6 Reasons Why "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" Is Still Relevant Today

Warning: spoilers for the 18 year old show ahead!


Recently it was the 18th anniversary of one of my favorite shows of all time: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, there are three reactions when I say that. Either it's “That show is awesome”, “Really, you watch that show?” or “What’s Buffy?” I’m speaking to those latter groups because those that fall into that first group already win at life. Go you.

There are few shows I’ll defend like I do Buffy, mainly because it has always been a show that I’ve connected to that on a deeper level. No matter what is going on in my life, I can throw on an episode and be completely enveloped. In fact, it’s hard to just watch one episode and not want to continue watching the season or even the entire series. It’s that good. But over the years I couldn’t help but wonder… why?

Why is this show, now eighteen-years-old (hey look, the show can legally buy cigarettes!) so relevant still today? I originally dismissed it as being simply nostalgia, and something that would not age well. And sure, the effects have difficulty holding up, but what show from this period doesn’t? Hell, look at movies in early 2000’s and try not to laugh at the CGI. And those are BIG budget films. So after wracking my brain for a while, I came up with my solution to this puzzle box, and put them in list form

So here it is: the 6 Reasons Why Buffy The Vampire Slayer is still relevant today.



It Gets Life "Right"

Ask any Buffy fan and they’ll have a different answer as to what their favorite season of the show is [Editor's Note: it's 7, then 5]. This is usually due to the fact that the show connects with some basic aspects of life, which are infinitely relatable. Depending on which of these memories are the fondest, their association dictates which is preferable.

Some like the High School period, where it’s a relatable teenage drama mixing in extraordinary circumstances at a place where all of us have to spend a considerable part of life: school. I know that I couldn’t help but find parallels with my own time in school (minus a few pesky demons of course). Seeing everything unfold with that backdrop helped to put myself in that situation and enjoy it all the more. This is the period of the show that I was first introduced to, and therefore I hold it in a higher regard than later in the show, even though I'm aware of the obvious faults of the earlier seasons (hey, I'm even one of those crazy people that enjoy season one!)


Next were the College years, that ended up being short-lived and never really felt as fully enveloped as the High School years did. But that doesn't mean they hadn't nailed certain aspects. "The Freshman" deals with moving into college all the scariness that comes with it. It doesn’t matter all the horrors that Buffy has faced, it still doesn’t match up to a new environment and feeling totally lost and alone. Even one of the worst episodes of the series, "Beer Bad" goes through the usual period of increased alcohol consumption as a freshman. Teaches a good lesson in the process (but we'll get to that later).

The last few seasons were simply about growing into adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it. Season six is known for being the most depressing season and with good reason: Buffy is trying to support herself and Dawn after her mother’s passing, so she’s forced to find any kind of job to keep them afloat. Buffy, the “Chosen One”, works in a fast food restaurant just to support her family. How often do you see the title character of a TV show brought down to reality so much? It's not all glitz and glamour.


Evolution of the Characters

If you’re watching a show and the characters don’t feel like they’ve changed at all, the longevity of it begins to feel played out. Just as in life, we want to see people grow and flourish, becoming better people. Can you imagine if you were the same person now that you were in high school? I can practically hear the collective groans. So when looking at the characters of Buffy, it’s hard not to appreciate the many changes the characters have gone through.

Buffy started out as a cheerleader-type who had plenty of blonde moments and did her sacred duty because she had to, but would often let her stubbornness get in the way. It made her a human with flaws, but it also made her brash and uninformed. She needed to be guided by Giles, who acted as a father figure to her. She eventually turns into this intelligent leader who always puts others first and is fully able to sacrifice herself for the greater good. Her word becomes respected enough that those at her side would follow her to the end of the earth (literally).



The biggest character development to occur on the show, and a history making one at that, was when Willow came out as gay. While gay character's have been around for some time, they've never been more than a gimmick. The parallels they run between being gay and witchcraft is pretty hilarious at times, but it helps to show what Willow is going through without being too in your face. Okay maybe not. They make it seem like she was born that way, and she had no choice on either side. It's a good message.

