Wednesday, October 30, 2013

the scary series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Ok, so I know this doesn’t really fit into my October theme of real-life scary stories, but I’m going to go ahead and pull the “it’s my blog, and I’ll break my self-imposed theme if I feel like it” card. This story is about one of my favorite television shows of all time, and it deals with all sorts of Halloweeny things, so that’s why it still gets to be a part of my October scary month. What is this show? Why, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course!

To those of you who are unfamiliar, two things: 1.) WHAT????!?!?!?!? You have NO IDEA what you’re missing! All seven seasons are on Instant Netflix – what are you waiting for?? and 2.) Allow me to give you an overview: Buffy is the Slayer, and it’s her job to save the world from all sorts of nasty things, from vampires (as the title would suggest) to demons to banished gods to power-crazed witches and whatever else happens to come her way. There is only one Slayer – a Chosen One who possesses the strength to fight all of these creatures. And where do all these creatures come from? Well, Buffy just happens to live on the Hellmouth (which is exactly what it sounds like), so she’s right at the center of all kinds of demony energy.

The series starts out with Buffy as a high schooler, and it follows her through college and beyond. Along the way, she picks up all sorts of interesting characters. Being a Slayer means that you have a Watcher – someone who trains you and basically watches out for you. Buffy’s Watcher is Giles, the school librarian.
Look at all those BOOKS!
She’s also got her dorky sidekicks: Willow (who eventually turns into a superpowered witch) and Xander (who is an all-around good guy, but is basically useless – and he knows it, so it’s a running joke). 
This picture is terribly misleading. Neither Willow
nor Xander is cool and suave like this
photo would have you believe.
Between the four of them, there are all sorts of misadventures – seven seasons’ worth, to be precise.

What exactly makes Buffy so great? For one thing, it’s terribly witty. The characters have a fantastic stockpile of one-liners that perfectly balance whatever serious world-ending thing is going on at the moment. It’s also one of those shows that ties itself together so well. You’ll find something from the first season coming back to bite them in the fourth season, and you’ll remember a minor character from the second season when he shows up in the fifth season (and so on). So you’ve got to pay attention.

And oh! the characters! Buffy herself is the stereotypical blonde cheerleader-type (complete with the cheerleadery name) who always dies first in scary movies – and now she’s the one responsible for saving the world. 
See the stake?
Superpowers and vampire slaying aside, Buffy is just a normal girl trying to live a normal life. Like any teenaged girl, Buffy has boy troubles (granted, some of these troubles are with a 200 year old vampire named Angel) and clashes with her mother. As time goes on, Buffy has to deal with more real-world problems, like how to pay the bills. All the while, she must continue slaying vampires and saving the world from a certain doom. Talk about a full plate.

While Buffy makes a good lead, it’s really the supporting characters that make the show. Giles, the librarian/Watcher, was my favorite character from the very start. He was always the first one with a snappy retort, and he was very smart and very British. Plus, Giles loved books and libraries as much (if not more) than I do – add book smarts plus wit plus British accent plus ability to fight demons, and that might explain why I had a crush on Giles. 
Don't judge.
The fantastic and well-written characters secondary characters are in no short supply, but I’ve got my favorites. I love Spike the mostly bad, sometimes good, Billy Idol-ish vampire, Oz the werewolf (Seth Green!), Jonathan and Andrew the nerds… the list could go on and on. 

We do have to spend a minute talking about the vampires. Buffy vampires follow classic vampire rules: holy water and crosses burn them, they can’t go out in the sunlight as it will end them, you kill them by staking them through the heart, they don’t have reflections, etc. Vampires are also naturally bad: unlike a certain set of vampires who tend to sparkle in the sunlight, Buffy vampires do not choose to be good and not kill humans. Buffy vampires are only good when something goes awry – a restored soul, a chip in the brain, and so forth. Even then, there’s always the strong possibility that they’ll turn bad again.

My friend Allison was the one who got me started on Buffy. She had been watching it for years, and she thought it would be right up my alley. This was 2002, and I was 14 years old. Buffy had been on TV since 1997, so reruns were all over the place. There was a two-hour chunk of Buffy reruns every weeknight on USA or FX or something, so I would either a.) make sure I was around to watch them or b.) set a VHS tape (those were the days) to record them. Lucky for me, the Buffy reruns aired in order – and it’s very important that you watch them in order.

