Twenty Years On: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 1

Christianity has inspired some tremendous tales and I freely admit to being fascinated by such stories, despite my lack of beliefs. One particular supernatural genre and one that has profited greatly from its association with religious superstition (particularly Judeo-Christian mythology) is the horror genre and the vampire myth particularly so as, though they can be defeated physically (stake through the heart), they appear to be most deterred by crucifix's, bibles, holy water and churches. Religion makes for wonderful stories and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is no exception.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 1
As stories go, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is (or was at the time) different from much of the young adult dramas available at the time and interestingly (for me at least with two young children, one of whom adored watching the show with me) broadcast in the UK in editions, a child friendly earlier evening one and a late night one for those a little older. The show, as I'm sure most people know, is set in the fictional community of Sunnydale, California, which was built above "The Hellmouth", a place where evil will issue into this world and which attracts all manners of beasties into its vicinity, and that is a good thing, for where would we be without Spike who arrives in season two, but I digress. That the community is built over The Hellmouth (we find out much later that there are others) also creates a strange mystical atmosphere which tends to prevent its residents (Buffy and team aside) from becoming aware of the high number of deaths in the area. Twenty years on, the idea is no longer as innovative as it was back then but, despite that, the plot still feels fresh and original, every bit as relevant as it once was. Although the season plot has some weaknesses (mostly addressed in later seasons) some of the storylines are still very good.

We enter the series just after the eponymous character, Joyce Summers and her daughter Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her mother have moved to the town following the events described in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Movie" where she burned down her school gym. I thought the movie was absolutely terrible so it was no small surprise to me that that awful piece of film-making inspired such a superb series, fortunately I watched the movie after my first exposure to the series so no permanent damage was done.


In the first episode, "Welcome to Hellmouth", and its follow-up, "The Harvest" we are introduced to the new Buffy, her mother, her new watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and her new friends Xander and Willow (Nicholas Brendon and Alyson Hannigan). We also meet glamorous wannabe socialite, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who later becomes an unwilling member of "The Scooby Gang" as well as to the evil Master and his "progeny" Darla. Later in the series we are introduced to the vampire with a soul Angel (David Boreanaz) who is key to the first three seasons and later goes on to play in a spin-off series appropriately entitled "Angel". To say much more at this point might potentially ruin the series for anyone who, by some incredible quirk of fate, has not watched it.

Despite the literal and figurative darkness of the series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is not so much horror genre but a "coming of age" drama, the most important feature of the series being the way the characters relate to each other and evolve over time indeed, as someone else put it, it's not so much the vampires that are important, it's the emotional undercurrent. The writers and director also cleverly use some of the show's themes to highlight current day issues; Angel (and much later Willow) can be viewed as metaphors for recovering addicts.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 1
The show crosses three genres: horror, coming of age and comedy and because of this is free to exploit a number of opportunities; the comedy one-liners are very, very funny, the relationships are truly interesting and it is set against a classic battle of good versus evil. Every episode features an action scene, they are usually extremely well done with Geller's martial arts skills playing a strong part and, of course, there is some violence but the series is clearly not intended as a gore-fest. As expected by anyone who is familiar with (and a fan of) Whedon's work, the direction of the show is tight and highly focussed; I am told the writing is based on the writer's high-school and college days, reliving their past through the show though I dare say they are more remembering how they would have like to have been rather than how they actually were.

Each episode of the season tends to have a story within itself but each episode does not stand alone and, though it's not so apparent in this season, over the entire series the status quo is not necessarily re-established at the end of each episode, the stories and characters are seen to develop along an arc across the who of a given season (and beyond). The first season is more episodic than later ones and, though "Buffy" is first and foremost about a vampire slayer, the season is extremely wide ranging with villains being various types of demon. Not only does the avid watcher have to beware of the events of past episodes (sometimes several seasons in the past) but also vice versa i.e. events in an early shadow will predict events in far later episodes. This is part of what makes the show so special and it is not the first time I have seen it; one of my all-time favourite shows was "Babylon 5" which developed, more seriously and in a single genre, across a five-season arc. For the most part, "Buffy" is not so weighty, not so rigorously restricted to its arc but it still has a long-term development aspect and, interestingly, there is a connection between the two shows as Joss Whedon also wrote some of the material for "Babylon 5". The acting is first rate (gets better still later in the series) and, although they can be a little on the cheesy side especially in the early seasons, the effects are not at all bad as a rule.

The relationship between Buffy, her mother and Giles (Buffy's watcher) is probably the most important in the series though Willow and Angel are also key as these are the primary forces shaping her outlook and character. Giles' influence on Buffy develops in later seasons into him becoming an important father figure which naturally sets him up in opposition to her mother. Willow, a geeky computer nerd in the earlier seasons, tends to be Buffy's confidant whilst, despite Xander's best efforts, Angel becomes Buffy's love interest (there is some romance but no overt sex).

