So recently I checked out Grimm.
A friend informed me that it had some of the same writers as a certain show that she and I both revere but alas… after three seasons of reasonable entertainment, I’m still waiting to have my socks blown off.
In this, the long-post-modern age, we find ourselves blessed with heat, light, hot & cold running water, and THOUSANDS of Film and TV choices.
Few are really worth our precious time, even fewer worth actual discussion.
But none has ever even come close to going toe to toe with Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
The impact of this cultural phenomenon is such that ‘Buffy Studies’ is now a legitimate branch of discourse and appreciation of the various ‘Whedonverses’ has outstripped niche status (you might have heard of some Avengery types that he might have had something to do with).
Joss Whedon’s creation addresses every need that a TV show (or comic book) can cater to, bypassing mere entertainment, and burrowing deep into our most primal loves, fears, and human instincts.
Far from engaging the default ‘hero setting’ of stories gone by, Buffy has redefined what it means to create characters. That concept of the young blonde victim in the scary movie ascending into the powerful hero was rescued back from the camp weakly delivered 1992 movie and given, five years later, the purpose it deserved and reminded us all how important a story could be.
Dark places were open for development.
Addiction, murder, sadism and betrayal came pouring from the well of hitherto untouchable plot-lines. The bravery of our heroes marked the bravery of the writing style itself.
I myself relished being chilled, saddened, and excited by it all and thirsted for it with gleeful awe.
From what I can remember, I started watching when I was about 12 or 13. Funnier than Friends, more gripping than The X-Files, more moving even than Disney could accomplish, the combination of elements which coalesced in ’97 was astonishing.
That indefinable production value; the mood, the lighting, the way the music was always right there without you really noticing… and oh, what talent they found.
Alysson Hannigan and Nicholas Brendon’s charm and wit counterpoised the themes and made us care more than we’d likely admit. When we were all still awkward teens ourselves we saw our angst writ large in glorious drama, like the best kind of cathartic dream, just tastefully sugar-dusted with warm, Californian, ‘Buffyspeak’ humour.
I reckon power and human vulnerability, along with many facets of life can only truly be picked apart when we put them in a world where the rules are different. And this is more or less the point: to create something as masterful as Buffy you need to create a WORLD.
That’s what Pratchett did.
That’s what Tolkien did.
Rowling, Lewis, Roddenberry… The men and women who ignited our interest and lit our imaginations on fire knew, not to put a hero in our world, but to make a place where the heroic heart burns with weird sufferings and demonic powers. A place with magics, where pain reaches for a spell as readily as for a gun.
The Buffy universe spans many dimensions (at least six or so are mentioned in the canon) which opens up an infinite realm of possibilities. Allowing for an encroaching civilian awareness of the occult in the narrative, Sunnydale veers away from the cumbersome ‘hidden world’ that so many present-day sci-fi and fantasy shows struggle to manoeuvre. Folks living on the hellmouth kinda twig. And we need not pretend that they don’t.
If you want to see this effect done with divinely blatant purpose just watch a few seasons of the modern Dr Who. This is why good fantasy and sci-fi never age. When we let ourselves be taken into a world that is not our own, we cannot help but imagine our place in it; dragging us wholesale into the reality of the characters’ arcs.
And of course it turns out that fighting evil really is much like high-school: difficult, embarrassing, and you’re never quite sure why or how.
There was never any black and white in Buffy. Everything was painted in the grey-shades, the colours, and the textures that real life is made of.
The vampires don’t just hunt and bite, the werewolves never just ‘show up’… Heroes hurt in real ways about real things.
Few who followed the show can ever forget “The Body” [S5 Ep16]. An episode which depicts the hammer blow of unbearable personal loss on top of every other hazard in Buffy’s world. Sarah Michelle Gellar brought it home to us and continued to do so in storylines to come. Her close camera work has a directness to it which not many actors can appropriate without error. With this kind of connection to the human heart the show has undoubtedly helped and healed its following more than we are capable of knowing.
