Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired 20 years ago. Vix Leyton remembers growing up with a kick-ass TV peer.
The years 1997 through to 2003 were formative for me and my hero. When I discovered Buffy I was a geeky, angsty 12-year-old, desperate to fit in. The one who was funny, not fit. Telling jokes to my male counterpart while our better looking friends made moon-y eyes at each other.
Right from the first episode, Buffy did something other teen shows didn’t do. Rather than my tribe being reduced to a trope, Buffy and her ragtag set of friends were people I could recognise and identify with – supernatural elements notwithstanding. Buffy herself had all the typical teen traits: struggling to find her place, she was often insecure, she made mistakes – but she was also witty, strong, brave and badass. I was hooked.
Joss Whedon somehow crafted a world that dealt with saving the world, a lot, but also the nuances of growing into a functional adult. In a key scene that sticks with me, Buffy finally tires of Angel’s bad-boy brooding intensity and rejects him on the grounds she was still cookie dough, not ready to be baked into a mould.
And we grew up together. While the frame was magical, the themes were universal and, at times, painfully relatable. They tracked in real time – crushes, unrequited love, the race to be prom queen, failure to find a job after high school, the loss of a parent (Joyce! *sobs*) all jostling alongside demonic possessions, curses and the constantly looming threat of Armageddon.
All situations were treated with similar gravitas. Even in the face of the end of the world, these things still mattered to these characters and this honesty made the rendering of them nuanced in a way that a lot of shows can’t quite match.
“Love might redeem vampires, kids, but it has limited powers when it comes to redeeming arseholes.”
The metaphors for real life told through the supernatural were, in places, unavoidable. When Buffy sleeps with Angel for the first time he literally wakes up in the morning and fucks off, turning into a demon. Later on, Oz, a loyal, sensitive boyfriend by day and werewolf a few nights a week, cheats on Willow with a fellow wolf as he ‘couldn’t deny his animal nature’.
Joss Whedon is a feminist. Buffy is frequently highlighted as one of the most kick-ass superheroes of all time, not just of the women, of ALL TIME. She is in among the best of the best and she was a sister doing it for herself way before the Marvel universe started floating token females into our lines of sight through cinema screens.
But Whedon, both here and with his other equally brilliant vehicles, is not afraid to write women as complicated, and flawed – in exactly the same way he writes his men. And the men of Buffy repeatedly take the backseat narratively. That said, all of the Scooby Gang go on a hell of a journey over six years, developing like Polaroids into their Technicolor best selves for the final battle, which formed the perfect showcase of how far they had come. The conclusion is one of my favourite season finales ever, with every loose end tied up while somehow avoiding being too contrived.
And we had so much fun along the way. The episodes, rather than being shackled to the traditional format of a teen show, frequently played with the cinematic. Whedon was brave, from the absolutely iconic episode ‘Once More With Feeling’ that was a big song and dance musical (and one of my go-tos for whenever I am blue) to ‘Hush’, an episode that was completely silent.
The baddies are a mixed bag; the early days mostly consisted of one-dimensional B-movie monsters, with Whedon using camp to cover up the low-budget cracks. But they too developed, from the final ‘big bad’ who presented as Dark Buffy, to Spike, a vampire who started off as a bad guy but was ultimately redeemed through love, a tale as old (and fictional) as time and responsible for some very dubious romantic choices of mine in my teens. Love might redeem vampires, kids, but it has limited powers when it comes to redeeming arseholes.
While it wasn’t perfect (some of the plotlines – in fact, a whole series, more or less – were subpar) it was the characters and the sharp, witty dialogue that kept me coming back. A bad Buffy episode still contained enough joy, for me, that I felt I wasn’t wasting my time.
I wanted to be Buffy. Well, I say wanted, as though I have now stopped wanting to be Buffy (and I really haven’t). But back in the day, before I was buying tasteful leather jackets and iconoclastic crosses ironically, it was her picture I took to the hairdresser, her pithy one-liners that I coveted. And, unlike other teen dramas of the genre, it didn’t – slaying aside – seem unachievable.
Buffy found her strength through the family of interesting waifs and strays she built, and popular ‘mean girl’ Cordelia had to assimilate with them to fit in, as opposed to vice versa. They represented the middle tier of high school that I felt I sat in, not the most popular, not the most pilloried: firmly mid table. And female friendship dynamics were forensically analysed, from sisterly closeness to claws-out rivalry.
The monsters may have dated and Angel’s spin-off arguably destroyed the carefully crafted finale, but I am still in love with the Buffyverse, and If I come across it channel surfing, I will always watch it. Thanks for the sass, Buffy.3059 Views
Vix is a financial PR and ginabler who lives and works in East London. As a result she long ago lost sight of whether riding a unicycle while wearing a monocle is par for the course on a normal day.