Are you ready to watch me get all crazy fangirly?
It’s another one of my very infrequent non-book reviews!
If you asked me what my favorite TV shows ever are, for the last few years my answer would have been the same. Arrested Development and Six Feet Under. Guess what Arrested Development and Six Feet Under? There’s a new kid in town.
My sister, the persistent bitch I’ve talked about before, had been after me for quite a while to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which aired on WB and UPN from 1997-2003. And for whatever reason, I’ve always resisted it. Then a while ago, I kind of discovered something about myself. Which is that I sort of like Sci-Fi and fantasy stories. And so, last October I went to visit my sister and she played me her favorite episode of Buffy, Hush (from season four).
Did I like? Fuck yeah I did! My love was instantaneous and so I borrowed all seven seasons on DVD. I started at the beginning. Slowly at first. Then one day my husband was trying to work while I was watching the first episode of season two, and he couldn’t help but pay attention. So from then on, we watched about one episode a night until we finished the seventh and final season. All told, I watched the whole series in about seven months. In a way, I feel like I missed out by not watching earlier. But I’m a huge fan of TV series on DVD and I loved getting to watch the storylines play out back to back to back like that.
The year was 1997 and Buffy Summers was the new girl at Sunnydale High School. Only a sophomore, Buffy had learned the year before that she’s been chosen by a mystical group to be the Slayer. She’d gotten kicked out of her Los Angeles high school last year for burning the gym down. (It wasn’t her fault! There was a nest of vamps!). What Buffy doesn’t know is that fate brought her to Sunnydale. You see, Sunnydale rests on The Hellmouth, which means the town is ripe with vampiric and other demonic activity. Buffy wants to leave her slaying behind her, but soon learns that she is special, she was chosen to be the slayer and it’s a position from which she can not run.
She gets help from her Watcher, Rupert Giles, who doubles as the high school’s librarian. Buffy quickly befriends, Willow Rosenberg and Willow’s best friend forever, Xander Harris. Buffy is unlucky enough to get on the bad side of the most popular girl in school, Cordelia Chase. And she is being followed by a mysterious brooding stranger named Angel. The gang is quickly dubbed ‘The Scoobies,’ or ‘The Scooby Gang.’ The Scoobies all assist Buffy in her quest to rid the world of demonic activity.
And so began the saga. It’s almost impossible to give a real review of this show for a few reasons. One is that I want anyone who hasn’t watched the show to do so and I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. The other is that the storylines become so far reaching and complex that it would take much more time than I’m willing to give. So, I’m going to give a quick rundown of the main characters, trying not to give away too much about them.
-Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar).
She is the Slayer. The Chosen One. A pretty girl who loves clothes and boys. On the surface, she’s a typical teenager. She struggles with school and can be slightly air-headed. But when it comes to slaying, she’s great. She has super human strength, kick-ass moves, and a sense of where and when to expect danger. Word on the vampire street is that she’s the most formidable slayer ever.
-Willow Rosenberg (the adorable Alyson Hannigan).
Buffy’s best friend. Willow is shy and nerdy at the beginning. A true computer geek, she’s often used to break into the school’s (or the town’s, or the federal government’s) computer systems. As the seasons progress, Willow becomes an extremely powerful witch, using spells and chants to assist Buffy in making sure our world is demon-free. And then her magical power gets out of control. Also, eventually she becomes a lesbian.
-Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon).
Willow’s lifelong best friend. Initially has a crush on Buffy in the early seasons. Xander is a geeky slacker of a high school kid when we first meet him. His main personality trait is a sarcastic sense of humor, though he often becomes a voice of reason when Buffy’s temper gets the best of her. Xander is always willing to stick his neck out and risk horrible injury (see above eye patch) to help Buffy and Willow fight demons. He has no special powers, a fact which he is painfully aware of. Though one could argue that an almost stupid sense of loyalty is his strongest asset.
-Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). Seasons 1-5, appearances in 6&7.
Assigned by the Council of Watchers to be Buffy’s watcher. Giles maintains Buffy’s training schedule and heads up the gang’s research on various demons who visit Sunnydale. Giles boasts an impressive library of books on demons and his own knowledge is vast. Giles is British and is occasionally exasperated at being stuck working with flighty American teenagers. We get a handful of stories of Giles in his earlier days, when he was called Ripper. The series’ biggest downfall is that Giles’ Ripper personality was not fully formed.
-Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) Seasons 1-3 only.
The bitchiest and most popular girl at Sunnydale High, Cordy gets involuntarily involved with fighting demons in Sunnydale. She’s not happy about it. Also, she’s not entirely happy about losing her popularity when she begins dating Xander. She leaves the show after three seasons to be on the BtVS spinoff, Angel. Which brings us to…..
-Angel/Angelus (played by cheating douchenozzle David Boreanaz) – Seasons 1-3, occasional appearances throughout the rest of the series.
Buffy’s first love interest. He’s a vampire who was cursed many years ago and given his soul back. Because he has a soul, he can’t kill humans for the blood he needs. He is moody and broody, but he does fall in love with Buffy. Things happen, including a brief stint where his soul is removed and he becomes bad again, and his relationship with Buffy is just not meant to last. Mostly because the WB gave him his own spinoff series, Angel.
-Spike (played by smokin’ hottie James Marsters). Seasons 2, 4-7.
I almost don’t know what to say about Spike except that he is the BEST TELEVISION CHARACTER EVER. I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole speaking. Spike might actually be my favorite character ever to appear on any TV show in the history of television. I think you could definitely make an argument that he’s the most complex. There’s so little I can actually say about Spike without giving away spoilers. He’s a vampire, one of the Big Bads from season two. He returns in season four, has some…work (for lack of a better word) done on his brain and by the middle of season five, he’s one of the scoobies. Although it’s quite a while before you can decide if he’s a good guy or a bad guy or somewhere uncomfortably in between. Also, I’d like to point out that the first four seasons, I had a hopeless crush on Giles. Then in season five, I started to dig on Spike some more. Then there was this dream sequence where Spike realizes he love Buffy and it’s hot and, unfortunately I can’t find it on YouTube. But it changed me from a Giles girl to a Spike girl.
-Anya (Emma Caulfield). Season 3, 4-7.
Anya was a vengeance demon who came to Sunnydale to enact some vengeance on Buffy and Xander on Cordy’s behalf. Things happen and she loses her demonic powers. Anya becomes a love interest for Xander and is fully entrenched in the scoobies by season five. The best part about Anya is that because she’s new to being human, she’s new to human emotions, new to social graces. So she lacks ANY tact, which makes for hilarious dialogue.
-Tara (Amber Benson)- Seasons 4-6.
A witch who is never a full fledged member of the scooby gang, she is important nonetheless and not just as Willow’s love interest.
-Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg) Seasons 5-7.
Jesus. I can’t even say anything about Dawn without giving away major spoilers.
But it’s not just them, there are several other characters who make the show worthwhile. Oz (Seth Green), as Willow’s first love interest with an odd character trait. Drusilla (Juliet Landau) as Spike’s sire and second season Big Bad. Jonathan (?), a sad nerdy student at Sunnydale who makes occasional reappearances throughout the series. Amy, a fellow witch and friend of Willow’s who spends much of the series trapped in a rat’s body. Riley, Buffy’s season four and five boyfriend with a top-level secret.
What to say about this show? Well, it’s broken up like this. Each season features one “Big Bad,” which Buffy and Co. spend most of the time fighting, and the episodes from that season will mostly focus on the Big Bad story arc. One of the things that makes Buffy so fantastic, is that it’s a multi-layered show, and there will be several story arcs, some of which end up woven into the Big Bad arc, some of which are simply separate arcs.
What else makes this the “OMG BEST SHOW EVER!!!?”
• The dialogue. Anyone who has ever seen anything written by series creator Joss Whedon knows that the man has a knack for dialogue. Whether it’s Xander’s sarcastic comments, Willow’s geeky fretfulness, Giles’ annoyance or Spike’s bitter truths, Joss knows how to write some great dialogue.
• The humor. The show is a sci-fi drama. It really is and there’s no denying it. And yet, I laughed at least once in every episode (except maybe The Body from season five.) Mostly that’s due to the dialogue. You want a good example? In season two, Angel is briefly a bad vampire, hanging out with that season’s Big Bads, Spike and Drusilla. Spike gives Dru a necklace as a gift. Not to be outdone, Angel gives Dru a human heart. His line? “I found it in a quaint little shopgirl.” My god, that’s good stuff.