At first Buffy was about… well, Buffy.
Then we started to care about Xander and Willow, hell, even Cordillia when she strode out into the thick of it. …And then came the Angel arc, and Oz, fantastic! And eventually… Spike and Dru.
No words yet printed can express how much badassery was crammed into these two characters. A step up from a mere Dracula or Nosferatu rip off, the psychotic Drusilla stamped her mark indelibly in the vampire folklore. Juliet Landau’s performance commands the ultimate respect; pushing the rather ‘Deppian’ anglophile buttons for the Americans yes, but always informed from a very dark place indeed. An insanity to strike terror in the hearts of Californians.
And that’s before we even begin to discuss Spike.
For all his pratfalls and setbacks he comes out as the most rounded and interesting character of the series.
Along with Giles, and various others, he does much to sew together the old world (Chiefly Europe, more specifically England), with the new, a problem a lot of U.S. Horror series’ face. We see him in pain and we care, we see him kill and, yes we root him on sometimes too.
Anyone who has ever been a fish out of water, or come to that, a small one in a suddenly larger pond, has something in common with Spike. Through sheer bloodiness of charisma he rivals any character in the genre. People tend to forget what a talented comedic actor James Marsters is, as his return in Season 5 of Angel attests.
And for those who’ve not yet known the pleasure of Season 7 yet… well let’s just say things get pretty bloody special where he’s concerned.
This sense of rock ‘n’ roll Englishness stems mostly though from that proud, upstanding librarian we all wish was our superhero mentor.
A little dangerous past can obviously go a long way.
Anthony Stewart Head was born for the role. Throw a few good lines and some starched cotton into the mix and you have one of the sweetest most lovably funny performances of all time.
Each one of the cast brings something amazing.
Ok, so I’m in love with Willow.
But no one can doubt Aysson Hannigan’s acting stones. Before she started blubbing in sitcoms or putting flutes where no flute should go, this girl was a tornado of talent on screen. The episode Doppelgangland [S3 Ep16] is a lush paradise of Hannigan screen time. Playing both Willow and her evil vampire counterpart she has every fan smiling themselves into a giggling mess at the smorgasbord of one-liners. As I await more good things from her I can only hope that she teams up with Mr Whedon again.
As botched re-edits have more recently proved, the look of the show is something not to be toyed with. Easily recognized, and since imitated by lesser shows. The use of sun and shade reflects the embodiment of the creative vision itself.
Dark and light, good and evil, chunky and creamy… you get the picture.
It put itself in a place where when it wanted to go really dark, it could.
Nominated for 2 Emmys, “Hush” [S4 Ep10] was the episode everybody lost their shit over, and for good reason. A horror fan’s wet dream, The Gentlemen strode up to the bar and gave it a damn good nudge. Praise like that is due for more than just one ep though. “Ted” [S2 Ep11], guest starring the brilliant John Ritter is a merely a few mortal minutes short of being an outstanding horror movie in it’s own right. “Normal Again” [S3 Ep17] where Buffy faces the possibility of going insane puts you through absolute hell; In fact the whole of season six will pretty much rip your heart out and ram it back in at a jaunty angle. But hey, that’s why we have “Once More With Feeling” [S6 Ep7].
There is no ‘Fairytale’ moralizing cheese here, no necessary happy ending.
As Hollywood chases the PG13 shotgun audience figures I am constantly thankful for this warm, dark little crevice of wonder I can crawl into to shield myself form the bangs and whizz of the comic movie arms race.
As fans we’re not left wanting either.
Five seasons of Angel and then a rich stock of graphic titles have kept waveringly but steadfastly true. Even once you’ve binged your way through all these there is plenty of fanfic.
So if you’re one of those who just ‘caught a few episodes’ back in the day or even (gasp!) has never seen the show then this article may sound a little overblown, even gushing. But I guarantee you that this particular rabbit hole contains every inch of bunny to back it up.
As a great philosopher once said,
Don’t believe me? Just watch.