The cult of Joss Whedon is born with a sublime horror/action TV series… one of the greatest shows of all time!
Welcome back to Fan’s TV Flashback, our weekly retrospective of television’s vast history.
Ten years ago, Buffy The Vampire Slayer came to an end on UPN after a seven season run across two networks. Even though repeats of Buffy have largely faded away on American TV, it’s impact continues a decade after its conclusion.
This was the show that made Joss Whedon into JOSS WHEDON, beloved creator of Angel, Firefly and director of Serenity and The Avengers. Before the Buffy TV series, there was no cult of Joss.
Within industry circles, Whedon was well known for script-doctor work on Speed, The Getaway and Waterworld in addition to co-writing the first Toy Story and penning the script for Alien: Resurrection. Whedon had gotten his first big break as a writer on Roseanne, but his first feature film was the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie.
There’s a reason that very few Buffy fans look back fondly at the Buffy movie. It’s just not a good film on any level. Director Fran Rubel Kuzui butchered Whedon’s script and the title character… while the film itself was marketed as a starring vehicle for Luke Perry!
Incidentally, Kuzui and her husband are responsible for the recent attempts to reboot Buffy without Whedon, thanks to their rights stemming from the Buffy movie. It hasn’t happened yet, but they seem poised to pick at the bones of a franchise that was rebuilt from the ground up on TV.
In 1996, Whedon was given the opportunity to try again with Buffy as a potential TV series. Whedon even partially funded a pilot episode with most of the performers who went on to join the cast, just to find a home for Buffy on TV. That home turned out to be The WB, which was The CW of its era… only less superficial. And of course, The WB and UPN eventually merged to become The CW.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer finally came to television in 1997, with Sarah Michelle Gellar taking over the title role from Kristy Swanson’s movie Buffy. At the time, no one could have predicted that Buffy would become one of the greatest cult TV shows of all time. And watching it unfold was a very satisfying experience.
To this day, Buffy gets a lot of press for the way its characters became feminist icons and for its positive portrayals of LGBT relationships. There are hundreds of academic essays devoted to dissecting every aspect of the series.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer deserves all of that attention and acclaim. Because it was simply a damn good show. It so was much better than anyone could have hoped for.
Whedon was smart and fortunate enough to surround himself with a very talented group of writers, including Steven S. DeKnight, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Drew Goddard, Drew Greenberg, David Greenwalt, Marti Noxon and Doug Petrie… all of whom went on to make their own impact on TV with Spartacus, Smallville, 24, Lost, Grimm, Warehouse 13 and more.
The casting for Buffy was equally fortuitous. From the original pilot, only Alyson Hannigan was added to replace the first Willow, Riff Regan. In addition to Gellar’s sardonically funny and soulful Buffy, future Bones star David Boreanaz brought the heat as a vampire with a soul named Angel, while Charisma Carpenter brought unexpected depth to the mean girl, Cordelia Chase, Nicholas Brendon shined as Xander Harris and veteran actor Anthony Stewart Head had the appropriate gravitas and humor for Buffy’s mentor, Rupert Giles.
Even the actors who were added in later seasons turned out to be terrific performers. Anya (Emma Caulfield) and Willow’s eventual lover, Tara (Amber Benson) both started out with smaller roles that quickly won over both the creative team and the fans. James Marsters parlayed a season two turn as the vampire known as Spike into an eventual leading role on Buffy and even a new romantic foil for Buffy herself! Other notable additions in the early years were Seth Green as Willow’s werewolf boyfriend Oz and Eliza Dushku as the renegade vampire slayer, Faith.
Whedon has often said that the supernatural threats of Buffy were meant as a metaphor for the high school problems faced by Buffy and her “Scooby gang.” This was especially overt in the first two seasons. But at the end of the third season, Buffy and her surviving friends left the high school world behind and attempted to enter adulthood… with varying degrees of success. Even Buffy struggled to find herself as an adult through the later seasons.
There are a number of detractors to Buffy’s later seasons, but the brief two year stint produced some incredible episodes including the legendary Buffy musical, Once More, With Feeling that is consistently called one of the greatest episodes in television history.
All of the skills that served Whedon so well on The Avengers were crafted and cultivated on Buffy. Whedon’s career is currently peaking with the upcoming Avengers sequel and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC, but Buffy episodes can be seen on the cable network Logo. However, the entire library of Buffy episodes is available on Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and iTunes. If you want your Slayer fix, there’s some great TV that deserves a rewatch.
Buffy deals with the knowledge that her death is unavoidable and she bravely meets her end before dealing with the Master once and for all.
This is the turning point where Buffy became appointment television. After consummating his relationship with Buffy, Angel loses his soul and becomes Buffy’s greatest adversary to date.
Angel terrorizes Buffy’s loved ones, culminating in a murder that leaves Giles on a suicidal quest for revenge.
Buffy’s final showdown with Angel leads to the series’ most epic moments. In order to save the world, Buffy has to send her former lover to hell.
Buffy’s battle with Faith leaves both Slayers in critical condition as Buffy’s entire high school class joins her fight against the demonic Mayor of Sunnydale.
In a largely dialogue-free episode, Buffy and the entire town of Sunnydale are stripped of their voices by the unsettling Gentlemen. And keep an eye out for Tara’s debut during a pivotal scene with Willow.
After vanquishing the Big Bad of Season 4 one episode early, Buffy, Willow, Giles and Xander fall prey to a series of disturbing nightmares.
Buffy suffers a personal loss that reverberates throughout the Scoobies, in this largely monster-free hour of television.
Desperate to save her sister and the world, Buffy prepares for her final battle with the Goddess known as Glory.
The town of Sunnydale is cursed by a musically inclined demon to sing about all of their darkest secrets… or die. And Buffy’s secret is slowly eating away at her.
Buffy’s relationship with Spike takes a dark and controversial turn, as someone in the Slayer’s circle of friends catches a fatal bullet.
Buffy, Willow and Dawn have unsettling encounters with the recently dead as an unpleasant revelation about Spike comes to light.
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