Buffy, 20 Years On

(Beware, some spoilers follow.)

Well, fewer than 10 years on for some of us. Having first been introduced to it by Dad when I was a mere whipper-snapper, I fell utterly in love the show. (This isn’t, by the way, the reason for the blog name.) Like so many, I’ve watched it several times since, and God willing, I’ll watch it several times more. Yes, there is a tendency to have a rose-tinted view of the show. The first season is good, but not great, and suffered especially for its tedious synthesised background music (though I’m unusually sensitive to this). It also had no profound or dazzling episodes, and that sarcastic, clever banter wasn’t quite fully developed. There are also many very weak story arcs throughout its seven seasons: the Buffy-Riley romance, the creation of the cyborg Adam, and to be quite honest, the whole battle against the First thing never did it for me.

But what made Buffy so remarkable was that it gave us some of the most exceptional single episodes ever to flicker to before our eyes, and characters whose rise and fall, whose wealth of idiosyncrasies, were magnetic to watch.

The moment the show got really good was when Spike came on. His character was the most transformative and the most transformed — but most all, he epitomised cool. Here’s the moment:

But that kind of theatrical fun is not the main reason Buffy is loved. Death, for instance, was handled masterly on the show — and main characters, characters you came to love, were far from unkillable. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes was when Buffy found her mother, sprawled out on the sofa, dead. The clip below doesn’t quite give you the full impact. There are some wonderful moments cut, such as when Buffy opens the backdoor and hears the birds and wind and the sounds of life going on — of normality — and that moment lingers for so long, and so painfully. You realise that, yes, this is a fantasy world of vampires and demons, but it’s still authentically our world, one where death still happens for no reason, honour or purpose.

An episode everyone remembers is Hush. The Gentlemen — hideously frightening levitating demons in immaculate suits — have come to Sunnyville and removed everyone’s ability to speak. The episode proceeds, essentially, in silence. It doesn’t get more stylish (not to mention scary) than this:

Ah, but the Buffy episode that might one up this is the opposite of silence — it’s the musical episode. A demon — this time a red one, though still with an immaculate suit — comes to Sunnyville and makes it so that everyone bursts into song. There is, of course, a catch: eventually one sings too much and bursts into flames. But before then, how marvellous it is! I’m not partial to this style of music — the over-the-top show-stopping power-pop kind — but some of the songs are really quite intelligent, and all enjoyable to hear and watch.

This song has everything: ridiculous monsters, odd musical transitions, amusing choreography, the best pun ever by Giles (‘she needs backup!), and a devastatingly sad ending. Beware, a pretty big spoiler contained in the lyrics — actually, two of them. To avoid them, stop watching before 2:20:

One invariably reads in retrospectives on Buffy discussions of its feminism. I think that’s probably fair (and I feel obliged to add that I say this even as a self-styled well-tempered reactionary). Okay, Sarah Michelle Geller as Buffy made for an extremely attractive blonde female lead, and I’d argue she wasn’t the most interesting character in the show. But none of the women are mere love interests, and all are deep complicated characters whose importance to the show is equal to any of the men, to the extent one can (or needs to) measure such things. This is to say, none are victims to be rescued — that role is reserved for the hapless yet lovable Xander, whose lack of usefulness to the gang becomes the subject of yet another of the show’s best episodes, The Zeppo.

I’m not sure how to wind this up — fans of anything are well-known for being interminable on the subject. But I do know where I wanted to end, with the theme tune, and it’s by a punk band who’s name is even more ridiculous than Buffy: Nerf Herder. Enjoy…

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