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TAC Reviews...Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 

Created by Joss Whedon in 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer started its life as a film which starred Kristy Swanson, however, the film did not follow the vision that Whedon wanted so five years later the premise was brought back in a television show that would ultimately have seven seasons, spawn a spin-off as well as numerous tie-in novels, games and comics. In the show Buffy was played by Sarah Michelle Gellar who has support from British actor Anthony Stewart Head as her Watcher and mentor.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 

One day a few years ago I was lazily channel flicking looking for something to watch (I have discovered some of my favourite shows via this method) when I stumbled upon a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an attractive blond was kicking some monster’s ass so I decided to watch it. The episode in question was a 2-parter and the ending made me want to tune in the following week to see what happened next…and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

The basic gist of the story is that a high school teenager named Buffy Summers (Gellar) is the “chosen one”. Every generation a Slayer is created who has the task of fighting demons, vampires and the forces of darkness. A Watcher is sent to guide the Slayer and research different types of monsters giving the Slayer the best chances of fighting and defeating the evil that lurks in the shadows. For generations this has been the way of things a Slayer guided by a Watcher. What makes Buffy unique is the fact that she desires a normal life, and has a family, her mother is unaware of her true calling and some of her fellow students discover her secret and help her out becoming known as the “Scooby Gang”. Joining Buffy in the first three seasons is a Vampire with a Soul named Angel (David Boreanaz), something unique in the world of Buffy because all vampires are evil so one fighting for the side of good has never happened before. Buffy is joined by a host of other characters some of which are good and some serve the forces of darkness.

 

In Season 1 Buffy Summers comes to a Californian town named Sunnydale and learns that a Watcher, Rupert Giles (Head) has been sent to guide her through her coming battles. It is in this season that we are introduced to the characters that will remain through the majority of the shows run including Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). Giles informs them that their high school is built directly above a Hellmouth, this is a place that draws evil to it, so it needs the skills of a Slayer to guard it. Each season has a “Big Bad” and in Season One it is an ancient Vampire called the Master who is trapped in a limbo state who is constantly trying to free himself in order to rule the world.

 

The first season had 12 episodes but after the success of the series, Season 2 has a 24 episode run, and in this season Buffy continues to battle evil and must contend with two new vampires in town, Spike (the truly brilliant James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) his insane girlfriend. It is in this series that the audience is treated to Angel’s evil alter-ego Angelus, a vampire that used to be the worst of the worst before he was cursed with a human soul. So initially Buffy has to contend with Spike and Drusilla but after a moment of intimacy with Angel, the man she has fallen in love with, Angel is destroyed and Angelus returns to the world making it his mission to destroy everything the Slayer holds dear. We also learn that as Buffy died in Season 1 at the hands of the Master but was revived through CPR by Xander, another slayer was called because technically Buffy died so another was called.

 

By Season 3 things have changed, Buffy has fled from Sunnydale following her battle with Angelus at the end of the previous season. Her mother is now fully aware of her status as the Slayer, and her friends along with Giles are trying to find her. Eventually Buffy does return to Sunnydale and tries to put her life back together after being forced to destroy the man she loved. This time around she must do battle with the Mayor who has built Sunnydale for demons to feed on, Buffy has to contend with the Mayor, Angel’s return and her love for him, plus a new Slayer named Faith who turns rogue and joins the Mayor against Buffy and the rest of the Scooby Gang. This marks the last season that Angel is a member of the main cast as after this he leaves Sunnydale to star in his own spin-off show named…er…Angel.

 

So Season 4, Angel has gone so has Cordelia and Buffy has started College (or University if you are not American). Willow, Xander and a couple of others introduced in earlier seasons are all present and correct but without Angel the show does suffer. This time around Buffy has to contend with a government organisation called the Initiative that is capturing various monsters around Sunnydale in order to create a new life form that is capable of fighting demons and monsters. Spike returns to Sunnydale and is captured by the Initiative, he has a chip put in his head that renders him incapable of harming humans. He goes to Buffy for help and ultimately realises that the chip will not cause him pain if he hits anything other than a human. Buffy’s problems escalate when the Initiative’s new hybrid named Adam (I know, the first member of a new species is called Adam, real original guys) has his own ideas for the future and after murdering his creator sets about trying to create a new races of human/demon hybrids.

