So, I’m almost 20 years late on this one, but I’ve just started watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. The 90’s were replete with cool chick stars from Xena to Angela Chase, but, at that time, I was too busy listening to Nine Inch Nails, piercing my body parts, and yelling at my mom, to pay attention to what was happening on the tube. Now that I’m filled with slightly less rage and fewer holes, I can sit back and enjoy watching Sarah Michelle Gellar kick some serious demon ass. While I’m only on the second season (there are 144 episodes, so this is going to take me a while), I’m totally hooked.
It’s been a long time – probably since HBO’s Six Feet Under – that I liked an entire cast this much. The dynamic between the central characters mimics every real life friendship I’ve ever had, including those that I have now in my adult years. The group, which at first seems to be an unconventional, verging on unbelievable, triad (hot new girl befriends two mildly good-looking nerds – no way!) develops its strong bond through healthy doses of support and sarcasm, and each person, not just the main character, gets significant air time and truly terrific lines. Joss Whedon’s writing is really what elevates Buffy beyond a silly monster show, as he uses the fantastical horror stories as vehicles to make larger points about pressing coming-of-age issues from date rape to parental divorce to peer pressure.
One of my favorite episodes so far is the show’s first Halloween episode. Because this is ultimately a monster show, it might have made sense for this episode to be either a funny throwaway or a blood bath. However, the nightmare in this episode is not the “real” threat of the ghouls that ascend from the Hellmouth but the townspeople themselves who actually become the costumes in which they’re dressed, and, in the case of the main characters, the complete opposite of the people they are in real life. Buffy, after lamenting her life as the Slayer because it inhibits her ability to just be a teenage girl, transforms into a beautiful but helpless princess; while Xander, who in the beginning of the episode is emasculated when Buffy steps in to fight off a school bully, turns into a Rambo-esq soldier. As a princess, Buffy is scared of everything and lacks the wherewithal to fight off the trick-or-treaters-turned-demons that have taken over Sunnydale. In this reversal, she has to rely on others to save her. Once order is restored, Buffy realizes that she is not meant to be a “conventional” girl – a damsel in distress – and is happy to just be who she is even if it interferes in being whatever typical thing she thinks she should be. Similarly, Xander, while getting his “manly” moment in the sun, also comes to terms with who he is and, more importantly, who he is not. It’s a great episode that touches, specifically, on understanding and undermining traditional gender expectations and, more generally, on self-acceptance. Even as an adult, these are messages I can appreciate.
This is why Buffy sometimes leaves me with sharp pangs of nostalgia and regret: I needed this show when I was 16, not 32. Regardless, it’s a fun show with sharp writing that almost completely holds up in the new century. If I were a parent of a teen or tween or whatever nomenclature is used to describe people under 20, I’d definitely make him/her watch this show.