Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.
In the past I have made no secret about the fact that I am a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, starring Kirsty Swanson and Luke Perry. Seriously, it shaped my childhood and has been key in forming me into the well-adjusted adult I am today; which is why I was so unimpressed (in 1997) when I first heard that they were making a television series based on the film concept. Seriously. I was outraged.
Others did not share my disdain. In fact, I remember one girl that I was BFF’s with at the time, who grew up in an exceptionally strict household and wasn’t allowed to watch the first season because her parents feared it promoted Satanism. Thus I had to secretly tape it for her on VHS so she could watch it when they weren’t home… but I digress… Anyway, I avoided the first season of Buffy like the plague. It couldn’t possibly live up to the film I assured myself (and anyone else that would listen), I mean, Pike wasn’t even in it! If it didn’t have Luke Perry approval it must be shit…
Now, before all of you hard core Buffy fans start crying foul, I can now, in my older and more mature years admit, that I overacted. Yes, I know the series was a more true reflection of what the writers wanted the original film to be. Yes, I realise that some of the comedic elements made the film difficult to fit into a genre and thus made it difficult for audiences to gel with. Yes, I realise I am about the only person alive still talking about their pre-teen crush on Luke Perry.
As I said, there was overreaction on my part and, after hearing nothing but how awesome the series version of Buffy was, I finally gave in and started watching… and subsequently had to play a quick game of catch up when it was on hiatus between season 1 and 2. I was the laughing stock of my friends for moths because of the shit I had piled onto the series. In a way, it was a very valuable life lesson and in an effort to not let that life lesson be forgotten and thus go to waste, I have decided to revisit it here, by looking back at the premier episodes (the pilot was a TBC, so we will be looking at episode two as well) and remembering just how wonderful they actually were.
Before we get into the plot and character development that made Buffy such a beloved series for so long though, there are a few other things I want to bring up that really stood out to me because they were not remembered so fondly, and they are these:
- The fashions! Lord, the fashions! I forgot what we all were wearing in the mid-to-late 1990’s but good grief it sure wasn’t pretty. Way too much satin, plus that whole throw-back to the 60’s smock that Buffy is sporting just perplexes me. There are so many rich patterns going on, in skirts, shirts and slacks, that it’s almost difficult to look at. And what’s with everyone being in ill-fitting attire that’s more office casual than high school junior? Were we trying to look older than our years rather than younger? How times have changed!
- The vocabulary. I have difficulty believing that anyone, anywhere, at any age, said the words: sitch, neg or pos. If they did it must have been a really tiny pocket of well to do teens in the Californian area, but good grief, it is cringe worthy and I am so glad they dropped it after episodes 1 and 2. I wish ‘wig’, ‘wigging’ and ‘wiggins’ had gone the same way, but I suppose I’ll just be thankful that they never really caught on.
- Button down shirts. Yep, back to fashions again for a moment. Why the hell is everyone wearing business shirts? Men and women are all sporting them, two sized too big and hanging out. It’s just weird man.
- Special effects. In fairness, for television, the special effects in Buffy (for that era) were second to none. Still, when the Master is first introduced, he rises from a pool of blood, with no blood on either his skin of his sweet leather get up. What’s that about?
Okay, done, now on to the good stuff:
Like all good series premiers, we’re introduced to all the key characters here. The Scooby Gang: Willow and Xander; the faithful watcher, Giles, Mom, Cordelia and of course, the love interest, Angel. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
Willow and Xander: I love them because they look like they could be teenagers. While their dialect is trending towards a realm that is advanced beyond their years (think of the whopping vocabulary they were throwing around on Dawson’s Creek in the same era if you’re keen for further examples) they more than make up for that by their insecurities and tragic, typical teen fashion sense. I loved Willow in the early seasons, we could have been totally nerdy, shy BFF’s… and then she gets to have a love affair with the lovely Oz and I (growing up in a remote area and being incredibly shy and a member of the real world) get to have a love affair with no one. Yeah, Willow and I lost touch after that, but in these early days, she was totally on song with her performance as the misunderstood, chronically unsure of herself, totally awesome cyber nerd.
Xander: Despite Nicholas Brendon’s most recent, and frankly heartbreaking, problems with alcohol and prescription pill addiction, I will always have a soft spot for him which springs from his role as Xander Harris.Xander, like Willow, is just a font of all the awkwardness that comes with being 16. He tries so hard to be everything he isn’t and there’ a quality to him that I think we can all relate to and that we all recall from the people we spent out formative years with. In short, he and Willow are both believable and, when you’re pitching a show about vampires and the forces of darkness, you need to have a solid believable element in there.
Giles: Bless Anthony Stewart Head. Maybe I didn’t know it when I first invested in this series, but Giles and his British sensibilities really hold all the other elements together. I guess it’s not a far stretch to say that he is the father figure of the piece, to everyone, not just Buffy, but I love him for his gentle whit, his middle-aged exasperation and ability to take a flogging from a 16 year old girl (in the sparring ring of course) with humor. Fashion wise, his dress sense is the only one which might still hold up if he were to step from 1997 into the present day. Then again, Giles is a classic and classic English gents, never age.