 

Moving on to Season 5 and here the show really starts to unravel, we are introduced to Buffy’s younger sister Dawn, one of the most annoying characters in the history of television, second only to maybe Connor from Angel or Sherry Palmer from 24, but more on Dawn  later. This time Buffy is up against Glory, a God, and although she receives reluctant help from Spike who has fallen in love with her and is still unable to harm people due to the chip in his head. There is a fair amount of heartbreaking moments as characters that have been with the show since the beginning die leaving Buffy to pick up the pieces once more. The finale of this season also has Buffy making the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people she loves and the world itself…

 

I am going to take a moment here…so the story so far…Buffy’s “Big Bad” has gotten steadily stronger throughout the five season run. The Master, Angel, the Mayor, Adam and then Glory. Buffy died (spoiler alert) in the finale of Season 5 by throwing herself into the portal that Glory created which was going to transport thousands of demons into our world. I have to ask though, where can you go when your hereon has battled a God?? Plus sacrificing herself gave the series and emotional impact, Buffy Summers, is dead but she has died saving the people she loved.

 

Why bring her back???

 

I am a fan of Buffy but the show suffered without having Angel as part of the proceedings, and whilst Spike getting a chip in his head that rendered him incapable of harming humans leading  him to kind-of join the Scooby Gang I really missed the Spike seen in School Hard. Spike used to be deadly, everyone was afraid of him, unfortunately because he cannot fight back after the chip is in his head he has to take crap from Xander and various other characters that really do take a lot away from his badass-ness that we saw and relished in his first episode.

 

So…Season 6, Willow, Xander and co are convinced that because Buffy was killed by a mystical portal her soul is now trapped within a demon dimension and so they are able to resurrect her. Turns out that she was in Heaven…so er…nice one guys. She has trouble connecting to anything anymore and the only time that she can feel alive is when she is having meaningless sex with Spike, Willow is also becoming increasingly addicted to magic which steadily corrupts her as the season continues resulting in the season’s Big Bad being none other than an evil corrupted Willow.

 

For Season 7 the show limps on continuing the darker trend of the previous ones, this time Buffy is to deal with the First Evil (an enemy that was glimpsed in an earlier season). The First is trying to eliminate all the Potential Slayers, those that could become the next Slayer if Faith dies, in the hopes of destroying the entire Slayer line. If you’ve read my review of Pretty Maids All in a Row then you’ll know that book had a similar premise to this season. Giles brings together all the Potentials so that Buffy can protect them. In Season 7 friendships are tested, loyalties are challenged, and familiar faces from the previous seasons return for cameos or as guest stars.

 

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the pint-sized Slayer, Buffy was created as a result of the little blond girl that always dies at the beginning of horror movies, and that is a great way to poke fun at the horror genre. The show mixes drama, romance, martial arts and here we have a believable romance between a high school girl and a vampire, none of that Twilight bullshit. The first three seasons kept building on the previous ones creating more powerful enemies for Buffy to contend with and Angel becoming Angelus was genius as it was something that became a major factor in Angel’s character through the rest of Buffy and the spin-off Angel.

 

My major problem with Buffy was her constant complaining, and whining about wanting to have a normal life and threatening to quit as the Slayer. Slayers have been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, and in all that time they have fought the forces of darkness alone. They recognised that being Chosen was a sacred duty and whilst it was a lonely life, it was a task that no one else had the strength or the skill to do, Buffy Summers keeps trying to turn her back on it. If I was told that I was the Chosen One and must devote my life to destroying the Unakari (evil doers amongst my people) then I would immediately hang up the phone to do my duty to protect my race. Also what makes Buffy unique is the fact that she has help, she would have died countless times if her friends had not been there to help her get out of a tight spot, yet she goes through patches where she tries to do everything herself she goes on and on and on about being the Slayer and that she must fight alone…blah…blah…blah…

 

Buffy becomes tedious and like I said the show suffers without Angel. Buffy has a relationship with one of the Initiative soldiers Riley, but he is not given the room to really grow or become anything other than Buffy’s boyfriend, and the fact that Buffy spends most of Season 6 having meaningless sex with Spike just highlights how far the show has fallen by the sixth season. Throwing cheap titillation at the audience is, in my opinion, the same as jangling keys in front of a human infant to keep them entertained whilst the parents desperately try to think of something else to distract them with.

