Tuesday, April 7, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The TV That Shaped Me (Part 5)

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

While most of the planet has the TV series Friends, the series you can always rewatch over and over again and never get bored of it, for me it's Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

The original movie came out just when we were in our peak vampire-fandom (1992), when we were playing the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG, and had just seen the gloriously over-the-top Bram Stoker's Dracula. Then along comes this sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek movie of a cheerleader being told they are the Slayer - one girl in the whole world chosen to stop the vampires. The movie was fun, Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens kinda stole the whole thing, but we enjoyed it loads...

But, it wasn't what what Joss Whedon, the writer, had in mind. Given the opportunity to continue the story for television, Buffy The Vampire Slayer lived again. Properly turning expectations of a horror movie on their heads, it was about empowerment, and the horror that is high-school amplified to be actual horror. You struggle at school, and want to be part of a group - what if that group are actually possessed by hyena spirits and eat people? You feel completely ignored and feel like you're invisible - what if you actually became invisible? And by season two, the real horror of sleeping with your boyfriend only for him to act like a completely different person the morning after - what if your boyfriend lost their soul?

I could go on, but you know the story and what it's about. When the series first started in the UK (Jan 1998 I think, on Sky) we remembered the movie and thought we'd give it a go. I remember I really enjoyed it, but wasn't completely blown away, but there was something about the dialogue that hooked you in.  As the weeks progressed, and the characters developed, you grew to love all of them.

The first season was a midseason replacement so only twelve episodes, and Buffy really got into its stride with season two and some of the big two-parters. Halloween (S2e6) was the point where my wife was completely sold on the series, and we became hardcore fans. We bought the VHS sets, the DVDs, the action figures, the books, the t-shirts, and engrossed ourselves in Slayer-lore.

We faithfully followed Angel as he span off at the end of season three to his own series (season three is still probably my favourite, with the introduction of the evil mayor, and the slayer-gone-bad, Faith). We worshipped at the church of Joss Whedon, and loved every minute. (Hmmm. Yes, I know, don't worry... I'm aware...)

By the time season five was airing, I remember seeing an advert for the season finale on Sky which showed [spoilers] Buffy's grave and I was outraged that they could spoil things like this. I hurriedly turned the channels over every time the advert appeared on TV to protect Debs from the spoiler, and she remained spoiler-free right until the moment Buffy dove off the construction tower at the end of The Gift.

I have a distinct memory of walking home one evening discussing with Debs how a Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG would work - we came up with how the Merits/Qualities and Flaws/Drawbacks would work, and how you could create the "scooby gang"... then a couple of months later I got this email from Eden Studios saying they were starting work on the very same thing. I jumped on board, playtesting, working as assistant editor, and writing sections for the supplements. I was in my element. I remember the last thing I was doing for the line was watching episodes over and over again to work out floor plans for significant locations in Sunnydale - The Bronze, Buffy's house, Angel's mansion, etc - for the Welcome to Sunnydale supplement that never saw light of day. *sigh*

Buffy continued to be a bit of an obsession for us - we bought signed photos of most of the cast on Ebay, and our previous house had them all framed and hung on the walls (Buffy series ones in the living room, Angel series ones in the dining room).

Buffy had a knack of pulling off some standout special episodes. Hush in season four (almost completely silent as The Gentlemen steal everyone's voices) and The Body in season five (the traumatising and horribly realistic sense of loss when Buffy's mother dies - an episode completely devoid of music).

We heard there was a musical episode coming up in season six and - not being a fan of musicals - I was a little worried. But we had nothing to fret about - Once More With Feeling is still the best gimmick musical episode of a TV series ever. Amazing TV.

And then, at the end of season seven, it was all over. Sarah Michelle Gellar had decided it was time to call it a day, and the series came to a natural, perfect end. The forces of evil were at their strongest, with Caleb (played by Nathan Fillion) as a twisted priest communicating with the First Evil, unleashing powerful uber-vampires on Sunnydale. Potential Slayers were summoned, and evil was defeated in a brilliant and moving conclusion. Possibly one of the most satisfying endings to a series I'd become obsessed with.

Angel continued for another year, bringing fan-favourite Spike over from his Buffy tenure, but that was cancelled at the end of season five, and the world was without the Buffyverse once more.

Sure, it continued in comics, and again in comics, and has been sort of rebooted again in comics, and there is talk of a new Buffy series - a new slayer, new stories, but acknowledging the original - and thankfully not a reboot.

And after Joss Whedon's fall, I still love Buffy. As I said at the start, it is a series that I'll just watch over and over again, and if an episode is on TV I'll leave it on in the background while I work. It's perfect company.

No comments: