Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Gettin' huffy with Buffy


A few days ago, I made reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer being “one of the best shows to appear on television” and my fabulous Unkie Ken retorted back by saying, “How long have you been watching television?” So, Kenny, this post is for you.

It’s not often where a show gets as many fan nicknames as Buffy does—Buffyology and Buffyverse being the main two—while also having countless books, video games, spin-offs, magazine, action figures and also the new comic book coming out which covers the eighth season.

But the real awe doesn’t come until you realize that there are academic studies on Buffy. At Brunel University in West London, students can take a course on the show while in 2004, there was a conference held in Nashville about the possibility of academic classes on Buffy. The co-hosts of the conference, Lavery and Rhonda Wilcox, heard roughly 180 proposals from Buffyologists ranging from “Slayer Slang,” “Postmodern Reflections on the Culture of Consumption” and “Buffy and the new American Buddhism.”

A creation of Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on the now-defunct WB network on March 10, 1997 and ran until May 20, 2003, when the seventh season ended. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the title character and with a cast of Nicholas Brendon and Alyson Hannigan as her two best friends, Xander and Willow, and Anthony Stewart Head as Buffy’s “watcher,” Giles, the show revolves around Buffy saving the world from vampires, demons and other beasties because the town they live in, Sunnydale, happens to live on top of a portal to Hell, or Hellmouth.

One thing that made the show so endearing is the quality of the supporting characters. People like Buffy’s vampire love interest Angel and vampire bad-ass Spike are just great characters. Not to mention folks like Anya, Jenny, Cordelia, Faith, Oz and, of course, the Buffy Rat.

Immediately, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive with words like “standout,” “smart” and “witty” being used to describe the first season. And the first season is only a shell of what the show would become.

As the number of episodes increased, so did the acclaim the show received and although getting between 4-6 million viewers was quite good for The WB, it would almost certainly mean an automatic cancellation on one of the Big Four networks.

Along the way, the show caused surprisingly little controversy for a show about a teenage girl killing vampires—except from Jesus types who believed the show promoted witchcraft. But they’re also saying something about Harry Potter so, who cares?

When the show got cancelled in 2003, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to anyone but luckily for people like me, the DVDs were released between 2002-2004, making sure that Buffy will never fade away into obscurity.

In a Washington Post story from 2005, writer Richard Harrington refers to Buffy as “one of the best, most influential, genre-defining television series in decades.” But that’s nothing compared to getting a glowing review from National Public Radio. In 2003, NPR ran a piece about “Buffy studies” on All Things Considered that can be found here.

A nice point is made in the article when it says, “From its name on down, Buffy sounds a little silly -- but Buffy's fans say the show stretches the boundaries of the medium, and challenges clichés.”

Since Bela Lugosi’s Dracula in 1931, it is possible to not have a clichéd vampire movie or television show? For Buffy to somehow transcend past that and become something great goes to show how wonderful it actually is.

To go back to the “Buffy studies” aspect, there are books or articles written in the following fields: musicology, homosexuality, feminism, theology, religion, psychology, anthropology, demonology, ecology, existentialism, and many more. It should also be pointed out that Whedon is actually an atheist.

Upon reading everything I’ve just written, Star Trek might keep popping up in your mind for it has also had academic debate, books, spin-off’s, etc. In fact, on, they write, “Only time will tell whether the 'Buffyverse' achieves the same longevity as, say, Star Trek, but the ongoing wealth of spin-off novels, comic books, and other merchandise make it seem like a pretty good bet.” In another ten years or so, although I don’t believe Buffy will have the same cultural impact as Star Trek, it’ll be pretty darn close.

And all this from a show about a teenage girl from California…killing…vampires. For a show with that kind of premise to be so successful, it takes a very clever mind. For that, Joss Whedon, I’m glad you didn’t end Buffy with that terrible movie in 1992 and decided, five years later, to begin a great seven-year run.

Now, repeat after me: "Grrr, Arghhh."