Buffy the Vampire Slayer Revisited

Buffy the Vampire SlayerI recently finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. A two month marathon of 144 episodes, or 100.8 hours, of television viewing. A bit more with the DVD extras. It was worth the time investment!

I enjoyed Buffy when it first aired, but broadcast television being what it is I missed many episodes. This second time around watching the episodes on DVD one after another, without commercial interruptions was a far richer experience. I always thought the writing was a cut above, but didn't realize just how much until experiencing the story arc without missing episodes or being interrupted by commercials (when I tended to channel surf away and not make it back in time to catch the remaining story).

The seeds for my marathon were planted at a presentation on story telling at the Surrey International Writers' Conference, which led to reading this article by author Jenny Crusie: Dating Death: Love and Sex in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which led to a friend loaning me the DVD box sets. Reading Crusie's article made me wonder what the heck I'd missed in my spotty viewing. When my friend offered me the loan so I could find out, I discovered I'd missed a lot.

While most of the episodes from the earlier sessions can be watched and enjoyed on their own, there are details that really need the full compliment of episodes to be understood and appreciated. Then there's the scenes like the one where Xander gets turned down for a date by Buffy; it isn't critical to know this and it's seldom referred to, but it adds something in the knowing.

It's very difficult, if not impossible, to understand an episode on a standalone basis in the later seasons. I had almost completely stopped watching Buffy at this point during the original broadcasts. In the episodes I did see I could sort of make sense of what was going on, but this didn't make for a satisfactory viewing experience. It was a pleasure being able to properly experience this part of the series via the DVDs.

As much as I enjoyed the series I couldn't help feel the victim of a bait and switch. The "high school" seasons are the ones I enjoyed the most and the first college season is ok. Buffy as the underdog contrarian hero. The switch-up after the Scooby gang moved into adulthood became less interesting. We saw less of the external monsters and more problems coming from within. It's clear from listening to the additional DVD material the writers wanted to take the characters in new and darker directions. While I agree the characters shouldn't become stale, I didn't find the way the characters moved in new directions as interesting as the writers did. After a solid three years of setting a particular tone, they made too large a change.

Especially missed in the later sessions was the humour. It's hard having light hearted humour in the midst of perpetual angst. Though I don't want characters to be so self assured they never have a personal crisis, I'm not interested in a constant parade of one personal crisis after another. Or one super long one. It was unrelenting in the later seasons. This darker place eliminated the opportunity for the humour I enjoyed in earlier seasons.

Also unrelenting was that no character could remain in a happy relationship for very long. It's a little ironic that while Whedon eschewed cliché with a smart, capable blond teenage girl he created a reverse-cliché with characters we knew were relationally doomed when things started to look happy.

Watching the entire series in proper order gave me a new respect for the skills of Joss Whedon and his writing staff. The change of tone in the later seasons means I enjoyed them less, but I did still enjoy them. Add my voice to the long list of people who think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great series. Crunchy fantasy outside and tasty story inside. Though the unevenness of the seasons means I won't be buying my own copy I still strongly recommend watching it at least once from start to finish.

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