I've heard some people say that Xander doesn't grow much throughout the series but I disagree. With his friends going off to college and leaving him behind in his parents old house, Xander was forced to grow up and grow up fast. He had to get a real job and deal with the lack of freedom that comes with staying with parents post-high school. And he did, eventually even becoming the boss. Hell, he got his own (rather large) condo with Anya in what looks like a nice part of Sunnydale. He's doing pretty well for himself by the end!


Breaks Convention With Ease

Once gaining a following and having some modicum of success, it can sometimes be hard to go against the grain. It's the reason you can look at most pre-2000's television shows, look at their first and last season, and not really see much of a difference. Sure, some characters may be married, and some new ones may have been introduced but at its core, the show is the same. Not Buffy. Buffy lies to defy all odds by going against conventions and giving us some of the more unique episodes in the shows tenure.

There's two episodes in particular that really stand out, both setting themselves apart from the rest of the series and they're bloody fantastic too. I'm of course talking about season four's "Hush" and season six's "Once More With Feeling." For those unaware, "Hush" has no dialogue for 90% of the episode. That's right, a show renowned for its dialogue was suddenly going to have to rely on good old fashion visuals. And it does so with aplomb.


Okay, so this wasn't the first series to suddenly have a musical episode, but this is one of the first times where it made complete sense to the plot. I'm not one for musicals myself mainly due to the fact that there's no explanation for the random song outbursts. This episode satisfies that curiosity while also providing forward momentum to several storylines. That's right, this is an episode that can't be skipped, a risk given how much a musical could alienate the fans. Thankfully for Whedon and company, the episode is widely loved.

But that's not to say the episode has to completely depart in order to still give us a completely different version of the show. "The Wish" is based around what Sunnydale would be like if Buffy had never moved to town. Needless to say, it's not exactly pleasant. Even "The Zeppo" shows Xander, who's not involved in the apocalypse subplot everyone else is, saving the world in a different way, without anyone else even knowing. Xander, whose heroics come all too rarely, is the unsung hero of the episode and gets his moment to shine. It's really brilliant.


Shocking Deaths

Thanks to shows like Game of Thrones and Homeland, main characters dying have become the norm in television, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, unless someone was leaving the show over a contract dispute, deaths just weren’t happening to leads. Even the X-Files refused to fully kill off David Duchovny’s character after he left the show. And sure, they've killed off Buffy several times and brought her back so even the best are guilty of noncommittal deaths. Considering the fact that the show is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer I think I can let it slide.

At the time they were revolutionary, lending to a style that Joss Whedon would be known for. But even with our culture just making this another TV Trope, the deaths in Buffy come as shocking. The first major death, Jenny Calendar proved that the writers could make any death feel important. It reverberated amongst the Scooby Gang and its effect was felt for seasons. Nothing was bigger than a certain season five death, proving that no one is off bounds.


Killing off Buffy's mother Joyce was one thing, but to do it in such an emotionally visceral way? There's no music, only the sounds of a panicked daughter not understanding how her mother could no longer be there. It's hard to watch and not have a tear come to your eye. Seeing the reactions of everyone play out how life does, not in the over dramatic way TV shows often go about it, is completely refreshing.

By the time "Chosen" came around, everyone was expecting some big deaths but that didn't make them any less shocking. Spike's sacrifice may have seemed obvious but Anya's sudden and brutal death? Absolutely not. In fact, the moment is treated as just another moment amongst the action, even coming shortly after a quippy Xander one-liner. One moment she's fighting like all the rest, the next she's almost split in two by a blade.


The Lessons are Timeless

Like any good show, there were lessons to be taught along the way. They ranged from subtle to slapping you in the face with their message, but were always poignant. Look at any of your favorite shows and chances are you learned a lot from them. Whether it was your sense of humor, your moral compass, or something else entirely, our favorites often dictate our personality and vice versa. 

