(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)
I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2000, during its fourth season, widely regarded as one of its worst. But it still hooked me. I spent the summer catching up on episodes and started fresh with Season Five, which in my mind is one of the best seasons.
Since then, Buffy has been the epitome of good television to me. 17 years later, I’m still finding new things to love about this show. I’m still picking up on references I didn’t get the first 42 times I watched it.
Anyone who knows me knows I regard Buffy as the foremother of today’s peak TV. Without Buffy, would we have the complex female characters we have today? Probably, but would they be as nuanced? Would it have taken a little longer to get here? I think so.
And it’s not just about Buffy as a character. As a show, it paved the way for complex storylines and mixing of genres. That’s not to say no other show had complex female characters, complex storylines, genre mixing, but Buffy did it so beautifully and so consistently well. And against all odds, it survived seven seasons. In a time where shows weren’t allowed to be risky. In a time when Firefly was canceled. In a time when any science fiction or supernatural or fantasy show was immediately deemed as “weird” and “nerdy”. This was pre-Lost, pre-Game of Thrones, pre-Harry Potter. Somehow it survived and became a part of the zeitgeist.
The way Joss Whedon blended humor, action, and fantasy is something that had never been done on such a large scale and so successfully. Not to mention his use of allegory. High school as both a figurative and literal Hellmouth. Bigotry and racism through the lens of demons and monsters. Addiction to magic is addiction to drugs.
Along those same lines, I’ve always been fascinated with the character development in Buffy. In particular, the character of Spike. Spike is a character that has never been fully evil. He has his demons (both literally and figuratively), but so many of his actions are driven by either a fear of abandonment or a fear of inadequacy. His fear of abandonment also goes hand in hand with his own brand of love. He’s not as selfish as Angelus or Dru or Darla. He does evil things, but not always for evil reasons.
When he was human, he was a shell of a man. He had no confidence, he couldn’t stand up for himself, and he had no friends or real identity outside of his mother. Then he is transformed into a powerful monster and in that transformation, he begins to find himself. By the time the series ends, he’s become the man he’s always wanted to be.
In order to become a man, Spike had to become a monster.
And if that’s not engaging television, I don’t know what is.
Buffy herself is the most inspiring of all, though. She was one of our first lipstick feminists. I liken her to Cher Horowitz. She kicked ass, took names, and then went to go fix her lipstick. Buffy made it okay to be an independent woman and also care about how you look. She mastered the balance of encompassing elements of both traditional gender roles.
Again, she paved the way for modern day feminist heroes.
And this is why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the most influential show in my life, and I believe one of the most influential shows in television history. It’s worth watching, even if some of it doesn’t hold up, if only to know where we came from and how we got here.