Sunday, January 23, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I know what you are feeling right now. You read the title, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you think to yourself, "This show sounds really stupid." The premise sounds equally preposterous; we follow the travails of a young girl and her friends as she progresses through high school and deals with boys, vampires, parents, and saving the world. It makes the brain want to turn off. Nothing else could sound so unappealing.

However, I'm here to make the argument that there is much more to this series than meets the eye. I'm here to tell you that the effort to make it sound cheesy was deliberate. And I'm here to explain that, if you are willing to give it a chance, you will see in Buffy a TV show with an astonishing amount of depth and perhaps the greatest amount of character development I've ever seen.

The Hokey Premise

Buffy is a Slayer. This means that she was born with the power to fight vampires, demons, werewolves, and all creatures of the supernatural variety. She has a Watcher, which is someone who is appointed to a Slayer in order to keep them informed as to how to fight effectively. And she has friends who, while often having no powers of their own, are able to help her out emotionally and support her when times are toughest.

Now I would point out that this part of the premise, by itself, is insufficient to carry the show by itself. It sounds nerdy as all hell and largely unoriginal. How many times have we heard tales of people fighting vampires, especially today? Media and bookstores are filled with these stories: Twilight, True Blood, Blade, Interview with a Vampire, and many many more. Vampires are a dime a dozen these days. What does Buffy have to offer that these other sagas do not?

A big part of it is humor. Buffy the Vampire Slayer knows that the premise is absurd, and thus takes concepts that we are familiar with so as to turn them on their head, just to see what will happen. Through using the infinite possibilities of a world where all sorts of monsters can exist, we can see hypothetical scenarios that often allow us to learn more about the characters themselves.

Examples are countless:

  • A witch's love spell backfires, causing all the girls in the school to fall for Xander. The episode shows that forcing someone to love you is ultimately meaningless compared to the purity of natural love.
  • A monster causes Buffy to be able to read minds. The episode shows how this ability, while revealing, would take all the mystery out of life and be more of a curse than a blessing.
  • A 'magical candy bar' is produced that causes adults who eat it to act as they did when they were rebellious teenagers. The episode shows us a side of some of the characters that we haven't seen before, and also how perhaps they need to relax a bit, as they did when they were young.

Growing Up

But what makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer particularly attractive is that it is a show about growing up. Monster slaying is merely a framing device for this overall theme. Every season of Buffy has the characters aging in the story; for the first couple seasons the show is set in high school and then it moves on to college. As this transition occurs, the characters change as well. Some choose not to go to college and have to deal with the distance that is felt when your friends are in a different stage of their lives than you are. Others have to get used to not being able to rely on those friends that they did before. Independence and growth has to occur, whether wanted or not.

The show has great appeal, even if you've already gone through these stages of life. For, much of what was applicable then is applicable now. Have you ever felt as if you could not contribute to both friends and society? So does the character of Xander in Season 4, constantly wrestling with feelings of inadequacy. Have you ever felt as if you were never lucky in love? So does the character of Buffy in Season 3, unable to reconcile that the man she is with is not the right one for her. Have you ever felt as if you were stuck in a rut and unable to find a job or get back into the role in life you were used to having? So does the character of Giles in Season 4, no longer officially Buffy's Watcher, unemployed, and trying to find what he wants to do with life now. The examples are beyond count.


All of these factors are what give Buffy the Vampire Slayer a staying and memorable power. You will watch and be entertained, and in the back of your head you will feel startled by the familiarity, thinking to yourself, "I remember when I felt like that. I remember that part of my life." Because of the wisdom of the show's creators, the show is often unpredictable, the dialogue smart. This accentuates the life lessons that the characters go through, making them feel realer than most and allowing you to find much in common with what you've gone through and their own odysseys. The monster slaying is an oft humorous framework that helps to add a lighthearted feel to the surprisingly mature themes.

It is hard to add much more than to say that I was astonished as to how awesome the show is. I've only watched four out of seven seasons, and it continues to progress upward in quality. Like any TV show, some episodes are better than others. But, with Buffy, the 'meh' episodes are few and even those are still enjoyable; you still get to see the characters you love doing great and hilarious things.

The only caveat I have to point out is that you have to go into this with an open mind. Try and give it some time so you can get used to the odd premise and its combination of monster hunting, high school shenanigans, and mature life lessons. I would say that it was halfway through Season 1 that I really got into it, and I would hope that someone willing to give this a try will go at least that far, if not further. It is definitely worth it and one of the most rewarding television shows I've seen thus far.


  1. BtVS is my all time favorite show. Keep watching because seasons 5-7 get even better. You are right about the character development and the appeal of the show. Joss Whedon is amazing so be sure to check out his other stuff if you haven't already. I highly recommend Firefly/Serenity.

  2. I completely agree about Whedon. He manages to make every scene, every subject lighthearted and whimsical. Have you seen 'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog' on netflix? He had a hand in writing that too.

  3. Dr Horrible was pretty good, though the songs got stuck into my head for MONTHS, pushing my admiration into loathing!