(Sidenote: it was during this time of dashing home after school and rewinding the VHS tape that my very own brother Mitch started to sit in on Buffy. He was either nine or ten at the time, and he liked the show so well that he named a cat Buffy in honor of our intrepid heroine.)

It didn’t take long for me to get hooked, and it’s been that way ever since. Buffy ended in 2003, but I was still working on the early seasons, so I had to forgo the big series finale at the time. (SPOILER ALERT: it was just as well, because the finale – let’s be honest, the entire final season – was just disappointing.) However, I have since watched the series from start to finish a time or two… or three… or maybe more.

Even though I’m well-versed in the Buffy universe, the beauty of that show is that every time I watch it, I feel like I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Every single time, the suspense is there. For example, there’s a particular Buffy season finale that gets me every time. (I’m not going to tell you which one or what happens, just in case you’re new to Buffy and decide to see it yourself.) I have watched this episode time and time again, and I know exactly what’s coming… but every time, it makes me cry. Now, if you are familiar with me and my crying habits, you know it’s pretty rare for a movie or TV show to bring out the waterworks (unless they involve animals, and then all bets are off… I once watched an Animal Planet special on hero dogs – like military dogs and seeing eye dogs – and bawled like a damn baby), but this episode – without fail – does it for me. What can I say? Only a great and powerful show like Buffy can bring out my inner crybaby.

While – in my opinion – all episodes of Buffy (save for the final season – blech) are good episodes, there are a handful that stick out as my very favorites. Around Halloween each year, I like to watch the Halloween episodes from seasons two and four. In the season two episode, Buffy and her friends all turn into whatever they dressed up as for Halloween – Buffy turns into a helpless Victorian woman, Xander into a soldier, and Willow into a ghost. Of course, chaos ensues. 
In season four, Buffy, Willow, and Xander are all in college, and they get trapped in a haunted house where they all must face their greatest fear. It sounds serious, but Buffy always manages the perfect balance between humor and drama.

Allow me to explain the Buffy comedy/drama pairing using three of my favorite episodes: the one in which a curse is put on Sunnydale (the town where Buffy and friends live) and everyone loses the ability to speak, the one in which Willow tries to wipe out her girlfriend’s memory but ends up wiping everyone’s memory instead, and the one in which Sunnydale gets turned into a musical.

In the no-talking episode (it’s called “Hush,” if you’re curious), it is simultaneously chilling and hilarious – these terrifying creatures take away the town’s voices so they can rip out their hearts with no one hearing them scream. 
Hello, nightmares.
At the same time, it’s just comical to try and watch Buffy and the team try and communicate without voices.

In the memory wipe-out episode (“Tabula Rasa”), no one remembers why they know each other (Giles and Spike assume they’re father and son because they both have British accents and can sense their strong dislike for each other), and no one can figure out why these angry creatures (vampires) want to attack them. They all get their memories back in the end, but they aren’t too happy with Willow and feel (understandably) violated.

The musical episode (“Once More With Feeling”) is just brilliant. A demon casts a spell on Sunnydale so that the townsfolk spontaneously break into song, and we found out who has a surprisingly good singing voice (Giles, Tara, Spike), who is mediocre at best (Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Anya), and who is downright terrible (Willow – but she doesn’t sing much, so somebody must’ve known). The songs are on the catchy side, and I’ve been known to listen to that episode’s soundtrack from time to time (or more often, but who’s counting?). Sure, a musical episode of Buffy sounds like fun and games, but the characters don’t have much control over what they blurt out when they start singing. We learn about unrequited love, doubts about an upcoming marriage, relationships ending, and Buffy’s Big Secret (that we have known for a while, but this is when her friends find out). Grim realizations come to the surface, friendships are damaged… but a new romance begins, so it’s not all bad.
Here's the big group number!
So with Halloween just around the corner and winter close behind it, I think you need a new series. Not only will it get you started in the Halloween spirit, but it will keep you entertained through the bitter Midwestern winter.

And if you’ve already watched Buffy? Watch it again.

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