Today is the 20th anniversary of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, arguably one of the most influential television shows in history. On March 10th, 1997, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ lit up television screens across America and changed the creative landscape forever. Buffy the Vampire Slayer gave us a petite heroine who defied preconceived culture norms about what ‘type’ of woman could be an ass-kicking action adventure lead.
In a culture where virtually anything and everything about teenage girls is routinely mocked, Buffy Summers was a wannabe cheerleader who saved the world a hundred times over while embracing youthful femininity. Cute boys and stylish shoes were as much a part of her life as being the Chosen One. It was a subtle yet powerful message that young girls who are so often taught to think in terms of “shallow girly-girls” vs “cool not-like-other-girls” needed.
As an actor, you wish for that one role where you can leave your mark and forever be remembered, with Buffy I got so much more. She’s a feminist challenge to gender hierarchy. Buffy may have been the Chosen One, but I was the lucky one.
Though the characters and snappy dialogue were the hallmarks Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so well known for, its impact on the structure of dramatic tv cannot be understated. It’s hard to imagine so many years into the golden age of TV that began in the late aughts, but networks originally fought tooth and nail against season-long story arcs and character evolution. They wanted self-contained episodes and a slate that was essentially wiped clean after every one, to make shows easier to get into mid-season by new viewers.
Joss Whedon was one of a handful of pioneers who fought to tell a complex story that grew and matured. Though monster-of-the-week episodes were a staple of the show’s early period, even then there was a “big bad” introduced in the very first episode and plot threads that would run through the entire season. Subsequent seasons relied ever more heavily on weaving together story arcs that would intersect and boil up to a dramatic climax in each season finale.
The result was a rich, complex story and dynamic characters who changed in response to the events they experienced. No character stayed static and unchanging. Trauma, grief, and even joy were things that effected every recurring character. In 2017 that seems like an odd thing to be held up as unique and unusual, but in the 90s it was exceedingly common for characters to be written as if they hadn’t experienced any of the traumatic events in previous episodes. Things that should have been life-altering were often never referenced again. Buffy broke from this tradition and was an infinitely better show for doing so.
Nobody could have known in 1997 that a small blonde Valley girl with a penchant for slaying demonic monsters would become such a cult hit, or that the creator would amass a legion of loyal fans who would go on to call themselves Whedonites. People rarely know they’re taking part in a cultural phenomenon until it’s well underway. They just enjoy the journey as it happens. Twenty years later, we are all so thankful for being given the chance to take part in that journey.