Buffing Up

For the past few weeks I’ve been re-watching one of the all-time greatest television series ever made. I’m speaking, of course, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Created by Joss Whedon, Buffy was broadcast from 1997 to 2003, although I didn’t catch up with it until it appeared on DVD.

In a way it can be viewed as two different shows intertwined within each other. On one hand it’s a comic book-style show about vampires and demons and the superhero whose destiny it is to defend the world against those monsters—the superhero in this case being a teenage girl. And viewed in that way it’s an exciting show filled with lots of unexpected plot twists—although being of its time, for the first couple of seasons the CGI special effects are showing their age.

But it’s also a character driven show about Buffy and her friends simply trying to live in this crazy world with the monsters often being metaphors for real world problems. And that’s where the show really excels, as the characters interact and develop during the course of its seven seasons.

In general the episodes that are most satisfying and memorable are the ones that deal with the characters’ reactions. One of the best hours of television ever is the episode following the death of an important character as the others try to deal with their grief. It’s done mostly in real time with no music soundtrack, and it’s absolutely riveting.

It’s been several years since the last time I viewed the episodes, so I’ve forgotten lots of the plot twists, which makes watching it all that much more fun. In fact, I’m about half way through the final season, and I realize I’ve forgotten most of the twists in this season. That’s probably because the last time I watched the series, I stopped shortly after the musical show in season six.

Oh, that’s right. In season six there’s an actual musical episode. And it’s not one of those faux musicals where the characters do a scene and then sing a song that’s sort of relevant to the emotion of the scene, or worse just have songs played over a scene. No, it’s a true musical where the songs actually advance the plot of the story. You see, a song and dance demon has come to town, and suddenly everybody is singing about everything, including secrets that they don’t want others to know. Very well done.

Not that everything about the series is perfect. There are some hitches here and there. For example, Whedon thought season five would be its last, so he tied everything up very nicely in its final episode, but then the show was picked up for two more seasons by another network, so he had to undo all that tying.

Also, Whedon took note of the fans’ reactions. And the fans didn’t like a character he introduced in season four, which is why the following season he dropped that character rather unceremoniously—one of my favorite characters, too. Stupid fans. And in season six, long after the others had graduated from high school, he introduced a new teenage character who was decidedly not one of my favorites.

And there are inconsistencies here and there. Such as whether vampires need to or even can breathe. In a key scene in the first season, a vampire (one of the good vampires) claims he can’t revive a character who needs mouth to mouth resuscitation because he has no breath. Fine, but if he has no breath, how can he talk? And in later seasons we see vampires smoking cigarettes. And a vampire being tortured by holding him under water. As I said, not consistent.

Still, I love the show, as do many others. Oh, and did I mention how laugh out loud funny it can often be?

But a couple tips if you ever watch it for the first time. Avoid the trivia items on imdb.com as they are filled with unlabelled spoilers, including lots of spoilers for future episodes and future seasons. In fact, it’s best not to look at the imdb page for an episode until after viewing it as even the cast listings can contain spoilers on a few occasions. And please don’t go to any of the Buffy fan sites. All the ones I’ve seen are awful. They are all filled with spoilers for future episodes. They’re fine after you’ve viewed the whole series, but avoid them like the plague until then. The same warning goes for the DVD commentaries—they tend to contain lots of spoilers for future episodes, so don’t listen until you’ve viewed the whole series.

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