I’ll always remember the first time that I watched an episode of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. I was ten years old, a rebellious teenager even before the hormones kicked in and I flipped the television guide to see a picture of a very good looking blonde girl standing behind a gothic gate, staring moodily at the camera. The show that she featured in was the magazine’s Pick of the Day. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ it said. My ten year old self – a font of emotional maturity and subtlety – scoffed at the ridiculous name. Who calls their kid Buffy? But I was intrigued, because, after all, she slayed vampires! That was worth tuning in for at the very least. I suppose I was always a pretty dark kid, and I’d always loved the horror genre, so there was no reason not to give it a go. Thus, I decided I was going to find out what a vampire slayer actually was.
Later on that evening, I tuned into BBC2 and watched the first episode of a show that would run beside my life. It was ‘Halloween’, the sixth episode of Season Two and I was hooked within ten minutes. I didn’t know it yet, but this was the beginning of the most committed and intense relationship of my formative years. In that hour, I found my niche. Without even realising it at the time, I was watching the perfect blend of genres: a dash of horror, a sprinkle of comedy and a whisper of a thriller with a glug of teenage angst thrown in for good measure. My eleventh birthday party was a Buffy themed disco. I, of course went as Spike.
Eighteen years later, in a post Netflix, post HBO battleground, nothing has still ever really matched up to it. ‘Game of Thrones’ comes pretty close, ‘Firefly’ would have been in with a good chance if it had gone on beyond its cancellation. But Buffy was always my first love, and you never really get over that.
In some ways, I’m in envy of anyone who has yet to discover its delights. The thought of 144 episodes of pure joy (and a fair helping of misery) stretching out on the horizon is enough to provoke a little bit of resentment. But really, I can’t be jealous. Years after it ended, the show keeps evolving, keeps revealing new complexities. My ten year old self might have loved the fights and the vampires but as I – as we all – grew with the show, so did our understanding. I’ve started re-watching the series for the first time in a few years, and I’m seeing it through different eyes already. Take the character of Joyce. I disliked her as a character on my initial watch through, but then thats hardly a stretch. She was the overbearing mother on television and I was an uncontrollable little horror of a child in real life (ask my own parents, they will attest to this with bells attached). Now I’m older, instead she is sympathetic, bewildered, doing her best. The opinion of her character is just one of many morphed by the outside experiences of life and by age. That the show was able to balance its appeal to so many people from such a diverse range of ages is its testament, it’s endurance, why today is such a celebration for so many people.
As I grew older, the show became a support network, especially during my teenage years. Whenever I was having a bad day – and lets face it, we all had several of those growing up – I would come home or stamp my way upstairs and chuck a random Buffy video into my VHS. By that time, I knew the show so well that I was able to pinpoint exactly where I was with the characters and the seasons story arc in any given episode. It became a comfort blanket, an escapism to a solid world that was fraught and complicated but reassuring at the same time. The monsters and the demons would come, but you knew that Buffy would slay them and it was going to be alright. Or at least that was mostly true. The beauty of the show is that sometimes it wasn’t alright. Take Joyce again. I feel like that Season Five episode is going to be a little harder to watch this time around.
Later I went to University and studied television production as a degree. For my dissertation, I wrote about Buffy and the rest of Joss Whedon’s work and the presentation of female characters (mixed with Russian folklore and narrative theory, but hey, lets keep it simple for the sake of this blog.) Exposed to a new onslaught of media – this was the time when Web TV was beginning to take off – the show still held my attention completely. It was still relevant, still worth processing, still worth writing about. And it wasn’t just me, hundreds of scholars agreed; there was no shortage of academic texts about the show, theories, analysis, psychology, subtext. I was spoiled. Online fandom still embraced it, still wanted more. It still does.
Then I left Buffy behind. Why? I’m not sure. I’d say it was part of a wider action. I suppose to truly grow up I had to shrug off all of my comfort blankets and Buffy was one of them. When I went backpacking around the world, over the course of the two years that I was away, sometimes the show would come on in one of the hostels. And I would leave the room. And even if there was nobody else in the communal area, to watch it was to admit that I was far, far away from the safety of home, from the ability to chuck on an episode if I needed to breathe. Later, when I moved to London and started off on the career ladder, for some reason I could never really bring myself to watch it, even though I still considered it my favourite show – and still do. Only now, because of the twentieth anniversary have I stuck my DVD’s back in. And its brilliant. Revelatory. There is so much yet to come.
It’s entirely strange, but I was never able to watch the show with anyone else. It was personal. Mine. I loved hearing what others thought about it, their interpretations, their reviews but the physical act of watching it? That was a solitary exercise. To view it with another human being would be to acknowledge that these characters, this world belonged to someone else apart from me. It destroyed something pure, felt like a betrayal. I’m still not sure if I can accept it. It’s ridiculous really. I’m a twenty – eight year old man. All these years later, I work in television and so now I see most programming through the eyes of, ‘Gosh, the crew must have taken ages to set that up’ or ‘that’s produced badly’, but Buffy is still mythical in my eyes. It’s still sacred.
In a way, this show did change my life. It set me on my career path. Joss Whedon made me realise that I wanted to tell stories, to do something creative with my job. So I did. I fully believe on a wider, cultural scale as well, it made a huge difference. We still don’t have enough strong, female leads in television and film, but the ones that we do owe a lot to Buffy. She was a trailblazer. I still love that in the final episode, she turned down the dark, mysterious leading man because she was ‘cookie dough’, because she wanted to “keep baking.” Too often in fiction, the man swoops in to save the damsel in distress. In Buffy, she doesn’t need saving. She is the saviour. She is the Slayer.
I started writing this and I thought it was going to turn out very differently. I assumed this was going to be a list along the lines of ‘well my favourite character is Faith because…’ Instead, it’s made me realise how special the show is, and how special it will always be – and not just to me. The outpouring of love from the media, from fandom, in social networks proves that. I wouldn’t be averse to a revival in the right conditions. I would even say that I actively welcome a spin-off – Ripper, I’m still holding out for you – but no matter what, when times get rough, we always have Buffy. Through thick and thin, she was there, she took on the bad guys and she made a better universe. She saved the world a lot. And she saved a lot of us along the way too. Happy Birthday Buffy Summers.