Cordelia: Every series needs a bitch and Cordelia Chase was so damn good in this role. While she and I would never have been friends in the really real word, I always appreciated her in the show, well, the early episodes anyway. Cordelia kind of lost a lot of her shine when she started hooking up with Xander and even more when she moved across to Angel and became the female lead and eventual love interest (WTF?) but let’s just focus on the golden era of Cordy here, when she was rich and mean and a little mini Brenda Walsh (90210 guys) in the making. It was a beautiful thing. There’s a brief moment here, where we are almost fooled into thinking that Buffy is going to fall under her spell and become a total bitch, but then, the show would forgo a lot of its heart if that happened. I think there’s a collective sigh of relief among nerds everywhere when Buffy sees that she’s better off to ignore being popular in favour of being real – life lesson one delivered in the first 45 minutes of the show.
Joyce: Mrs Buffy, the absent mother. Probably a good thing Joyce is too busy doing Joyce to invest any real interest in her daughter. If she stopped for one moment to question what was going on, she might have had to accept that there was some weird shit going on in Sunnydale and then she probably would have up and moved again – and there where would we have been? I never rated Joyce as a character, but I guess she kind of had to be, because how else is Buffy going to support herself at 16?
Which brings us to Angel: LoL. I forgot how young David Boreanez was when this premiered! He is certainly a man that improved (in looks and acting ability) with age. Watching this at 16, I remember thinking to myself that he was such a sexy looking older man and hoping that sexy looking old men like him really existed in the real world and that I would meet some of them. At 32 it strikes me that he really wasn’t even a man at that age, let alone a sexy, sophisticated and suave 240 year old vampire. It’s okay though, I’ll always love him a bit for the role he played in assisting me establish a clear ‘type’ of man to whom I am still attracted in my adult life. (what type of man? Why, emotionally unavailable and completely inappropriate, of course). If it wasn’t for Angel, men in white singlet tops and leather jackets would never have been super sexy in the 90’s and who knows where the mysterious, distant broody types would have ended up…. Oh and lest we forget what he did for the gelled men’s hairdo (you know the one, were the front is kind of gelled up straight but then pushed a bit flat so the man still has a reason to look up through his fringe at his love interest. (Let’s close our eyes and get a mental picture together). Oh snap, and that tattoo… he was so bad… but this is the days before Michael Schofield or Jax Teller and his ilk I suppose, so one single tattoo, hidden on your back where no one could see it, was still considered bad and sexy.
(teehee, seriously though, why are the clothes so baggy?)
(that hair style… and bro has a stain on his shirt. LoL.)
Now, depending on when you started watching this series, odds are you’re either a staunch Angel and Buffy fan or you’re a Spike and Buffy fan. Given my age and the fact that I was watching these as they premiered on Australian television, I’m a hardcore member of the Angel and Buffy camp. Lauren and I will fight out the merits of each camp at a later date, since she (it pains me to say) is a hardcore Buffy and Spike girl.
Probably the best thing about Buffy, and the reason it is such an enduring classic and generally beloved sci-fi series, is the character of Buffy herself. From minute one, she is a kick-ass girl heroine, who is asking no one to save her. Yes, she has the support of Giles, Angel and the Scooby gang, but at the end of the day, she alone is the slayer and she alone can do the job of killing the vampires. None of the bad guy really give two hoots about the others, they’re just in the way, the only person they really want, is Buffy. In the first episodes, there are a few times when Buffy is getting her butt kicked (she’s out of practice you know), but she always, always saves herself. As the series progresses this theme remains constant. From time to time Angel might step in and give the assist because he is her only match strength wise, but when he turns bad, Buffy is very much back on her own again (it’s probably that arc in season two in which we see the final development of her true inner strength, but we’re skipping way ahead). In my memory, Buffy is the first girl hero that young women had on their television screens. She wasn’t all up in your grill with her feminism either, which I appreciate the hell out of, because nothing grinds my gears more than women banging on the feminist drum; she was just quietly saving herself and her friends and the world. Buffy was making her own choices about things, even when it got people offside. Buffy was strong, she was fighting, she was independent, she was making her own rules about her own life (and later love-life) and she was also doing something else important – accepting herself and her destiny for what it was. Despite the things that have aged poorly in the series, I do love Buffy for that, now as much as I did then.
Re-watching the series premier of Buffy the Vampire Slayer really got me hooked again. In fact, I spent the whole night glued to the television, revisiting some of my favourite episodes from seasons I and II. I did a similar thing with Prison Break the other week… but I can’t get into it here… see, when I re-watch these old shows it invariably puts me back in touch with previous versions of myself. In the case of Buffy, before I knew what had happened I had reached out through the ether and was remembering myself as 16 year old me. I hate doing that, which is why I had to be strong and not get right back into watching Buffy today. Reliving these old episodes is like a form of emotional gold panning through my teen years, yes, there are always some funny memories that come to the surface through the sediment of time, but damn it, there are some bloody awful insecurities that come up too and horrifically enough, in the 16 years that have passed since I was 16, I don’t think I have moved as far away from those as I would like to think. Safe to say, a binge watch of Buffy, like I did recently the X Files, is off the cards.
Still, I loved the series premier. I’ll apologise again now for every having doubted it. If you’ve never been a fan or never given it a try, now might be the time. Be prepared to reconnect with your teens self would be my main warning. Otherwise, enjoy!