This week was the 18th anniversary of the premiere of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Can you believe it?
Like many millenials I happened upon “Buffy” not when it first aired, but in high school after much pressuring from friends who were hipper than me (or bigger nerds; your pick). And thank god I did, because who knows what I’d think of it now.
“Buffy” was always very smartly written, but there’s definitely an appeal to the show that makes more sense when it met your consciousness as a teen. Joss Whedon, a third generation screenwriter, tackled two things he’d always loved: turning tropes on their head, and using monsters as a stand-in for teen angst. I definitely noticed it at the time (Buffy’s monsters as analogies for major life events were in the back of my mind as I faced those same events myself), but until I was reading Alan Sepinwall’s chapter on “Buffy” in his book “The Revolution Was Televised”—purely by coincidence—that he was the first one to draw the connection so overtly.
Sure, there’d been enough papers to kill hours reading about all the different ways puberty and sexual awakenings presented themselves in horror films, but his was possibly the first to draw the line so distinctly for kids. A sort of blending of the “Full House” lessons with the longer, more adult dramas of the period.
And perhaps one of the things he did best was to veer away from the grit so common in today’s dramas. Hell, even the “notable” dramas of the late ’90s erred on the side of serious; more DC than Marvel. But teens, like Whedon’s infamous dialogue, tend to float above the darkness, even if they have a penchant for drama.
Despite whatever problems I have with “Buffy,” one thing I have always loved about it is that despite all the horror, evil, and sadness Buffy encounters it made her nice. It made her a better person, and she wasn’t afraid to show it. Compare that to Dr. House or Bruce Wayne, and I think it’s pretty clear who the strongest character is.
In many ways “Buffy” broke down barriers, for teen shows, fantasy shows, and (maybe especially) fantasy teen shows. But the only reason it could do that was because they cared enough to make Buffy someone who cared. Which looking back on it, was the coolest thing they could’ve taught me.