Tuesday, February 19, 2008

44.Buffy the Vampire Slayer

For a movie that was essentially done to capitalize on the popularity of Luke Perry, the television version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did pretty well for itself both ratings-wise and artistically. I'm not going to delve into the mythology of the show nor the debates about creator Joss Whedon being a genius because frankly, the people who endlessly debate those topics scare me more than any vampire ever did.

Here's what I liked about the show: the season story arcs were intricately done and were well-plotted out. Much like a show that aired on the UPN/CW after “Buffy” was gone (“Veronica Mars”), Whedon was able to keep a nine-month story going without getting bogged down in the episode-to-episode adventures. The main villain of the season (called the “Big Bad” by fans) was usually established in the first or second episode. During this time, Buffy or her buddies would also begin going through an adolescent upheaval that had nothing to do with the Big Bad, with both plots would closely mirroring each other.

At about the season's one-quarter post, the Big Bad would make him/herself known and the Buffy gang would have to begin coming up with a solution for getting Sunnydale back to “normal”. At midseason, the first solution wouldn't pan out, and they were back to square one often licking their wounds. By the final few weeks, the Big Bad would plan something drastic causing Buffy and her friends to get back on the horse and go hell-bent-for-leather (what a set of weird clichés I decided to use, by the way) to finally get rid of the Big Bad.

The trick for Whedon and his writers wasn't the overall story arc—if I had to guess that was probably the easiest part of the job—but how to keep the arc fresh in the minds of the viewers while it lurked in the background of the “day-to-day” events. I may be wrong, but I can't seem to remember many action shows doing that before Buffy, and if they did so, it was done poorly.

Another thing that Whedon did well is present his view that traversing through the high school years, and adolescence in general, can be pure hell for everyone. In this case he skipped the metaphor entirely and went for the subtle approach of putting the gates to hell on the grounds of the local high school. Despite every thing you may have seen up until the late 1990s, for many people high school sucked and the disenfranchised were finally getting their say with shows like this and “Freaks and Geeks”. Buffy wasn't particularly popular and aside from Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) none of her friends were either.

Speaking of which, from Carpenter to Alyson Hannigan (Willow) to Eliza Dushku (Faith) to Buffy herself (Sarah Michelle Gellar) the girls of Sunnydale High School were knockouts. In fact, despite the daily threats of vampires, werewolves or other supernatural entities; Sunnydale High School is the one place that I'd like to matriculate if given the choice. The WB knew what they were doing when they casted this crew. Though I have to admit that there is a lot of things that I bought on this show (vampires, witches, etc.) but Hanngian being cast as the “ugly” chick? I'm not so sure about that.

Like I said, I never immersed myself in the whole Buffy mythology, but for the most part, I felt that this was a tremendously fun show and a decent way to escape the real world every hour. Like most shows set in high school, it began to lose some steam once the gang graduated and they all attended college together (which was conveniently located in the same town) and the whole Buffy/Angel angle was played to death and then there were the few seasons where Buffy had a sister.

Seriously, that was pretty much the final straw for me.

There's a lot of things that I can deal with on a TV show (Phil Hartman being replaced by Jon Lovitz on “Newsradio” for one thing), but Cousin Olivering a show that really didn't need it, is not one of them. It seems as if the character of Dawn, the name of Buffy's sister, was added because they wanted to put a little spice back into the characters' lives. Which is fine, I can deal with that. But after the season where she was integral to the defeat of the Big Bad, Dawn became more of a nuisance to both the characters and the writers themselves. Unlike the other characters, she wasn't allowed to grow, she sort of hung around and tagged along—mostly because Buffy would remember that she had to care for her younger sister. When this happened the normal cliches occurred, “The vampire kidnapped Dawn, what do we do?” or “Everyone made it out of the volcano alive, we're so lucky! Wait a minute, where's Dawn? She's still back in there!” That's hacky, boring stuff.

But what made Dawn so bad is what made the rest of the show so good. All of the characters seemed to grow and mature at a normal rate. The only “regular” guy Xander went from uber-geek to a confident dude, who was dating Cordelia. Willow went from a timid nerd to a legit hottie witch. Even Buffy grew and changed through out the series run. Yes, change is a normal aspect of a character's growth, but the care that Whedon had while making his changes never felt forced or rushed. Anything that happened to one of them usually had a lasting consequence that weren't usually belabored, but often remembered and felt later.

Aside from some worn-out fashions, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” will probably still feel fresh when viewed in 10, 20 or even 30 years from now. High school is still going to suck, vampires are still going to scare and well-written stories with snappy dialogue will always have their place.

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