The Buffy Summer


A few weeks gone by, Nikki Stafford declared June to be Vampire Month on her pop-culture blog, Nik at Nite. The primary topic of conversation — which I'm observing a moratorium on naming — was beginning to eat itself, and she had fangdom on the brain for at least two good reasons: (1) ECW Press, where Nikki serves as an editor and which publishes her Finding [censored] books, has a True Blood companion coming out. (2) She was preparing to attend Slayage — an academic conference devoted to the work of Joss Whedon in general and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular. I think there was also something about The Vampire Diaries in there.

Group shot of actors portraying Buffy, Xander, Willow, Cordelia, and Giles from Season One, with the show's logo

I was surprisingly late getting into the adventures of Buffy Summers.

While I didn't see the movie when it came out in 1992, a dear friend of mine and her roommate were devoted to it as a cult-classic guilty pleasure, so one night they rented it on videotape (a reference that is now the purview of the cultural anthropologist) and made me watch it. I got a kick out of it, especially Paul Reubens during his exile from Pee-Wee Herman; Rutger Hauer could probably menace in his sleep, Kristy Swanson played good borderline-bimbo-with-breakout-potential, and I might even have appreciated the irony of Donald Sutherland as Buffy's mentor — his son Kiefer, see, had starred in The Lost Boys, perhaps the best teen-vampire flick of all time.


Group shot of actors portraying Buffy, Dawn, Xander, Willow, Tara, Anya, Riley, Giles, and Spike from Season Five

I had no idea how far the film had strayed from Whedon's original intent, however. The movie is basically a well done but camped-up take on the title's ridiculous high concept: Valley Girl vs. the Undead. But, at least as reflected in the WB/UPN television series that followed, Joss was going for more than a spoiled-girl-grows-into-obligations romp akin to Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (with "secretly running the household" replaced by "secretly fighting creatures of the night because it's, like, totally my destiny"); the papers presented at Slayage have no doubt shown — and millions of fans (TV critics, scholars, and fellow filmmakers among them) can attest — that the world of Buffy had a much richer vein to tap than the movie suggests.

On TV Buffy went through camp and came back out the other side. There's no getting past that title or the premise of a teenager chosen to be a once-in-a-generation protector of humanity against all things that go bump in the night — nor should there be; Whedon obviously knew the value of the high concept even as he was interested in going much deeper. And one of the richest things about the TV series was its characters' steeped-in-pop-culture dialogue, the self-proclaimed "Scooby Gang" flirting with self-awareness as characters even as they worked through growing self-awareness as people. Like so many science-fiction, fantasy, and superhero sagas with not just valid but often startlingly dramatic or touching commentary on the human condition, Buffy is dismissed by wider audiences due to its genre trappings when (as with the best Star Trek or Superman stories) it's those very trappings that allow serious issues to be examined in a different, insightful light.

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer made its leap to television in the spring of 1997, I sampled the first episode and caught another one a few weeks later. Not that I couldn't relate to the show's high-school setting (nobody ever forgets those days), but I was a newlywed struggling with the transition to full-time freelancing and self-publishing after a move that stripped away pretty much all of my regular income, so my TV viewing was limited mostly to the handful of shows to which I was already obsessively attached; what's more, my wife was hooked on La Femme Nikita and Xena: Warrior Princess, and I wasn't sure that I could take another low-budget semi-serious series in my diet — which is all Buffy appeared to me to be at the time.

Soon enough friends who couldn't believe I wasn't watching the show urged me to do so; we even started recording both Buffy and its new spinoff Angel in 1999 with the aim of getting caught up. I'd gotten sick, though, and it took some time for my perennial dizziness to quiet down enough for me to stomach moving pictures — only after which I seriously bonded with the TV, poor concentration having made reading difficult and left me hungry for narrative or (since I rarely got out) just some form of companionship.


Group shot of actors portraying Buffy, Dawn, Xander, Willow, Faith, and Giles from Season Seven

I finally did catch up with Buffy in a big way a couple of years later, no longer married, still not very social, eating too much ice cream, and watching even more television. After seeing the landmark episode "The Body" and being floored by its power, even without having been a regular viewer of the series, I dug out my tape of the two-part series premiere, "Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest" (kindly provided by friend and former co-worker Stefan Blitz, now editor-in-chief of Forces of Geek, who had sent me a care package complete with episode guides) and lucked out by jumping aboard the series' run on the cable channel FX with the very next episode. Not only was FX airing Buffy from the beginning in double-episode blocks Monday through Friday, later episodes were running in syndication and the WB network was repeating the past season weekly throughout the summer, so I got to gorge on the entire series, in order, via judicious juggling of videotapes before the new season began on UPN; it instantly became one of my favorite shows ever.

