Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its impact 20 years on
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
is my favourite TV show of all time and there are many, many people who feel the same way. I'd heard the hype when it first appeared on BBC 2 here in the UK and was mesmerised by it's first season; it might have seemed a tad hokey at times (praying mantis substitute teachers and hyena-possessed school bullies) but it was a joy to watch thanks to Joss Whedon's snappy dialogue, loveable performances and the perfect blend of comedy, drama and horror. Shows like The X Files and Doctor Who might have that similar style, an ability to mix up different genres but there always the sense, like my other favourite cult favourites Babylon 5, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that for every great episode there would be a bit of a dud.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn't really have any duds, at least not until season four's Beer bad and for three seasons I embraced the frankly genius concept of high school being hell. Literally. It sits on a Hellmouth. School jocks took killer fish hormones to transform themselves into monsters from the blue lagoon. An ostracized school girl became an actual invisible killer girl. And most tragically, sex did transform the show's central romance with Angel's transformation into Angelus in the second half of season two still the show's finest run of episodes.
Now I'm probably not saying anything you haven't already read, heard or discussed already; such is Buffy the Vampire Slayer's impact on television and geek fandom that it feels just as popular on its twentieth anniversary as it did on its original run (and yes I do feel old). The dialogue, particularly in those earlier seasons was so sharp, so quotable and the chemistry between the actors so electric that it elevated even the weaker (i.e. good and not fantastic episodes). The phrase 'Scooby Gang' is now more associated with the show than it is with it's animated origins. The performances were a delight too and arguably Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Seth Green, David Boreanaz , Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, Emma Caulfield and James Masters were never better than when they were on the show and its spin-off Angel.
What's more it was bold and daring when it wanted to be, tackling everything from high school shootings, to addiction to abuse and the death of a loved one over the course of the show. The Body is one of the most harrowing and beautiful pieces of television drama ever, daring to break free of its supernatural trappings (at least until the end) as it told the tragic story of the death of Buffy's mother. And it was episodes like that, which proved Joss Whedon could still surprise and innovative even within the context of the show. Season four's Hush dared to remove one of the show's unique selling points - it's quippy dialogue - as the entire town of Sunnydale was rendered speechless and its remains a terrifying masterpiece to this day. And while Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't the first TV show to do a musical episode, it set the standard by which all TV musical episodes have since been judged (it's no coincidence that fans were clamouring for Joss Whedon to direct the upcoming The Flash / Supergirl musical crossover).
The show also played with convention; the blond girl the victim in the opening minutes of the pilot episode? It turns out she's the vampire luring the high school jock to his death. And Buffy herself was proof that a female lead on television could be the hero and save the day; in fact it is arguable that Xander and Willow are also proof that the kids thought of as weak and worthless in school are actually the ones who will achieve greatness - and greatness they do. It challenged sexuality on mainstream TV (Tara and Willow's kiss was a momentous moment). It demonstrated that people make mistakes and it does have an impact on our lives; Giles and Jenny, Xander and Anya, both were tragically altered by the decisions they made.
And you know what, it had bloody great villains. Spike is the archetype of the bad guy we all love to hate - and love - and the darkness of Drusilla and Angelus' story delivered some of the most heartbreaking, shocking moments in the show's history; for me Giles' discovery of Jenny's body is still breathtakingly horrible. Season three gave us the delightfully evil Mayor Wilkins and the brutality of slayer gone bad Faith. Even the later seasons had plenty of memorable bad guy moments, none more so than dark Willow herself, while Glory was a lot of fun in a crazed evil goddess kind of way.
Over seven years Buffy the Vampire Slayer gave us something very special indeed and it launched the careers of the like of Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz and James Masters. It developed the concept of the season big bad in a way that hadn't really been done before. It allowed its characters (and much of its audience) to develop from high school to university to adulthood and brought us joy and tragedy in equal measure. Many shows have attempted to mimic the show but never quite succeeded; Whedon has given us Angel, Firefly and the underrated Dollhouse, all some of the best television you could wish for but none ever quite managed to consistently beat the highs those seven years gave us. I think many of us would love more stories on screen in this age of revivals, but it would have to be perfect, otherwise what's the point?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the few shows that I rewatch periodically time and time again and it's one I'll be watching again for many years to come. Because quite simply, it's just remarkable television...