Every television series has to start somewhere. Even if the show doesn’t become a beloved classic, in whatever form that takes, it could become a slightly successful one or a quickly cancelled series, but there’s always a beginning. Some are more memorable than others, and some just do what they’re supposed to. Introduce you to the world and characters of a series you hopefully stuck around with for however long it was on.
The 20th Television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” even at 20 years old offers up plenty of reasons to keep watching, even if you’ve already seen the entire series more times than you can remember. Another go around with Buffy and the gang is never a terrible choice, even if it is just for a few hours. Which brings me to right now. I love anniversaries as much as the next person, even if they’re sad, but especially for TV shows. Certain one’s gave so much that it’s hard to skip over celebrating what was achieved. Since the show debuted 20 years ago today, I figured that now was as good a time as any, to try and see what it was that made this series worth watching. It’ll also be fun to see if anything holds up enough for those who haven’t seen this series at all, and are looking for a reason to give it a chance.
The Creature Look
Before vampires became all the rage, in the obnoxious way they still seem to be today, there were just a few in a small town trying to take over the world, at least, on the small screen. No love, no wars between themselves and other creature clans. Just typical world domination. Of course, we also had a series that was striving to do something completely different.
First up, the obvious. This series was centered on a female hero. She slayed these vampires and tried to lead a normal life, complete with close friends! But, for me, I find that this series went even farther. The main focus, even if you went several episodes without really seeing one, was on vampires. By the time this series debuted, and no doubt even afterwards, there weren’t really any shows with this type of genre focus. It was mostly aliens and various other creatures. Sure, I guess a vampire could’ve popped up once in a blue moon, but that’s not really the same thing. I’d say this series, was a first for television.
And fortunately, viewers at the time, and over the subsequent two decades that this show has managed to gain a loyal following, the vampires and various creatures and monsters that would show up later, benefited from some stellar makeup and effects. Now, I’m not going to pretend I know how any of the creatures came to be, but seeing as I have two eyes, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they were all brought to life with practical effects and makeup, with occasional dashes of CGI. The kind that take hours to apply. While I’m never going to be fully convinced that these effects or the creatures themselves, were ever truly scary (except for The Gentlemen), they definitely worked. I was there. Even with the two episodes I watched for this, I believed it. I could, to some extent, even enjoy the slight moments of danger, which, due to how many times I’ve now seen these episodes and the series as a whole, no longer carry that same feeling of danger.
However, and maybe it’s just me and time talking, there’s something still wonderful and refreshing about all the vampires and monsters that populate this world. For starters, while each vampire looks the same, when you start looking closely at the detail, each one is truly unique. This then led to stellar work with all the other creatures. Some we haven’t seen before, and others were familiar. But it’s the takes on individual creatures that brought them to life, and for some, made them somewhat lovable. If it weren’t for this approach to creature design, which also brought some memorable characters to life even more, then this show probably wouldn’t be as much fun or as beloved as it is.
The Fight Stuff
While this episode is pretty tame compared to some of what was typically seen during the show’s run, there was still enough to keep me interested. Obviously not as a first time viewer, but as someone who can’t afford to be pulled in. That’s the problem with a show like this, I get easily sucked in by everything that’s happening, that all I want to do is watch more. Productivity be damned!
So, while it’s not really a problem, yet, it’s definitely enough for any type of viewer to consider giving this show more time to develop. What I’m speaking of is the action. Chase sequences, hiding out in buildings, making things go boom and fight sequences! You know, the fun! This episode introduced what was possible, and even now, I must say it was pretty good. It established a baseline for Sarah Michelle Gellar and her character as well as displayed how dangerous vampires were. All this action also allowed for some plain exciting moments. Again, I can’t go with anything that makes it seem like they’re scary or frightening (other than with The Gentlemen), as they’re not. So, I’ll go with exciting and fun.
Another plus, especially if you’ve seen this series even once, which is where it becomes problematic, is that you don’t have to suffer through obvious stunt double scenes. I don’t know when it was I noticed Gellar’s stunt double during the series, but once I did, I couldn’t stop. It eventually became so painfully obvious. In these first two hours, which isn’t unexpected, you do know when a stunt is done by a double, but classic techniques mask this. At least three times Gellar’s Buffy was thrown and landed hard on various objects, so a double makes sense. It’s also how the scenes and episodes never missed a beat. Everything was covered, including consequences. Gellar eventually sports an ice pack, which is really not something she ever does again, so in revisiting this episode, there’s an additional perk to be had.
Your Typical High Student
Monsters and action are great and will get you pretty far, but none of that means much for a television series if there aren’t interesting characters. Without characters of any sort, you can’t even possibly grow to love them or love to hate them. They’re just people that must be there because the writers said so. In some ways, Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia Chase fits the mold of character you can grow to love.
Everyone else, including Gellar, seemed to take on what’s still largely considered to be cliche stereotypes for characters. Mind you, I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with this, because of two things. The way creator Joss Whedon and all the writers who were involved week to week, and the fact that all the actors really made these characters pop. Eccentricities really weren’t needed.
They were grounded. They truly, with the obvious demon exceptions, resembled the target audience. In some ways, I’m sure, there are still nuggets of wisdom and familiar life situations we can all get from this show. That’s how strong these characters resonate today. Looking now, there’s traces of this in these characters, but largely it’s from time and development. That being said, I was able to notice this time how all the strange quirks, which has them all seen as outcasts, are immediately lovable. I can’t help but want to follow them. I guess that’s just the display of loyalty and friendship that’s quickly captured over the first two hours talking. Granted, they are also the only characters presented, so you’re not really left with much of a choice.
But still, you could still see some great characteristics between all of them. It’s why they bonded so fast and became a team. A team that would later become quite iconic. Then there’s the fact that the words coming out of their mouths, and the way they delivered them, were all kinds of original. Whedon may well be known for quirky dialogue of all sorts, and it’s carried itself over into just about everything he’s written, but here it sets a certain tempo for the show, much like with all the vampires, creatures and monsters that would follow. Perhaps not a fast pace like some sort of Aaron Sorkin drama, but still unique enough that keeping an interest just got easier.
These first two hours of the series may have had all the goods and several hooks to draw you back, but it’s the consistency of every element mentioned that kept (keeps) people coming back time and again. There may be a lot to say about the series as a whole and how Buffy has shaped television as well as become a role model for women and young girls, which is probably how so many academics analyze the show in the way they do, but it all had to start somewhere. That somewhere still works and will be but one reason I return to this series many more times than I already have.
Originally Aired: March 10, 1997 – May 20, 2003 on The WB and UPN
Creator: Joss Whedon
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendan, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter and Anthony Stewart Head