We get that many teenagers would argue that their years spent in secondary school were ‘literally hell’. But in the case of Buffy, she’d really mean literally, hell.
Looking at this high school drama about a vampire hunter slaying evil forces whilst also desperately trying to lead a normal, American teenage life, you’d likely dismiss it as just another trashy high school drama led by a clichéd bimbo who will probably die at some point in the first season. But you’d be wrong – Buffy doesn’t die, in fact she becomes the razor sharp, feminist heroine of a now cult classic show. Well, every day is a school day.
And always a day to fight demons, if you go to Sunnydale High School. Buffy, played by the wonderful Sarah Michelle Gellar, forms the evil slaying ‘Scooby gang’ with her school mates – there’s the lovable nerd Willow, former demon Anya, desperately uncool Xander, super cool Oz and her boyfriend and vampire (with a soul), Angel. Together they tackle a new monster each episode, whilst every season deals with a larger, looming threat, as the gang journey through adolescence and into adulthood against the powers of increasingly dark forces.
These plots are as complex and deeply ingrained as any critically acclaimed, drug-busting-type drama. Yet the words Buffy the Vampire Slayer don’t spark the same impassioned conversations as say, The Sopranos, or The Wire. But if you ask us, that’s a crying shame. The show paved the way for strong female leads, it’s effortlessly funny and the characters are as complex and as captivating as many more lauded series.
And like those more highly regarded shows, Buffy’s phrases have become so engrained in our vernacular that modern teens likely wouldn’t even know they’re quoting a badass vampire slaying heroine and her pals – we reckon if they realised they’d totally ‘wig out’. We’ve read them ‘five by five.’
Luckily we’re not alone in our thoughts. Lucy Mangan in The Guardian thinks “there’s been no television as funny, moving or world-saving since,” saying that whilst “The Sopranos is generally held up as the inflection point for television-as-art… but Buffy was there first and doing extraordinary things before the conflicted Mafiosi hit the screen.” One of the things that makes Buffy so special is its portrayal of women, with Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastien saying “the series was at its best charting women in moments of fraught transition — between victim and monster, heroine and villain, girlhood and womanhood — and subverting our expectations along the way. And it’s Buffy, the wonderfully complex lead character, who communicates these ideas time and again.”
And The Rolling Stone’s Jennifer Armstrong agrees, saying the show “pulled off some astonishing feats… bringing wrenching pathos, meditations on life and death, examinations of power and responsibility, formal innovations like a musical episode and a nearly silent episode, and kick-ass action seamlessly combined with biting humor to the small screen. A binge-watching classic, long before anyone thought to coin the term, was born.”
First shown March 1997.