Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired on March 10, 1997 and ran until May 20, 2003. I still remember the first episode I caught—“The Pack” from season 1. It was summer, I’d just moved to Florida, and the WB was rerunning the first two seasons on Monday and Tuesday nights. It wasn’t long before I realized I was watching what would become my favorite show, ever. Later on, I fell pretty hard for Firefly, but since it never really got to become a series, Buffy still holds the top spot for me. More than that, I’m going to claim it changed all of our lives.
How, you ask? Here are five reasons. Feel free to add more in the comments ;)
5. @$%-Kicking Heroines
Yes, there are fighting female characters who predate her: Ripley from Alien, Xena, and Sarah Connor. But Buffy stands out because for a couple of reasons. First, she’s young—just a high school sophomore, facing down demons and saving the world. Second, she dusts vamps, then goes home to change into a cute outfit for a night out at the Bronze with her friends. She doesn’t give up her femininity to fight. Throughout the series, Buffy struggles to balance a “real” life with her calling. But it’s not incidental that she does: one of Whedon’s main themes as the series progresses is that Buffy’s friendships, her ties to the world, are what set her apart from the slayers who came before her.
4. Genre Mashing
Today, you can go to the bookstore and buy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or rent Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. We don’t think too much about mixing our genres. But when Buffy premiered in 1997, its mix of horror, comedy, and teen angst was still pretty new. The teens on the show didn’t dress or talk like mini-adults. Just a few years before the epitome of teen shows was Beverly Hills, 90210. On that show, their idea of comic timing was an occasional lame pun. And the very special episodes felt forced. When Buffy was funny, it was hysterical (see: Buffy and Spike’s “engagement” in season 4’s Something Blue). And when it was “vey special” it was heartbreaking. I’m still not over the end of season 2.
3. Great writing on teen television
...and not just on gritty, "serious" dramas. Again, the teen shows of the nineties (I’d say eighties, but there weren’t many teen shows before the nineties) were incredibly contrived and staged compared to Buffy. And forget about teen shows for a second, think of the shows you watch now. Unless they have a former-Buffy writer on staff (and sometimes even if they do) the dialogue can be kind of cringe-worthy. Watch an episode of Revenge or Once Upon a Time and then try to imagine how it might sound if Joss wrote it. But he’s a little busy now since the number one movie of 2012, I guess.
2. The Whedonverse
No power in the verse can stop him: Joss has created an entire Whedonverse, for those of us who will follow him anywhere. I’ve loved almost everything he’s done (the only exception for me is Cabin in the Woods.) Now that Avengers has exploded, a lot of the formerly uninitiated are starting to discover the genius of Whedon: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse. If you have Netflix and a takeout menu your weekends could be set for the year.
This one is number one for me. The other week I was in a Twitter chat with some other debut authors, and one of the questions was about our influences. A lot of writers in the chat were mentioning classic authors. But I said Joss Whedon. The way his characters spoke on Buffy still echoes through almost every show and book with teenage characters. Watch an episode of anything on the CW or ABC Family and you’ll hear at least a hint of Buffy-slang. His signature anthimeria: turning adjectives to nouns or verbs, is now a part of our regular speech. The Scooby gang was generally fighting for their lives, but they never stopped being witty while doing it. Even small throwaways, like the names of random demons, were a chance for comedy: for example, the sixth season demon M’Fasnick (like, Mmmm, coookies?) Buffy was even known for tossing off a memorable one-liner before offing a vamp. The way these characters spoke was revolutionary: inspired by real slang, improved by genius writers. I catch myself writing a Whedonism pretty often. And I’m guessing I’m far from the only one.
This Sunday marks sixteen years since we were first welcomed to the Hellmouth Buffy may not be the most important show of your life, like it is for me. But I can almost guarantee that something you’ve laughed or cried at in the past sixteen years has been influenced by the genius of Joss.