Although it can't help but suffer in comparison to Buffy, I've heard enough recommendations for The Vampire Diaries (whose pilot left me largely uninspired last year) that I'll be catching up with it this summer as it repeats on the WB and UPN successor CW, but I'm really looking forward to celebrating Vampire Month by finally indulging in the second season of True Blood and hoping that I can watch the just-launched third season soon thereafter with the help of HBO-enabled friends. Early this year I remarked on a comments page here that when a certain series concluded we should keep the Nik at Nite community that grew around it together for a Buffy rewatch — not that we'd otherwise abandon our beloved blogmistress, of course, but she wrote guides to Ms. Summers' Scooby Gang long before anyone had ever imagined Finding
[redacted for sanity]. I have so much current TV to get up to date on lest my credentials among the pop-culture cognoscenti be revoked that I now dread the time commitment of such a rewatch, but the thought is still inviting.

Have you sunk your teeth into Buffy?


Promo shots from BTVS Seasons One, Five, and Seven © 1997, 2001, 2003 Twentieth Century Fox.



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Kindred Posts: Vampire WeekendCome Try My Hellmouth OnThe Vampire Slayer Diaries

12 comments:

Teebore said...

Have you sunk your teeth into Buffy?

Absolutely! And it, along with Angel, remains one of my favorite all time shows.

Like you, I came to the game late, with the fifth season's premier episode in which Buffy fought Dracula.

I had seen (and quickly forgotten, aside from Paul Reubens) the movie and was certainly AWARE of Buffy as an element of pop culture before then (and Buffy at the time was in the pop culture news, thanks to the impending arrival of her brand new-but-always-been-there sister), but on a whim (Buffy vs. Dracula seemed like enough of am enjoyable concept that I wasn't afraid to jump in with little knowledge of the characters) I checked out that episode and liked what I saw. I didn't know the characters, but it was clear they knew each other and had interesting and intriguing back stories and relationships.

I then saw a few more episodes of that fifth season, but it wasn't until "Into the Woods" (when Riley left, a character I still think gets a bum rap from some fans) that I was hooked.

I didn't know why Riley was willingly getting bitten by vampires (to be fair, the motivation behind that is still a bit dodgy) but the sheer emotion on display, and the intensity of the characters' friendships, especially between Xander and Buffy, made me realize the show was something special (if I had to pinpoint a specific scene that led to my love of Buffy, it would the scene between her and Xander in which Xander, someone who was close enough of a friend that he could cut through all the BS without consequence, tells her it doesn't matter right now what Riley did, and to run after him; I still think its a great showcase for their friendship).

So from that point forward, I never missed an episode, and did my best to catch up on the past (those FX reruns were of immeasurable help to me as well in those pre-DVD days).

(And in the ensuing drive to consume all things Buffy, I picked up an episode guide by a certain Ms. Stafford, which eventually led me to her blog, and then in turn, here.)

I'm also wary of committing the time to a full-fledged re-watch with all the stuff I have yet to watch this summer, but it is intriguing.

Stefan Blitz said...

I heard it was good.

(kidding)

I'm glad you dug it.

Check out (if you haven't) the short promo for the never produced Buffy animated series produced by Whedon and Jeph Loeb and featured all of the voice cast except Gellar (her sound alike is great).

What made this series an interesting footnote was that it was told in retro continuity, with the Scooby gang back in high school, but with Dawn as the annoying kid sister.

Check it out @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnUvZP7-5LM

Teebore said...

@stefan Blitz: It's such a shame that animated series never got off the ground. If it turned even half as good as that clip suggests, it would have been awesome.

Blam said...


I would guess that this is the first time I thanked you for that care package publicly, Stefan, but in case I never even thanked you privately, well, 10 years later: ¡Gracias, amigo!

The conceit of the animated series was inviting, as was the creative team. I still have hopes that it'll see the light of day, perhaps if Warner Premiere branches out beyond DC Universe properties, Fox and the Kazuis willing. Hey, Futurama's coming back, and it's not the first dormant property to do so, although most have actual "product" released that's built proven following.

I agree that Riley's addiction to being sucked by vamps was dodgy, Teebore, but I think it had to do with him wanting to find out what Buffy saw in Angel, Dracula, et al.

Stefan Blitz said...

And I might also be in the minority, but as great as Buffy was, Angel became a far more interesting series.

And it had Cordy :)

Teebore said...

@Stefan Blitz: as great as Buffy was, Angel became a far more interesting series.


Agreed. It might just be you and me that think that, but at least we're not alone.

Batcabbage said...

@Stefan Blitz & Teebore: as great as Buffy was, Angel became a far more interesting series.

I'd like to chime in with a hearty 'agreed' here also. I came to Buffy real late. My girlfriend, having been converted by me to Star Trek (DS9 especially, and we're currently in season 7 of Voyager, which she loves also), chose as her TV show quid pro quo Buffy. I liked it, loved the stand out episodes (The Body, Hush especially) but I didn't really jump on board the Whedonesque bandwagon until we watched Angel. I just liked it more - the characters, the story arcs, the central lore of the story - it was more my style.

