On a cold January night in 1998 me and a friend tuned in excitedly for the first episode of Joss Whedon’s cult masterpiece. Exiled from the lounge by my Mum, therefore reduced to watching it on the small kitchen television, we sat in the dark as the opening scene unfolded before the soon-to-be iconic Nerf Herder intro began. That was all it took, I dismantled my Dream Phone (keeping the Steve card obviously), binned my Barbie’s and replaced them with all things Sunnydale. Posters, books and that classic 90’s American teen ensemble, green corduroys looked awful on Cordelia and they looked worse on me.
Apart from the questionable fashion choices, (which didn’t really get any better did they?) Each week was packed with a delightful balance of love, death and Willow’s hair. Buffy tore 90’s television a new one, with its humour, strong female characters and engaging storylines. 20 years on it doesn’t fail to promote positive discussion with its following of fans young and old.
Buffy was at the forefront of television that dealt with real issues of young women through the guise of demons and the undead, using it’s witty writing to create a unique series, far from your average teen hero romp. The way the characters communicate in the series was new to television, realistic in a world of the unreal. Whip-smart and clever, it laid the foundations for other shows to do the same, we see this in Whedon’s other projects as well as in future television series. Its use of long story arcs, shifting away from the comfortable episodic layout of the 90’s, made way for the shows we love to binge-watch in our underwear today. Lengthy character development towards the final take down of each series’ “big bad” created a much deeper connection with the characters and the stories themselves.
As the first series to show a lesbian sex scene on American broadcast TV, Buffy paved the way for gay men and women in mainstream television by avoiding the stereotypes so often used in other shows at the time, and by bringing these characters to life, gave them a reality and a story that spoke to its audience. Buffy finds all of its characters in a limbo, between childhood and adulthood, good and evil. The show gave its lead some serious emotional rollercoasters when it came to relationships but in the end her duties, her identity and friendships won out as her romantic relationships take a back seat in her transition into adulthood. We see her fail and struggle, (resulting in a very becoming Double Meat ensemble.) Following the death of her mother, a scene thats execution left us all speechless, what remains is a young girl, being thrown into womanhood, showing the world that inner strength is just as powerful as a roundhouse to the face when it comes to fighting your emotional demons.
The show had its flaws of course, as did its characters but when boiled down, we see a more complex portrayal of the classic Strong Female lead, Buffy is physically strong, it comes easy to her, but finding her feet in the world and becoming emotionally resilient is another battle altogether. Whedon has made the characters in the Buffy-verse much more damaged and darker than you would expect from a show about a small blonde teenager who skewers bad guys with sticks (and the occasional rocket launcher). It’s resulted in a world where we’re taught it’s okay to fail, to break, to feel alone because no matter what our “childhood trauma” is, we all have potential.