Welp! There were only two things that I could comfortably talk about that are within recent memory. Well, maybe three but it makes sense to talk about this before diving into Firefly, if only to compare and contrast. They're both things I have a great fondness for and a little nostalgia comes with them but Star Wars: Battlefield II can come on up another week.
I'm feeling like some Buffy. Kinda relevant in 2016 when we're now living in a world that Joss Whedon helped shape.
So, in Space Year 2016, the Comic Book movie is riding high. At the time of writing, everyone that cares is looking forward to Deadpool, the next Marvel Studios movie after they became part of Disney. They've been decimating the movie world for a while and it's mainly down to a Mr Joss Whedon.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
So, a while back, I decided I'd revisit his first big TV show. Though not out of cultural relevance. Mainly because I've been paying for a Netflix account for a while now and this seemed like a good way to get my money's worth. Why not? Checking out a show I hadn't seen since I was a kid and try to evaluate it with my older eyes and sensibilities? I'm up for that!
Though, I seriously shouldn't have been watching this as a kid. I know it's a TV show that span off from a lukewarm movie that no one really remembers because the TV show eclipses it, but this was one of the shows that was shown after Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBC Two in the late 90's to early 2000's. My family watched this after TNG then some Simpsons, then some Robot Wars and then Buffy before bed. Honestly, I'm staggered that we were allowed to watch this show because it's full of killing, weird imagery, grotesque monsters and...oh yes! All the bloody sex in this thing! Towards the later seasons, people are screwing like it's a bonobos mating season at the same time as an apocalypse. Which is a regular occurrence on the show, though tends to be placed in strategically to serve the plot going on at that point. Some how, all the boinking didn't register until I watched it recently. How I blotted that from my brain, I don't know.
I remember it being the first gay couple I was exposed to. And no skirting around it, they were gay. I don't remember it being any kind of a weird thing either so, great?
"Stop giggling at me or your walking! Y'hear me?!"
Enough rambling, let's catch up those too young to know what I'm on about.
The initial idea of the show is that there's a girl called Buffy Summers. She's a high school age Amercian student that spends her days rolling through classes, hanging out with her friends and training to fight monsters with the school's librarian. By night, she's the Slayer; a chosen defender of humanity against demons that are looking to do nothing less than destroy the world. All they care about, is killing everything. Evil is all they do. She's joined by Jiles, the school librarian and Buffy's Watcher. A Watcher being a mentor that dedicate themselves to supporting the Slayer as much as they can. But, this stiff, proper Englishman scholarly type can hold his own when he needs to but is usually a spout of information on the baddie of the week.
Giles is able to be a cutting voice of wisdom. His age allows him to snipe down
with a characteristic dry wit at the younger characters. Or be the out of touch
grandad of the group. Both are fun to watch.
Then there's Buffy's friends, Willow and Xander.
Willow is shy, introverted and exceptionally nerdy. She's super smart, gifted with science as well as computers. She tends to be the one that hacks into places the plot needs information from to keep things going or a nice damsel for Buffy to save. Xander is our comic relief. A slightly doofy, cowardly dork that cracks jokes all the time. Honestly, he's a lot of fun as he's able to undercut the tone where it's needed with a little bit of added humour.
Together, they have to fight against the legions of demons that are sprouting up out of the Hellmouth, a literal entranceway to Hell that the town setting of Sunnydale is built on top of. It's because of that that Sunnydale is a highly dangerous death trap that will find the weirdest or bloodiest way it can to murder you.
Now, this probably all sounds like a silly B-movie and that's the idea. At least initially. Buffy strikes me as a teen melodrama that borrows from horror and action movies to make this odd little meeting place where a superhero is effectively fighting some big bad every week. It is very comic book, which isn't surprising considering Whedon's apparent love of the form, but I got the feeling that earlier series were definitely supposed to be high school related takes on horror cliches.
The first lesson at Sunnydale High is taking publicity shots
Or, probably, more the other way round. The anxieties and frustrations of being in the environment of a high school is the main focus point of the show's earlier seasons. Buffy was about relating to an adolescent's nightmare then pumping it up into a full blown apocalypse. The invisible girl that turns invisible from a lack of attention then goes on a revenge spree. The mother literally living through her child by stealing her body. Heck! Even the Vampires seem pretty hip, modern and downright necessary in this context. After all, what better dark fantasy would there be for a teenager than being able to live forever, happy to live as recklessly as you like while looking exactly the way you do right now?
