Saturday, March 11, 2017

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - The Legacy Of 20 Years

Yesterday saw the celebration of 20 years of former WB and UPN supernatural hit series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Over the past few days there have been various articles and posts all over social media about the show's enduring appeal and legacy (including ones from Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head), so a day later, I decide to join in as well.

What The Show Meant To Me: I discovered the show briefly around 1998 having watched an episode of it on Sky1 but it wasn't until 1999 when Irish channel TV3 started airing the series that I really got into it. Around the second half of Season 2, I went from enjoying the show casually to becoming fully obsessed with it and the finale of that particular season sealed it for me. This was my go to show and the one that I had to watch every Thursday (usually on TV3, later on Sky1 properly, though VHS releases also filled in some episode gaps). Like The X Files and Twin Peaks before it, there was something about this show that would go on to leave a lasting impression. Despite the concept sounding silly, this was a series that delivered in scares, laughs, romance, heartbreaks, shocking moments and beautiful characterisation with aplomb. Granted, like every great show out there, it wasn't immune from the odd stinker of an episode but the good for me always outweighed the bad and let's be honest, how many shows can pull off episodes The Wish, Hush, The Body, Once More With Feeling and Conversations With Dead People in the same manner that this show did for seven seasons? Not to mention the absolutely amazing finales (even if they all featured an apocalypse or two) as well. This wasn't some nice little show in the background. It was a series that made you pay attention in a big way and had a crossover appeal that not many seemingly teenage shows do. Of course, I discovered this show in my teens and as a result, it massively changed my outlook on television forever.

Heroes & Villains: This show not had plenty of them but more importantly, the richest tapesty of them too. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) herself initially started off a vapid teenage girl in flashbacks before her destiny in LA saw her having to grow up and move to Sunnydale, which had it's own Hellmouth. It also had a variety of allies for Buffy though, including her watcher, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), friends such as Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and other allies/frenemies include Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), Daniel 'Oz' Osbourne (Seth Green), Faith Lehane (Eliza Dushku), Anya Jenkins (Emma Caulfield), Tara McClay (Amber Benson), later introduced sister Dawn Summers (Michelle Tratchenberg) and Robin Wood (DB Woodside) to name a few. In the space of seven seasons, Buffy had three significant love interests with vampires such as Angel (David Boreanaz) and Spike (James Marsters) as well as Initiative soldier, Riley Finn (Marc Blucas). Xander had also dated both Cordelia and Anya, had a one night stand with Faith and a brief affair with Willow while the latter herself had also dated both Oz and Tara as well as potential slayer Kennedy (Iyari Limon) in the show's final season. Giles had also dated both Jenny Calender (Robia LaMorte) and Olivia Williams (Phina Oruche) as well as briefly hooking up with Buffy's own mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland). The villains in question were also a similarly colourful bunch. The first two seasons had vampires as the main antagonists with the likes of the Master (Mark Metcalf), Darla (Julie Benz), Drusilla (Juliet Landau), Spike and Angelus all providing problems for Buffy and the gang. However, later seasons would up the ante with the likes of the Mayor (Harry Groener), Faith, Adam (George Hertzberg), Glory (Clare Kramer), nerd trio Warren (Adam Busch), Jonathan (Danny Strong), Andrew (Tom Lenk) along with Dark Willow and as well as the First Evil and misogynistic priest Caleb (Nathan Fillion) creating even more problems for the gang. Some were more successful than others but along with the various minor vampires and guest monsters of the week (Sweet, the musical demon and the creepy voice stealing Gentlemen), the show knew how to deliver a great menace, including the odd human one such as the charismatic Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs) to boot. Yup, this show did good.

It's Influence & Impact: While Joss Whedon was clearly influenced by shows such as The X Files, Twin Peaks and Xena: Warrior Princess, along with a vocal desire to subvert the horror trope of having the blonde girl getting killed by the monster, it's hard to deny the lasting impact the series has had within the land of television itself. With Buffy's influence, would we have had the likes of Alias, Orphan Black, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and even shows like Smallville and the revived Doctor Who along with the current DC and Marvel TV shows can attribute some of their success to what Whedon accomplished with Buffy. The show might never have been a ratings juggernaut but it's influence in pop culture and post 2000's television is easy to spot.  While Whedon himself has had mixed success outside the show, he definitely created something that has left an impact, one I feel that will still be felt for decades to come.

The Spin-Off: With Buffy's success, a spin-off seemed destined to be but as other genre shows that are not Star Trek related have shown us, they can be tricky beasts to pull off. However, Whedon and company had an ace in the hole as the rising popularity of reformed vampire, Angel (David Boreanaz) meant he was the perfect choice to go it alone in LA, setting up a detective agency and solving cases. Of course, he wasn't alone as the series soon paired him up with Cordelia, vision guy Doyle (Glenn Quinn) while subsequent seasons also added the likes of Wesley Wyndham Price (Alexis Denisof), Charles Gunn (J. August Richards), Lorne (Andy Hallett), Winifred 'Fred' Burkle (Amy Acker) and Angel's own son, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser), following a tryst with Darla back in the second season. In terms of spin-offs, Angel was easily one of the best ones we've had in the last few years and running between 1999 and 2004 (ending a year after it's parent show), it managed to be every bit as impact as Buffy while at the same time adding it's own unique flavour to proceedings.

Five Years Earlier: Of course before the series itself made it's March 10th 1997 debut on the WB as that mid-season replacement no-one anticipated for success, it was also a movie back in 1992 with Kristy Swanson as Buffy Summers and Luke Perry as slightly bad boy/love interest Oliver Pike. The movie also included the likes of Donald Sutherland as Watcher Merrick and Rutger Hauer as the main villain, Lothos. The movie would also be noteworthy for featuring the likes of Ben Affleck, Hilary Swank and David Arquette in minor roles. Unfortunately the movie's campy tone didn't exactly help to sell the movie and it was something of a flop, which makes the series success even more of a surprise. I have to admit to only seeing the movie properly a few years after the series ended, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected it to. I can see why it didn't succeed upon it's original release but if you're a fan of the show who still hasn't seen this movie, do yourself a favour and rectify that as soon as possible.

Living On In Other Mediums: The series might have ended back in May 2003 with it's spin-off following suit a year later but both shows have also found new life through the medium of comics since 2007, courtesy of Dark Horse and IDW. I have to admit, I bailed on them after a while but their continued existence does highlight that the appetite for the show hasn't died down despite being off the air longer than it was ever on the air. At some point and because we're in a current era of everything getting rebooted, there's no doubt that Buffy herself will return to either the television or movie fold (most likely the former) probably sooner than later, it does beg the question - can lightning strike twice or is this one franchise best left in the past? Arguments can be made for both but despite some failed attempts in recent years to set up a movie franchise, I wouldn't rule out the series getting another lease of life in the immediate future.

So there it is. The show was a major turning point for me and I imagine a lot of other people too. I sat down late last night and watched Welcome To The Hellmouth and everything about the show that I fell in love with was there in those 45 minutes. To the next twenty years.

She saved the world. A lot.

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