“He’s going to bite her.”
Words cannot describe the glee I felt when my boyfriend fell hook, line, and sinking fangs for the first ever scene in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. In it, Darla – an innocent blonde in schoolgirl attire –nervously breaks into Sunnydale High School with a teenaged boy. In a bored tone, my boyfriend promptly called out the apparent unoriginality of the 17-year-old TV show that I was – and this is no exaggeration – physically forcing him to watch. “He’s so going to bite her.”
On screen, the teenaged boy is reassuring Darla that they are alone. “Are you sure?” she asks coyly. “I’m sure,” he replies. Pleased with this news, Darla’s angelic face transforms into that of hideous vampire, and she buries her yellow fangs into the unsuspecting boy’s neck.
This scene is, fundamentally, the essence of Buffy. “I would love to see a movie in which a blonde wanders into a dark alley, takes care of herself and deploys her powers,” Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, told TIME magazine in the Nineties. Although the initial movie version eventually derailed from Whedon’s vision and flopped, the ensuing TV show became a cult classic which flipped every existing trope on its head while constructing a thousand brilliant new ones. If anything you see in Buffy feels tired and clichéd, it’s only because the show did it first, and so very, very well, that every other show had no choice but to follow suit.
My joy at my boyfriend’s initial mistake was only matched in intensity when, ninety episodes later, I found myself sobbing (completely and utterly red-face baby-wail sobbing) in his arms. Why? Because at the crucial moment when Travers, a member of the Watchers’ Council, was pausing for his big reveal, my boyfriend interrupted to guess the plot.
“Glory isn’t a demon. . .” said Travers.
“. . . She’s a god,” said my boyfriend.
There is no doubt that my sobbing was an extreme overreaction to this development. But I was crying because my boyfriend had guessed a reveal that, over a decade earlier, had flooded my body with emotion. I remember how I felt, as a child, when that moment aired. I can viscerally recall the “Oh SHIIIIIT” reaction tingling up from my spine and forcing me to flap my hands like an excited cartoon character.
I could devote time here to talk about the technical reasons why Buffy is widely regarded as one of the best TV shows ever made (it invented a language, it was incredibly progressive, it is the most-studied item of pop culture ever) but to me it is a combination of two, very simple factors. It makes me laugh, and it makes me cry.
Lots of shows do both things, sure, but they end up being both less comedic and less tragic than if they simply focused on generating one emotion. Not Buffy. It makes me laugh more than any comedy and cry more than any drama – so much so that I can confidently call it my favourite example of both genres.
This is why I insist that the people I love watch Buffy. While Harry Potter is a big old phone-cover and wardrobe-accessories part of my life, I still allow my boyfriend to sleep in the same bed as me despite the fact he’s never read it. With Buffy, he was forced to watch the show within the first few, fleeting, should-still-be fairy-tale moments of our romance. No, I don’t want to meet your parents. You have to meet Joyce Summers.
I write this next sentence wary that it ruins my chances of ever seeking out any fame, lest it be dug up and used as evidence to prove that I am a fundamentally terrible person undeserving of the aforementioned fame. If I had a child, and for some reason I had to choose someone other than myself to raise that child, I would not choose a nanny. I would choose Buffy. The show taught me everything that I need to know about life, love, loss, and librarians.
Postscript: I will concede that there is one single flaw in all 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and his name is Riley Finn.