Not everything needs to be subtle either. There are a lot of moments in this show that you can’t exactly call subtle in their metaphor: Buffy losing her virginity to Angel and him becoming a monster after, Willow dealing with her new found "witchiness" and even Buffy getting obsessed with beer and becoming a caveman. But that doesn’t stop the moments from carrying a great deal of weight in what they represent.



I particularly enjoyed the Willow/Xander relationship in the first half of season three. They've been friends for ages and are finally developing feelings for each other. That friendship allows them to justify the fact that those feelings (amongst other things) are occurring. When their cheating ways are outed, the consequences are severe, with things never truly being the same. It reverberates throughout the rest of the season and eventually lead to one of the characters leaving (though you could probably argue two).

The episode where one of Buffy’s childhood friends comes back and betrays her, trying to become a vampire to avoid the terminal illness killing him from the inside, is when the show is at its absolute greatest. The message that people may use you in relationship in order to get what they want, no matter how close you think you may be to them, is something that comes during a relevatory part of the show as it is, and is just one of the many good lessons to take from the show.


The Scooby Gang Is Awesome

The show features plenty of great characters. At its core, the Scooby Gang is Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles. Sure, some others come and go (Tara, Anya, Dawn) but these are the staples of the show. And it’s understandable why these pop up on “Favorite Television Characters” all the time. There every friend you had or wish you had in high school. They stuck by each other through thick or thin and ultimately (no matter what throwaway episode may have briefly said otherwise) will always be there for each other.

I appreciated the dynamic of everyone in that they all felt unique, while still representing a wider spectrum as a whole. Buffy was our lead, the most relatable, and always at the center of whatever issue was taking place. Willow was the tech savvy brain, always able to solve their complicated problems. Xander was the lovable goofball, always bringing heart but never accomplishing much outside of support. And Giles, the mentor, using his monster knowledge and love for books against the demons of the Hellmouth.

Giles is older and has a more fatherly role in the group, but that’s more due to his aged wisdom than anything. He still fits in perfectly and helps evolve into more of a wise friend than their father. And while Giles has taught many great lessons throughout the show, one of the more underrated moments comes in season three. "Faith, Hope, and Trick" introduces a new slayer to the fold, but a key part of the episode actually resided in a subplot. Giles needs Buffy to tell him exactly what happened with Angel for a spell, something she hasn't been able to do since it happened, and has clearly been weighing on her. After she finally confesses everything, allowing herself some closure, it's revealed that Giles was never doing a spell. Like a father, he just wanted what was best for her, and therefore wanted her to achieve the closure herself, not have it be forced. It's little moments like this that show just how much the characters feel for each other.


The back and forth dialogue is where Buffy really shines and it doesn't come better than the interactions between the gang. It's quick, sometimes in code, and sometimes fails entirely, but that's what makes interactions between close friends so great. Watching the clip above, it's hard not to hear all the trademark Whedon dialogue that has permeated our pop culture thanks to Marvel's Avengers. There's a reason those films feel so fresh and time relevant: Joss Whedon. I know I welcome anything coming from the Whedon Camp, and that all starts with a certain blonde vampire slayer, kicking ass and teaching lessons.

No matter what aspect of the show is your favorite, the connection it shares with the audience is undeniable. With Buffy recently being taken off of Netflix (or at least it was supposed to be as of April 1st but it's still up on my account), the ways to revisit the show may be limited, but I can't recommend it any more. Are you up for the task?
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About zombievictim

I'd like my writing to further represent me as a person by providing different insights into the things currently on my mind. Whether it's writing about a movie, TV show, album, book, wrestling event, experience, or life lesson. I don't plan on making this a personal blog where I treat it like a diary. This is just supposed to represent… Me.
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5 comments:

  1. Buffy ended up staying on Netflix after all.

    NUMFAR! DO THE DANCE OF JOY!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You missed a big one. You list shocking deaths and leave out Tara? Whaaaa?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Exactly. How could you not talk about Tara's death? Not only was it a shocking and heartbreaking death, but it was a huge turning point for Willow's character development.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disliked the character so I guess I overlooked it. You are correct, I should have included Tara's death.

      Delete
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