The series gets more sophisticated later on but it is nevertheless interesting and amusing to revisit the first season to see how the characters started and how much they have changed since then. Like one fan of the series I agree that the best episodes are the pilot episode and its follow-up ("Welcome to Hellmouth" and "The Harvest"), "Angel" and "Prophecy Girl" (mainly because I'm big on vampires) although I was quite fond of the episodes "Teachers Pet" and "The Pack".

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 1
The video quality of the series is good, arguably better than many other similar series, but obviously not as good as movie style DVD's. The same applies to the sound (it could have been remastered to Dolby 5.1). The music backing the show is, to my mind, one of the truly great aspects of the series favouring a number of college and university-oriented gothic-style groups. In that respect "Buffy" became the one all the other shows based theirs on with music that is little short of exceptional. In this respect the show has had a significant and positive impact on my musical tastes, launching me into a greater appreciation of rock and metal (no mean feat considering I was basically a soul boy at the time) ... I would genuinely like to thank whoever it was that chose the groups.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has just about everything, it's a high-school "coming-of-age" drama, it's mild horror/action and, most of all, some extremely slick dialogue including some excellent one-line humorous quips. It is an intelligently written show and the acting is some of the best to be seen on TV (in many ways beating even my own personal favourite Babylon 5) and its creator, Joss Whedon, is arguably one of the best TV writers today. In addition to "Buffy", my favourite TV shows, those that I will watch repeatedly, include "Babylon 5", "Firefly" and "Game of Thrones" and it is interesting to note that Joss Whedon wrote and directed the first of those and had significant impact on the second. Even twenty years later (twenty-two actually) the stories, acting and (to a slightly lesser extent) effects in "Buffy" stand up well; to be fair so do the stories in "Babylon 5" even if the effects are somewhat more dated. There was a time when I would have said that "Buffy was the best show on television" but, whilst I'm no longer able to say that, it remains remarkably entertaining, extremely watchable, amusing and relevant.

So, even twenty years later, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" Season 1 was a promising start to what became a great series, it had some truly excellent episodes and, if you give it time, you might find you become as addicted as I was (and still am).

Best Quote
Master: You're dead!
Buffy: I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.


NOTES:
  • The overall score for the show is show as 8 but was actually 7.8 so it was rounded to the nearest full number.
  • I have seen reports that a relaunch is planned for 2020 but that none of the original cast are returning. There's some info in the following video:

Mini-Reviews (Ben Slythe)

Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest
Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest
Buffy Summers moves with her mother to the quiet community of Sunnydale with strict instructions to avoid expulsion from her new school. Her attempt at normality is fractured, however, by the discovery that an ancient and powerful vampire has staked out the town for his own ends.
Witch
Witch
Some people seem to take extra-curricular activities very seriously indeed, even turning to the black arts to become a cheerleader.
Teacher's Pet
Teacher's Pet
Xander discovers the pitfalls of dating an older woman, Sunnydale style.
Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
Buffy tries to strike up a relationship with a classmate, over the objections of her Watcher. While an evil prophecy is brewing and relations among the gang are at an all-time low, Buffy strives for normality, after all as she points out: "Clark Kent has a job."
The Pack
The Pack
A school trip to the zoo has an unnerving effect on the local bullies, and Xander seems to be affected as well. Xander's true feelings for Buffy are becoming extremely apparent and his chat-up routine is slipping back into the middle ages.
Angel
Angel
A revelation about Angel sends Buffy into shock and the others into action. Darla, the vampire, attempts to use the confusion to her advantage, even dragging Buffy's unknowing mother into the scheme.
I Robot, You Jane
I Robot, You Jane
The perils of unsupervised internet access are examined as Giles struggles to understand technology and meets a new friend. Willow unwittingly releases a demon and it seems to want to thank her in person.
The Puppet Show
The Puppet Show
Sunnydale's new Fuhrer (Buffy: "I think they call them Principals now") has landed Giles with the staging of the school talent show, but the horrors of Cordelia's singing are almost matched by a strange student with a spooky ventriloquist's dummy and the gruesome murder of a girl.
Nightmares
Nightmares
Everyone has fears, some more than others, but imagine if your worst nightmares became reality. A deformed monster is attacking people, Willow is trying to perform opera, Xander is stalked by a Nazi clown and there's chocolate bars just scattered everywhere! Oh, the humanity. Buffy has to make a leap of intuition in order to save the day, after all have you ever wondered what monsters are afraid of?
Out of Mind, Out of Sight (Invisible Girl)
Out of Mind, Out of Sight (Invisible Girl)
Admit it, it would be really exciting to be invisible. Xander claims he would use such a power for good: "To protect the girls' locker room". Someone has got the power and isn't using it to protect anyone at all. From vampire bats to 'The Beast', all sorts of strange things are happening and for once Cordelia may be right after all and everything does revolve around her.
Prophecy Girl
Prophecy Girl
Bad news for Buffy causes her to question her destiny as an ancient prophecy predicts doom. Xander puts aside his feelings for Angel and the gang try to keep a lid on things as all hell breaks loose, literally.
Thanks for reading.

James C. Rocks, Author ("The Abyssal Void" Trilogy)



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