I'd say this kind of mentality rumbles on right up until. After that, the show is more about Buffy having to find her feet and support not only her life as a Slayer, but as the new head of the household. This still has it's very enjoyable moments though the sheer number of bonkers stuff takes it's toll on Buffy as a character.Buffy's Mum dies unexpectedly
But even then, they're around to impact the character. They practically beat her into accepting the new responsibility of her life. At that point, she'd been granted a sister (long story), thrust into a position where she has to finance everything and save the world from yet another 'End of Days' situation. The point is a raising of the stakes in whats going on as well as keeping the series moving forwards. At this point, the characters have left school and have to figure things out on their own. That's why we shift to college, work and adult things. Makes sense, raises tension as things are more exposed now. Plus, we get more situations to pull story ideas from.
One of the ones that stick in my mind being Buffy's first job: a burger joint. A bland, weird place full of nearly braindead luddites that shamble almost mindlessly through their day. All over seen by some creepy guy that takes his job far, far to seriously. The parallels of that episode to my real life stint working in a McDonald's was the most haunting thing in the entire show.
Hang in there Buff! I know the pain of serving impatient, infuriating idiots in an
environment of total boredom so thick that you can tangibly feel time solidify to the consistency
of spray-on cheese. Just hang on for at least a season!
Y'see, it's this central idea that I really clung to in Buffy: making the mundane horrible. A decent and well worked angle was to contrast the monster of the week against the drama the characters were currently going through. This is something later seasons did more than earlier ones as the character's lives grew more complex. One episode I'm sure anyone that enjoyed the show will remember is 'Once More, With Feeling'.
Yes, you do remember it. It's the musical episode. There we go! See?
At that point, Buffy had recently been resurrected and dragged out of Heaven forcibly after barely managing to pull together a good enough plan to stop Glorificus last season. Xander and Anya are together, planning to be married. Willow is getting staggeringly good with her magical studies, angering Jiles with her flippant attitude to simply playing with the universe's laws to suit her. After all, she resurrected Buffy. That's not easy...
That's a lot of baggage to carry around. Let's also throw on that Buffy is being annoyed by 'The Trio' and struggling to make ends meet with her crappy fast-food job. Jiles is planning to leave Buffy because he's worried she's clinging to him rather than confronting problems on her own. Spike is going nuts, falling in love with Buffy. Oh! And Dawn is there, being a bit of a brat. So, there's a lot of pent up emotion all over the place. Occasionally we get episodes that make things fun to break things up. The melodrama can get a little much. Bring on the Comic Relief.
'Once More, With Feeling' grants an outlet valve for the dilemmas being experienced by the characters of the show by forcing them to sing their thoughts. They're little worries are all left out in the open, each telling the story to not only work them towards a solution but also present it in a manner that keeps it interesting. Giles sings about how he's realised he's practically Buffy's father, pushing him towards doing the best for her. Though what that is isn't clear. Xander and Anya sing about their relationship. Buffy sings about being completely clueless about her direction. Even Spike get's a kinda-sorta punk/goth rock heartache thing to sing. It then ends with a swish and smooth dancing demon.
"Somebody STAHP ME! Uh, just a turn'a phrase I heard in a movie I saw last week.
You don't wanna kill the best part of the episode, do ya?"
But the songs serve a purpose of clarifying the feelings of the characters for the audience so that the currently pivotal actions of the characters makes sense. After all, why sing in a musical? To express emotions in a thuddingly obvious but involving manner. Seeing as we're on the Hellmouth where all manner of horrors can come true, it's perfectly reasonable (if bonkers) that such a thing would happen. After this, Giles goes to England, removing Buffy (and the whole group of young adults) of sage wisdom that he's provided since day one. His reasoning is to allow Buffy to learn how to handle herself by herself.
Which is admirable. It kinda works out...
Oh! And Cordelia ought to get a mention here. She's a walking valley-girl popular girl cliche that actually get's bent into some interesting situations. She's in a horror plot so, of course, she's usually antagonising to everyone around her, often getting herself into trouble. Though! She does have a few good episodes surrounding her, notably an episode that get's a follow up where Buffy never came to Sunnydale. For me, she was used as a different form of comic relief that Xander couldn't give. She only sticks around for the first few seasons as fodder before vanishing off with Angel to enjoy life in a spin-off. I don't hate her character, certainly, though I'm not too fussed about her vanishing to L.A. either.
Exhibit A for why Cordelia doesn't annoy me.
She has a good line every so often.
Though, speaking of annoying characters...