Then I found Firefly, my fave Whendon show. Holy crap, space cowboys! No vampires, but the reavers were creepy as all hades.

Blam said...


Okay, guys: Why?

I'm not saying I disagree with you, but I'm wondering what you think kicked Angel up above Buffy — Older characters? More real-world interaction? — and when it happened. I didn't start watching it right away, even after getting into Buffy, and only saw the last couple of seasons; I started to watch it from the start on TNT or something, but then I lost cable for a while, and I have yet to catch up with the early seasons on disc. What I did see, roughly from the whole Jasmine storyline, was great and certainly had a different feel than Buffy, but based on what's in my head of both series I'm not sure I'd judge it as definitively greater.

Blam said...


Stefan: And it had Cordy :)

I'm a Fred guy myself, and would go for her or Willow over Cordy any day, but I was surprised at her range on Angel based on the early Buffy seasons.

Teebore said...

@Blam: I'm wondering what you think kicked Angel up above Buffy — Older characters? More real-world interaction? — and when it happened.

For me, it was partially the older characters and the real world interaction. Unlike many (most?) Buffy fans, my favorite seasons of that show are the later, post-High School ones (5-7), the seasons I watched live.

As brilliant as Joss and Co.'s "high school as horror" metaphors are, and as much as I love the standout eps from the early seasons and the arc of season three, the high school metaphors never resonated, emotionally, as strongly for me as they did for other people. So by lacking an emotional connection to the best Buffy stuff, I'm able to more freely admire Angel (if that makes sense).

In the early seasons of Angel, I enjoyed the film noir vibe, the Angel-as-PI stuff, but really, it wasn't until season three that I begin to question whether I like it more than Buffy. The first half of that season, culminating in Wesley's belief in the false prophecy regarding Connor and Holtz's making off to Quaartoth with the infant, was damn near epic, and the last episode of that arc still stands as one of my favorite single hours of TV. It felt like a season finale smack dab in the middle of the season.

The fourth season Jasmine arc was over the top in a fun, comic book-y way, and I've always enjoyed Faith more on Angel (she seems to work better when contrasted with Angel, a fellow redemption case, than with Buffy). Plus, I admire the show's chutzpah for plotting and executing a season long arc, complete with subplots and setups and callbacks to earlier events; it was a very Claremontian story, even moreso than some Buffy storylines, and I appreciated that they weren't afraid to recognize and use past continuity, bringing back Faith, touching on Angel's past, bringing Willow in for a crossover, etc.

The fifth season is what really elevates Angel, though, as it examines the nature of evil and moral relativity and the whole "do the ends justify the means?" question in a way no other show has. Every character gets a standout arc, and as much as I loved the big gonzo plotting of the fourth season, I equally admire the fifth season's ability to tell brilliant done-in-one stories that still connect thematically to the season while building into the final story arc. It's a shame they didn't get another season to explore the brilliant status quo of the fifth season.

I won't spoil the details, just in case, but the fifth season also contains an episode that rivals just about anything on Buffy (except "The Gift") for sheer heart-aching devastation.

But what really sets Angel apart for me, I think, is the development of the characters from season one to the end. The journeys they go through, and the places they end up compared to where they began are just more compelling than on Buffy, none moreso than Wesley, who believably goes from bumbling buffoon to reluctant leader to confident leader to betrayed and shattered to callous hero to gritty action hero to tortured and resigned in the course of five seasons.

I'm a Fred guy myself, and would go for her or Willow over Cordy any day

Ditto. ;)

Rebecca T. said...

Oh my goodness. Naomi and I just watched "The Body" last night. That episode is amazing. Anya's outburst was so fantastic.

We've been doing the alternating Buffy and Angel episodes and I'm really glad we have. Whenever something is annoying me with the one series, the other one will be keeping my interest and vice versa.

Having not seen the whole series yet, I skimmed a little bit through the comments, but I have a number of friends that agree that Angel was the better show over Buffy.

I feel like I had something more interesting that I wanted to say. Anyway... I love both Buffy and Angel and we can't get through the rest of the seasons fast enough!

VW: cherdy - A cross between being cheeky and nerdy?

Blam said...


I'm really looking forward to Nikki's Buffy Rewatch, and you've just reminded me that even if Angel isn't officially a part of it I'm going to have to shoehorn it in myself, since I've always planned to rewatch them together. Not only have I still not seen the early seasons of Angel, but there are a couple of crossovers (and even more casual references) that optimize the viewing experience. I was about to E-mail you about the Rewatch, actually, just in case you didn't get to check in at Nik's much anymore, but I'm glad you were already there.