 

I also did not like the way that Spike changed, he started off as this terrifying badass unfortunately as he started appearing more and more he became almost a parody of himself, he stopped being scary and got his ass kicked by characters that in previous seasons would (and did) run at the very sight of him.

 

The evolution of the other characters is done well enough, Willow starts off shy but becomes more confident and assertive. Xander is the comic-relief and is the only one who doesn’t ever become more than a normal man yet he has more combat experience than most. Other characters like Oz played by Seth Green are very entertaining but after he goes his replacement is not as enjoyable. That is the major issue with the characters, the interesting ones come in and stay for a season or two before bowing out only to replaced by tedious ones. Dawn is so annoying you’d rather be slicing your organs out with a wooden spoon every time she is on screen. I wanted her to die so much. We lose Angel, Oz and Cordelia and they are replaced with Dawn (aka the annoying one), Tara (who just isn’t interesting) and Spike who is just an attempt to give Buffy another Angel which robs Spike of who he was in School Hard.

 

There are shows that go on too long and Buffy the Vampire Slayer did just that, when Buffy died in Season 5 she should have stayed dead, because otherwise it makes death completely meaningless. If people can be brought back from the dead then why not resurrect them all the time?? Why not leave characters that die, dead?? In subsequent seasons there is no real threat and in the final episode Buffy is stabbed and falls to the ground. I remember rolling my eyes thinking “is she dead again?” so the show should have ended in Season 5. I admit that whilst it would have been a depressing way to finish the show it would have ended the series giving Buffy a bow out that was worthy of her.

 

If the show had ended after Season 5 I would have said that whilst Season 4 and 5 were not as good as the first three and losing Angel did hurt the show they were still interesting and entertaining. Bringing Spike in as a permanent cast member as a reluctant ally to the Scooby Gang was a decision that took away from his character and oh my God…Dawn was so annoying I was begging the demons to just kill her already. Rewriting the continuity to include a younger sister also raised questions and it was obviously just a throw-away explanation of how she came to be there.

 

Unfortunately the show didn’t end after Season 5 and struggled to continue after Buffy was brought back from the dead. Season 6 was all about Buffy having sex with Spike, I think back to their first encounter in School Hard and to think that Buffy would have two boyfriends (Angel and Riley) before jumping into Spike’s bed just makes that first encounter seem so much stranger. I also have no idea where a show can go when a character has faced a God, obviously making Willow the enemy was an attempt to force Buffy to fight her best friend but again you know that both are going to make it out alive so it lacks any real threat.

 

The final season came two seasons too late, Spike returning to Sunnydale after fighting to regain his soul again just raised more questions, and whilst there are good episodes within the seasons I cannot help but think that the writers are struggling with new ideas.

 

If the show had a five season run then my Thumb would be straight Up without any hesitation, unfortunately the show continued, and so looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole I think that my Thumb his slipped to Horizontal. The earlier seasons are easily the best mainly due to Angel’s presence and whilst I know people who did not like Adam as an enemy in Season 4 however I thought that the government trying to fight the demon threat was an interesting idea. Plus Buffy battling a true God was the only way that the Big Bad could get any bigger and should have been where the show finished.

 

 

6.5/10 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a good show and is leaps and bounds ahead of the shit imitation of the premise of a vampire in love with a high school girl seen in Twilight. The cast all do well in their respective roles unfortunately Buffy gets annoying and every moment Dawn is on screen like having your teeth pulled out without aesthetic.

 

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© Chris Sharman