If there's an issue I have with Buffy as a whole is that there are a few dud characters we are apparently expected to care for way more than we actually do. Talking about the 'Core' characters a lot is fine and dandy because they work. They play off of each other pleasingly, having little histories and trust that gets built up, broken in two then rebuilt because they have to. However, there's a few characters that turn up, don't entirely gel, then are dropped a little way down the road.
Apologies to Seth Green, who I ordinarily like, but Oz is kinda boring. For those that don't know, Oz is a guitarist in a band that Oz considers kinda dumb, but he seems to enjoy playing so whatever. He's a high grading super genius type that's still in school for some reason. I don't remember why and couldn't care less. The issue is that his character and conflict doesn't quite work on screen, for me. The idea is that he's an unflappable type that tends to keep his emotions below the surface, usually coming off as calmly collected in danger. But, he's got a dark side where he's a werewolf. Y'see what the idea was? Calm, unflappable guy is forced to become an untamed beast regularly. Can his resolute control win out over the monster within?
Couldn't careless. There's something in either Whedon's writing or Green's performance that seems to make Oz blend into the background. My first thought is that it's because he's trying to be included in the 'Scooby Gang', made up of the much more colourful 'Core' cast. Compared to them, he doesn't say much, does a bit to help his girlfriend Willow but ultimately leaves little impact.
I think this is the most intense emotion he pulls for most of his screen time.
I would level some of the same complaints at Tara, Willow's next big love of her life. At least initially, she seems to be a bit of a hanger on, it's just that she does try to be enjoyable. Her relationship with Willow was more entertaining as it was always attempting to actually impact Willow's story. No! It's not because they were lesbians! It's because they would fight, they would have fun, they would kiss and make-up, they would play, they seemed natural with each other. They were comfortable, which was a thousand times more interesting to watch than the human brickwall that Oz turned out to be. There were stakes building in Willow's story. She's involved in the addiction to power Willow builds over the course of Season Six, even so far as to put a spell on Tara herself to make her forget a fight. That becomes a nasty break up too, pushing Willow into a position of highly strung tension for the rest of the series.
Why do you look so pleased to hear that? Top it with the horse teeth grin, Sarah!
See? She has impact on stuff! The same could be said for Anya too though I liked her for more than her function in the story. She was quirky in a way that made sense. A demon getting used to being a human? That's interesting. Even so, I like Tara far more than Bland Flakes The Werewolf.
Being grossly out of touch with the world made her charming, in my eyes.
Actually impacting Xander's story like Tara did for Willow, made her indispensable.
The thing I can't forget to talk about is the monsters. Oh, blimey! The monsters are so fun.
So, the defining element I would level at the majority of the baddies in Buffy is that they tend to have some humanising elements. The tongue is never far from the cheek whenever the story rumbles by. Random mooks do have the capacity to emote or at least say something other than flat, boring fighting talk. A little comment here and there characterises these guys more than not at all. It's a little reminder that there are thinking beings that are being turned to dust on a regular basis.
With big bad villains, it adds to their character in interesting ways. The Master's sense of humour grants him a confidence that both plays up an element of camp as well as a bit of menace in how trivial he finds most of his supposed adversaries. He couldn't give a monkeys about 'The Slayer', finding her frankly kinda pathetic. He also takes the mick out of his henchmen, much like anyone would if they were acting like idiots. For the first, big bad, he's kinda fun.
Glory also comes to mind as pretty notable. I mean, how would you write a chaos deity stuck in human form but retains an incredible amount of power and strength? Probably some rampaging thug that loves to kill indiscriminately, right? I doubt you would have gone with full-on diva that demands that everything is served to them on a plate or she'll stomp you into the ground. The result is fun though. Glory's fashion-focused, dismissive approach to the Scooby Gang actually get's demonstrated as she beats up Buffy without much
Yes, your supposed to find her a little intimidating. Sometimes.
In fact, I'd even suggest she's like a proto-Loki from The Avengers. The link being that she could just smite Buffy but, she's a goddess. She just wants to be pampered and not have to exert her energies because of that one fact. She feels entitled to everything because of her power. It's an emotional rather than logical reasoning going on here, much like how Loki prefered to taunt the heroes more often than not. Glory believes she shouldn't have to do anything, growing more annoyed as things don't go her way. A simple idea, with a little more going on underneath. Good!
The most human of the main villains, I would say, is The Trio. Oh blimey...It's interesting that they get an entire season to stamp their names on Sunnydale yet they wouldn't even come close to being the most dangerous thing all season.
