit.

Why? Probably because it was in those final four years of the series life that I felt the series was really taking risks. The writers went from having Willow into a mousey girl into the most powerful woman in the universe and how sensitively and realistically her relationships with both Tara and Kennedy showed the kind of authentically of same sex relationships that even now many shows consistently get wrong. I liked how Xander did his ample best to mature and be adult. In a lot of ways, him ditching Anya at the altar did show maturity as his fears of turning into his parents did get him to be honest with her. Hell even having Buffy self destruct every once in a while and the series’ history rewritten to justify the presence of sister Dawn had its pros. We may have needed to see Buffy become something of a mentor but it didn’t the series any harm either.

I also liked that this show could do an episode of pure silence (“Hush”), an intriguing and disturbing honest depiction of a personal death (“The Body”) and even a musical episode (“Once More, With Feeling”) with such relish and care. Like many people, I still having trouble understanding this series was constantly denied Emmy accolades. It more than deserved them.

I loved the diverse range of baddies we got too. While the first two seasons delighted us with fantastic vampires such as The Master, Darla, Spike, Drusilla and Angelus, remaining seasons thought more outside the box. Okay while The Initiative and Adam in Season Four along with the nerds, Warren, Andrew and Jonathan in Season Six weren’t as effective as oh say, The Mayor in Season Three, Uber-goddess Glory in Season Five or even The First Evil and Caleb in Season Seven, they still made for more interesting villains in comparison to a lot of other series though.

I got into the series back in 1999. When I was watching it at first, I was a casual viewer but by the time I had seen “Becoming Part 2”, casual fan became obsessive fan and boy, did I have many a person in my school take the piss out of me for being addicted to this series. Back then I didn’t care, now I care even less because this show was so freaking amazing, it’s almost inconceivable to me that anyone would not like it.

Sure there was some flaws and things that griped, mainly poor development for a character like Riley, Tara’s cruel death and the clumsy manner in the way the series tried to incorporate Andrew into the Scoobies and played down Spike’s attempted rape on Buffy but the fact that this show dared to take risks even when they didn’t do them much good is a testament that many other shows can’t brag. Sure during and since Buffy’s exit there has been plenty of shows vying for the Slayer’s mantle but look at the odds. Charmed is/was too monumentally stupid that even comparing to Buffy feels laughable, Alias nearly got there but the last few seasons lagged and Supernatural, although brilliant needs to up the ante so we really made of before it can properly be considered a genuine successor. The only show that has the same kind of feelings that Buffy did for me is the new Doctor Who.

I spent five years watching 144 episodes of sheer and undeniable joy. I spent five years forming an emotional bond to an extraordinary array of fictional and getting animated and engrossed (as well as occasionally creeped out and tearful) of their many, many dilemmas. Buffy was the first, it isn’t the last but it will be the most significant show to have that kind of an impact on me. By the time I saw “Chosen”, I was ready to let this series go, I wasn’t totally happy about it but at least I knew that this was a show that came into the world amazing people like myself and left doing the same thing. Again that is not something you say about many TV series. I want to thank Joss Whedon and everyone involved in this series for actually opening up my mind to what I can and should expect from a television show.


Soap Dictator said...
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Guada GN said...

Amen to everything you said, bro.