Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first airing of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. I got into it sometimes in September of 1997, as it was part of the late Saturday night programming on one of the French TV free-to-air channels. I did not know back then that is was inspired or an attempt to revive the story of a 19XX movie also called “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, that have similar plot line but for some reasons never went over in Europe or at least never got the exposure it needed. Up until now I did not watch that movie maybe because I could not find the opportunity to put my hands on or perhaps because I am reluctant to watch a cheesy teen-movie from the 80s? I don’t know but lets refocus our attention to the TV series.
At first, I thought it would be just another series, a improbable collision between “Beverly Hills 90210” and vampire themed TV series. Turns out I was wrong and got hooked to it for almost all of the seasons (although I started to let it go by the end of Season 6 for some reasons). The story plot maybe simple but yet it quickly grows in by the characters: the story starts as we follow Buffy Sommers (played by Sarah-Michelle Gellar) and her mother Joyce moving in Sunnydale, a typical Californian suburbia. Things starts pretty mellow as she got introduced to her high-school and things start already to look interesting: Buffy comes in with a probation from her previous school as we was found guilty of arson (she burnt down a whole gym to kill off vampires). This curious detail is rapidly followed by her introduction to Giles, the school librarian. He somehow was aware of her coming and welcomed her with a big old book written “Vampyr” on it, mentioning she maybe surely interested to read into it.
We are also introduced one by one to what will become the “Scooby Gang”, an hodgepodge of various characters very similar to the “Breakfast Club”. All different representative of the teenage tribes: the cheerleader (Cordelia, played by Charisma Carptenter), the nerdy girl (Willow, played by Alisson Hannigan), the dropout student (Xander, played by Alexander Lavelle), the weird but cool guy working on his garage band (Oz, played by Seth Greene) and the mysterious and handsome stranger (Angel, played by David Boreanaz).
The pilot quickly transition from a teenage TV series straight into vampire hunt during the concert scene at “The Bronze”, the local hang-out bar for teenagers. This is where a couple of vampires started an attack on the public and Buffy reveals her true power: a vampire slayer, knowing how to fight (Gellar holds some Tae-Kwan-Doo belt) and give them their death wish with a spike straight into the heart.
All these different ingredients made the series great: the main character was a teenage girl, away from the “blonde stereotype” knowing to kick butts and impale vampires. She had everything to be popular and yet she is an outcast, gravitating around her small circle of friends and her duty as a Chosen one. Buffy struggles to conciliate her school life and her professional life and surely brings on the parallel with many students trying to transition into adulthood by combining part-time jobs and academic performance.
Buffy was indeed a remarkable icon of what many GenX-ers were ongoing back then, growing in a single parent family, dealing with popularity in school and not fitting into the mold. Transitioning from teenage years to adulthood and the turbulences going on with. It brought on some hard times about feelings of love (Buffy/Angel, Xander/Anja), heartbreak (Willow/Oz), death (Angel/Buffy/Joyce), not living to your parents/mentor expectations (Faith and her rebellious stance against the Order, standing by the wrong side and becoming an outcast amongst her friends for the mistakes she had done). Even the most impeccable character (Giles) had his own inner demons, his own dark secrets from his teenage years (we learned that Giles back in his teenage years was a punk dealing with occultism, enough to cause some serious damage).
But certainly one of the best moment by its ability to break down the 4th wall was that famous episode in which Joyce (Buffy’s Mom) dies at home from an hemorrhagic stroke, right in the middle of a school day. The whole episode is about that day, no music and a clear and nervous photography bringing us as a witness of the moment. We are here, watching Joyce dead and seeing Buffy frantically try to revive her, calling 911, and getting to learn the abrupt news from the doctor: her Mom is dead. Facing death in your teenage years is not easy, facing one of your parent’s death is even less easy. Facing your only parent’s death as you are just trying to get out your teenage years is simply heartbreaking and we as the audience see one of the most gentle character left us without any chance to say goodbye.
What what also great was the inclusion of many things, little details about what we go through during our adolescence. For instance, the opening credentials was performed by Nerf Herder. Rock and its different iterations (punk, metal, alternative, indie….) was the common music playlist for many GenXers and was acting as an inclusive media into the Buffy-verse. But it was not only the opening sequence, it was also part of the social life in that universe. For instance, Joss Whedon was ensuring to use “The Bronze” local concert as a link to reality inviting small rock bands to perform in almost each episodes. I still remember an episode in which K’s Choice was performing at The Bronze.
Joss also allowed the exploration of different facets of a teenager’s life have to deal with: inclusion and fitting into a group, exploring his/her sexuality and even touching LGBT issues (Willow for instance moving from an heterosexual relationship with Oz into a lesbian relationship with Tara), hate and jealousy (that episode of Tara dying from the jealousy of some nerds, killing her with one of their inventions), self-destruction and suicidal tendencies (I found the character of Spike matching this very-well), path to redemption and getting back in track (Angel’s path to redemption) and ultimately performing the ultimate sacrifice (when Buffy jumps into the vortex in one of a Season finale, giving her life for the sake of the whole humanity).
Rarely such TV series marked a whole generation (especially the GenX generation) as Buffy and even after all these years it shines into my psyche on how this TV series helped me move on into my transition from teenage into adulthood.