22 Aug 2013

Why You Should Watch: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So, my first recommendations in my new featured column is no other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television show version of the movie with the same title which flopped back in 1992 (man that movie sucked). The show aired from 1997 to 2003, resulting in a total of 144 episodes, divided into 7 seasons. It also got a spin-off series, Angel, which ran parallel to it from season 4 onwards. 

Granted, it's a predictable choice, and I bet a lot of people will see it as unnecessary as it already is seen as a very popular, critically acclaimed and influential show (after all there are specialized college studies that focuses on this show). But, there will always still be people out there that haven't seen it. Some might have meant to at some point, but just never got around to it. Others might have written it off because of the (purposively) silly title or the vampire theme (which has definitely been getting flack lately with Twilight becoming a phenomenon) or some other unknown reason.

Another reason I choose to start my column with this particular show is because it was my own gateway to fandom, and it will always be near and dear to my heart. But despite of my own nostalgia factor, I genuinely view this as a high quality show. Yes, there will be the occasional dodgy special effect, and things like pop-culture references, fashion, technology, and so on will heavily reflect on the 90's and not be as applicable to today's life as a teenager - however, the underlining stories, the core struggles the show touches upon, those will always be universally relevant. Because that's what Buffy really is about, the struggle of growing up, of figuring out who you are and what you're going to do with your life. The monsters she battles with are metaphors for the struggles you go through as you grow up and come into adulthood.

The show centres around Buffy Summers, who has been chosen to be the slayer - one girl in all the world, born with the skill to hunt the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. Some given months prior to the show's starting point, Buffy's predecessor died in the line of duty, thereby passing on her powers to the next slayer in line. Until the moment she was called, Buffy lived just like any other regular high school girl, completely unaware of the many evils in the world.

Fast-forward to the show's premiere, Buffy's been expelled from school, her parents have divorced (which she subconsciously blames herself for) and she has just recently moved to a completely new town together with her mom. Buffy is intent on getting back her sense of normalcy, even trying to do better the mistakes she made prior to being chosen (like neglecting her schoolwork), but life isn't having any of that. The school librarian presents her with a book on vampires, and then a dead body with two clear puncture marks on the neck shows up in one of the school lockers, and if that wasn't enough a mysterious stranger gives her cryptic warnings about a danger that is upon them. To top it all off, some of the new friends she's made seem to have walked off with a couple of suspiciously pale strangers...

So, why should people give this show a chance?

There are many reasons I could give, apart from the show being easily available on Netflix, and I will try to touch upon as many as possible without turning this into a seemingly never-ending gush-fest that puts people off rather than entices them to give this show a real proper chance.

1. It was created by Joss Whedon

For those familiar with Joss already, I don't really need to say anything more to win them over, except maybe point out that he's more often referred to as the creator of Buffy than any of his other projects (which include the spin-off Angel, Dollhouse, the short-lived, but beloved sci-fi show Firefly and its movie sequel Serenity, and his superhero musical internet phenomenon Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog). For those not familiar with him and his popularity in the television world, he's the man behind the latest Avengers movie (and upcoming television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. taking place in the same universe).

2. Great characters

There's obviously the main character Buffy Summers - the reluctant hero of our story, who's an incredible role model to young girls. Even if you ignore her supernatural strength, she's a strong character. She isn't fazed by the ridicule from the popular crowd, she values real friendship and protects her friends fiercely. As much as she fears it, she's willing to face certain death if it saves the people she loves.

We have Willow Rosenberg, the initially shy and nerdy girl, who probably have the greatest character development out of any character I can recall seeing in any show. Then, there's Xander Harris, who I think illustrates best that not having the same kind of strength as the people around you doesn't necessarily make you weak - no matter what you might think yourself. Everyone can be important in some way, shape or form, and I think that's an important message to send people going through the most insecure phase of their life.

There are simply so many characters I could highlight, but since I don't want to give too much away, I think it's best to stop with the original trio.

3. Women are kick-ass

Whedon's inspiration for creating Buffy, was the image of the blonde, helpless girl in the alley in horror movies, who always ended up killed. He wanted to turn that image around, he wanted the girl in the alley to turn around and kick the monster's ass. Thus he created the slayer, which we already know is Buffy. But she's not the only kick-ass woman in the show, far from it. Pretty much all of the main female characters are strong, powerful people, even if they don't initially start out that way. 

4. The show empowers outsiders

Buffy and her friends are not the popular bunch in school, more the opposite, but it doesn't dishearten them or suggest there's anything wrong with not being part of the in-crowd. In fact it's more presented as the other way around. The trio's friendship is shown as a great source of strength and support, they don't need outside acceptance, because they have each other. It's a lesson most of us don't learn until later in life, and some don't learn it at all.

We do get somewhat of an inside perspective on the popular crowd through Cordelia Chase. It's presented as a more lonely, and empty existence, as Cordelia always knows that one wrong move might cost her status as well as her friends. But she still strives to keep it because she doesn't know what she has without it. The show doesn't demonize but rather pities her for it, because she does herself a great disservice by valuing social standing over true friendship.

5. The show took risks

Joss didn't shy away from challenging himself and his writers, which turned into some of the most brilliant episodes ever made. So, the strength in the show is the dialogue? Well, let's have an episode where the characters literally loses their ability to speak a single word. Ah, you say the music is an important factor in setting the mood for a scene? Well, then let's make an episode where there is no background music whatsoever.

And do you want to know where this trend for non-musical shows to have that obligatory musical episode started? That's right, that started right here in this show.

6. Great parallels to real life issues

This show has a knack for taking the supernatural elements that makes it run and run parallels to the journey of growing up. Each 'monster of the week' are metaphors to some kind of struggle people have. Like the feeling of insignificance becoming so powerful that it physically renders a person invisible, or the concept of pack mentality literally translating into students being possessed by a pack of hyenas.

Seasonal arcs tend to reflect phases we all more or less go through in our adolescence. The biggest phase, and in my mind the most brilliant take on a parallel is the way Buffy equates high school to hell. A lot of us will most certainly feel our memories of fear, pain, anxiety and the like fully qualifies high school as some kind of hell, only Buffy literally does so with the Sunnydale high school being built on the very mouth of hell.

If you're still not convinced...

If my reasoning is not winning you over completely, maybe what you need is a good teaser video (or two, since you never know if they'll stay up for long). I've selected two videos that I feel best promote the show. I can not guarantee that they won't spoil the occasional key moment, but if you honestly have never seen the show before, chances are you won't remember the couple of tiny flashes here and there that revealed significant elements of a story as you don't know the characters yet and thereby have no reason to retain this information.

So without further ado, here are two very well made, and good trailers for the phenomenon that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If these two videos can't convince you, I think nothing will...

No comments:

Post a Comment