Happy 20th Birthday, Buffy

I’m embarrassed to say it, but there was a time in my life in which I thought I was too cool to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  For the entire duration that it was on the air, I never even gave it a chance.  Why?  Aren’t monsters and strong, kickass women two thing things I’m all about?  Well, for starters, it was called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Second, the 1992 Kristy Swanson movie was pretty bad, Paul Reubens death scene aside.  The night I went to see Serenity was a turning point though, a magical evening with a story for another time, but it was what started me down the Whedon rabbit hole.  After tearing through Firefly, having fallen in love with Joss’s witty, singular dialects and his unlimited supply to do the unexpected, I wanted more.  I was working overnights back then, living the vampire schedule myself, so before hitting the sack one afternoon, I gave my brother $30 and told him to go pick up the first season of Buffy for me.

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The first season tends to get somewhat maligned, as newcomers are always told to stick with it and that it “gets better.”  Yeah, the show does get better, pretty much immediately upon hitting season two, but the first season is still wall-to-wall FUN, especially in repeat viewings. Having just rewatched the first season for the umpteenth time, I am now 100% comfortable in saying that I love it, terrible 90s fashion and all.

The thing about season one is that no matter how goofy, dated, or downright bad a single episode might be, the Whedon charm is still there, working its magic.  Joss is often praised (and criticized in some circles that enjoy being wrong) for writing banter, but his true gift is to set up something you’ve seen a million times over and then turn it on its ear when just when you’re sure you know where things are going. The first scene in the entire series is undeniably Joss, as teenage boy pressures a reluctant girl to go up to the roof of the high school with him after hours.  She’s spooked, he’s predatory, and you’re expecting vampires.  She caves, you think he’s going to vamp out and go in for a bite, but before you know it, she’s biting him.  The first season might be more “monster of the week” than the rest of the series, but it still has its share of Joss doing what Joss does best.

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There are a few specific first season episodes that have a bad reputation, though none of them come close to series low point, Where the Wild Things Are.  Teacher’s Pet, in which Xander (my spirit animal) falls for a substitute teacher who is actually a giant praying mantis is usually the first to ridiculed.  It’s a beyond silly plot, but Xander still has some great lines, which is true of any bad episode.  The Pack is another favorite punching bag, this time Xander and a group of “the bad kids” become possessed by hyena spirits.  Again, another goofy concept, but this one goes dark, really dark, and if you’re in for the long haul with Buffy, you’d best get used to that.  Personally, I find The Witch to be the worst season one episode by far.  I’ve never liked cheerleading, or even cheerleaders, and this episode is teeming with both and over the top cheesy to boot.

Some of the concepts for individual episodes in season one might push  your suspension of disbelief to the limits, but the strengths of the show are still in plain sight right from the start.  Sarah Michelle Gellar hits the ground running, her confidence carries the show, and you’d think she’d been playing the character for years right from the first episode.  That’s true for most of the characters, aside from David Boreanaz’s Angel, who does take some time to find his footing both as a character and as an actor.  That being said, the Angel-centric season two is my favorite Buffy, full stop.  For as defined as the core group of Scoobies are, they still grow as time goes on.  I find that all to rare in television.

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Not so much an actor as he is a haircut.  At first, anyways.

Don’t be like I was.  Watch Buffy.  It is very much a show of its era as far as execution and format goes, but what it did still feels ahead of its time.  It was certainly progressive, but it never came across as being forced.  We need that again.  In the same way that H.P. Lovecraft has penetrated our pop culture even today, as dated and backwards as his works may be, one can only hope that Joss Whedon and Buffy Summers will endure as time goes on.  The world may be a better place for it.

Happy 20th Birthday, Slayer.

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