• The characters. Obviously a show that runs for one hour for seven seasons (well, six and a half – the first season was only a half season) can really develop the characters. And Joss and Co. do a fabulous job of it. While we can say certain things about certain characters’ personality traits (i.e. Cordy’s a bitch, Willow’s a nerd, Giles is stuffy, etc) there are moments where these characters will act in ways that surprise you. You know, just like people are apt to do in real life. In so many ways, the action in the show is used just as much for character development as it is plot development. I’ve never seen character development like this on screen. This is character development taken to novel-levels. Theses could be written on each character in this show.
• The feminism. I’m sorry – did I just turn you off? Seriously, how is the most feminist television show I’ve ever watched created by a man? The show is feminist without falling into any trappings of a typical feminist show – even with the eventual lesbianism of one main character. It’s in no way militantly feminist and sometimes even feels quite feminine. (And balancing the feminine with the feminist is no easy feat). The girl characters are rarely (if ever) made to play the damsel in distress role. The girls are equally as smart as the boys. Buffy is given four different sexual partners throughout the series without it ever being suggested that she’s slutty. Joss has managed to create girl characters that are equal to the boys without in any way making the boys and men in the show seem weak and without making the girl characters seem too ‘manly.’
• The plot. How stupid is it that the plot is way down on the list of what makes this show so great? Listen, the plot in the first season is pretty lame (really? A teacher who’s actually a giant praying mantis?). But if you plan on watching this show, and I hope you do, just muddle through the mostly ridiculous first season. Don’t skip it, because there are some pretty important events, and it’s not terrible. It’s just that starting with season two is really when the show hits it’s stride. And seasons four and five? They are shockingly good.
• The show is dead sexy. See mostly season six.
• The show doesn’t shy away from making really bad things happen to main characters. So often major characters are spared from anything horrible happening to them and only minor characters are introduced for the sole purpose of being killed off so a major character doesn’t have to be (see: Star Trek). Not BtVS. Main characters are killed off. Main characters become killers. It’s awesome and so unexpected.
All right, all right. You’ve had enough of my crush on this series. Do I need to go on or are you going to go out and watch it?
And for those of you who have watched it, here are my top ten Buffy episodes. Argue with me or agree with me at your will in the comments.
- The Gift (season 5 ep 22). The fifth season finale. This was originally intended to be the series finale, as the show was canceled by WB (It was later picked up by UPN). Far and away the best episode in the series, with an ending that hit me right in the gut.
- The Body (season 5 ep 16). The saddest episode on TV. It was shot beautifully with a lot of wide angles and off center focuses. No sound track because the plot needed to speak for itself.
- Hush (season 4 ep 10) – The only time BtVS was nominated for an emmy was for the writing for this excellent episode.
- Something Blue (season 4 ep 9) – We start to learn how awesomely powerful Willow actually is, with results that are both scary and hilarious.
- Once More, With Feeling (season 6 ep 7) – It’s a musical episode. Pretty much only the demon, Giles and Tara have good voices, but you gotta admire the shit out of the rest of them for being such troopers.
- Tabula Rasa (season 6 ep8) I consider this one part & parcel of a bigger picture along with Once More, With Feeling. This is a surprisingly funny episode. Chock full of the dialogue that makes this show so fantastic.
- Band Candy (season 3 ep 6) This is one of the random episodes that has nothing to do with the Big Bad arc. Usually those are the weakest episodes, but Band Candy is just…God. It’s a really good time.
- Fool for Love (season 5 ep 7) We learn a little about Spike’s history!
- Graduation Day, Parts One and Two (Season 3 eps 21 &22). Yeah, they’re two episodes, but they are back to back and the finale of season three. We learn just how good a leader Buffy can be.
- Passion (Season 2 ep 17) – I pretty much hated Angel, except when he was his badass alter-ego Angelus. And Angelus is sooo fucking badass in this episode.
Honorable mention goes to the entire second half of the seventh season, which never strays from the Big Bad story arc, and in fact the entire scope of what they’re dealing with becomes huge. From the episode “Showtime” (ep 11) through the end of the series plays like one long epic movie. And it sets the stage nicely for the season eight graphic novels.
I could go on, but this post is long enough. Which I apologize for. I’m sure there are entire blogs devoted to deconstructing Buffy, and it’s more than I can get into in one post. So I’m just going to leave you with a little Spike-centric video. (Why the FUCK was James Marsters never Emmy nominated for his portrayal of Spike??? Answer – Because Emmy has a bias against sci-fi/fantasy shows not named Lost and against shows on the WB/UPN/CW. That’s why)