The Trio are made up of two character's we'd met all ready in previous episodes and a guy that's related to another guy we knew beforehand. I liked that idea, showing that not only were more people finding out that magic is totally a thing, but some would naturally try to abuse it. Anyone could be a villain. Scary in it's own way.
Though you're supposed to laugh at these doofuses a lot.
The geek jokes get applied thicker than Big Bang Theory.
Andrew is the new boy and he's a dork. It's possible they're hinting at either repressed homosexuality or femininity in the character, as he often appears to come out with a few odd lines here and there about certain guys being pretty. He's demeanor often comes off emasculated even outside of school. Though, he's a demon summoner. Not sure why he chose that in particular if it seems like he'd have trouble asserting dominance over whelks with crippling shyness but there we go.
Jonathan was saved multiple times by Buffy, even from shooting himself. His last big entrance was a spell that inserted him into the show as the most amazing person in the world. He craved the attention of being loved and adored for being amazing because he too is a dork. He's a mage as well, if you haven't guessed.
Warren is a walking sack of *squee!*. Spoilers! But yeah, he's the actual villain here. The others are idiots that are childishly trying to claw together some semblance of power for themselves while Warren is genuinely a psychopath. Misogynistic to the point of making a literal toy woman with his skills in robotics, Warren ends up showing how dangerous normal people can be with the powers and such of this world. Playing at being super villains but ultimately managing nothing but being squashed by a rampaging witch.
Yeah, Season Six is a mix of awesome and misery throughout, if you can't tell...
There's one guy I haven't talked about yet and that's Spike. Spike's metamorphosis from Slayer Killer, to neutered monster to outsider ally to the Scooby Gang to Buffy's stalker to 'I have a soul now' is something you will either find annoying or utterly fantastic. Because this is Twilight before there was Twilight. And not written by an idiot. Spike's 'Draco in Leather pants' archetype gets room to not only breathe but get a little psychoanalysis too, making him not only the most long lived big bad but also the one that has the most impact. His evolution over time, without wishing to spoil anything, can feel like it started out of nowhere because it does feel like it comes out of nowhere.
You'll be surprised how much they dissect this brawling thug
Buuut, unlike Edward Cullen or Draco Malfoy, Spike is fun to have around. A bad boy thug that lives mainly for the excitement of the fight. Debauched, disgusting and cruel, Spike has more to him that get's revealed over time. We even get to see why he became a vampire in the first place, seeing his fixation on the Slayer, even making a hobby of killing them. It's still rather more revealing than someone might expect on this guy. Some won't like it and others might find it interesting. I'm somewhat in both camps. I like Spike but it's jarring to see what he was before Drusilla got to him. Seriously jarring. Sure, there's hundreds of years between the 'present' and the flashback but bloody hell! It's like a totally different guy. That's the point but...still.
Buffy is also dated as all bloody hell! I've heard characters use the term 'Wiggin'' and the Internet is introduced as some mystical future device. That's an inescapable element of the show which was set in the then present of the late 1990's. That alone makes some episodes feel a little silly, especially one where a demon is accidentally scanned into the Internet then ensnares people through dating chat rooms. It's a still relevant message behind the story though the show as a whole feels almost like a period piece because of how much the world has left it behind. The same goes for the special effects that mostly relies on practical effects but the few computer generated ones looked amazing when I was a kid. Now they're a little ropey. It's something which doesn't go away, especially with the numbers of vampires we have to see get dusted. Still, it does mean that the horror elements are never compromised by the prevalence of mobile phones!
A period piece where the demon in the Internet has his ensnared lovers build him a robot body.
You thought I was joking? Nope! This isn't concept art from a cancelled Doom game,
this is actually in the show.
Yeah, Buffy is campy in places. I still really recommend it. If you can jive on the see-sawing back and forth between daft and dramatic that the show keeps swaying back and forth on, you'll find a fun show with a decent brain in it's head. The characters are fun, with a camaraderie that makes the characters you watch more enjoyable as you go along. It's far from perfect. It's dated. It's daft in some places. Some conflicts feel overwrought.
But I watched it all to the end. I'd even consider watching it all over again. I think it's that enjoyable. Not many other shows seem to want to be this gleeful or attempt to be this exciting in their execution. I responded to that more than anything else when I was a kid and I was right to. I'm sure it's shaped my preferences in writing and such but I think for the better.
Now, Buffy lasted 7 seasons. However! Did you know that Season 8, 9 and 10 were made into comics? I didn't until I started writing this. Welp! I know what I need to go track down. You lot go check your Netflix queue and we'll reconvene once you've caught up and I've found these comics.
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