TV Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – part 1

Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Creator: Joss Whedon

Genre: Comedic Teen Contemporary Fantasy

Watched: Winter 2004-05, Summer 2009, Winter 2010-11

Summary: Best TV show of all time.


As a diehard vampire fan I saw the movie version of Buffy when it came out. I hated it so much I used to mock it as my pre Twilight example of lame vampires. I have this requirement that vampires need to be menacing, even if comic (Fright Night) or romantic (Interview with the Vampire). The Buffy movie undead were just flaccid.

When the TV show debuted, I was in the midst of the busiest year of my life, the year of Crash Bandicoot 2, when I was in the office every single day (7 days a week) between New Years and September 8th. Besides, the movie had been dumb. So the show even became a punching bag of mine (although I hadn’t seen it at the time) used to illustrate Hollywood’s creative drought: Hey, they’d made a show based on a terrible movie that hadn’t even made much money.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Finally, in November of 2004, after having “retired” from Naughty Dog, my wife having insisted for years that the show was good, I succumbed and ordered the first season on DVD. Thus began an obsessive binge where I watched all seven seasons, plus five of Angel, back to back over the next three months. Generally I consumed three or more a day, including watching 18 episodes of season 3 in one continuous sitting (home Sunday with a cold). My only breaks were the week back east for Thanksgiving and three weeks we spent in Sicily (yum!). Four and a half years later I re-watched all seven Buffy seasons during the summer of 2009. It was almost as good the second time, and I appreciated it more.

Despite a significant cheese factor, and a first season that suffers from being overly episodic, the show is absolutely brilliant. If you aren’t a fan you probably think, “Buffy has these weird obsessive fans, but that kind of thing isn’t for me.”

It is.

I’ve never met anyone who’s sat down and started watching from the beginning who doesn’t absolutely love the show. But that’s just it, you have to start from the beginning. Fundamentally the show blends fantastic writing, really funny dialog, off-beat but likable characters, zany and intricate mythology, a creativity with the TV medium, and quirky humor with a kind of hidden dark realism found in only the best dramas. By disguising drama with humor and the supernatural the writers are able to get at real human issues without freaking out the network, and because they’ve created characters we care about, it all works.

The casting too is inspired. Sarah Michelle Gellar is perfect as Buffy. She may be cute, blonde, and perky, but she isn’t a typical airhead. She combines practical cleverness, toughness, and hidden vulnerability, with a strong sense of duty. Fundamentally the show is about the weight that rests on her narrow shoulders, and what it takes to bear it. The rest of the core team is great too. Alyson Hannigan‘s Willow is every geek’s fantasy, the shy computer nerd who learns to kick ass, Nicholas Brendon‘s Xander provides the token maleness with more humor than testosterone, and Anthony Stewart Head‘s Giles is pitch perfect as the stuffy older advisor with a dark past.

But it’s not just the premise that makes this show rock, but what the writers do with it. I’ll explain when I CONTINUE IN PART 2…

The whole post series [1, 2, 34, 5, 6]

Book Review: Personal Demons

Personal DemonsTitle: Personal Demons

Author: Lisa Desrochers

Genre: YA supernatural romance

Read: Oct 20 2010

Summary: Detested it.

The premise of this book is that a demon and an angel are both vying for the love (and soul) of the same high school girl. This I don’t mind. The execution however…  Let us start with voice and character. The book is told in staccato alternating first person from the girl and the demon’s POVs. The girl is written in currently-in-vogue snarky-boy-crazy voice which is frankly repulsive and (hopefully) not even accurate in all but the most brainless products of mass media consumption. All she can think about is that whichever guy is in front of her looks hot in his jeans. The demon was less annoying but even more ridiculous. He’s supposed to be a 4000 year-old denizen of Hell out to corrupt the souls of the innocent and he comes off like a self involved High Schooler. At no point does he actually BEHAVE in any way particularly evil. He shows no particular long term perspective, but instead just has the hots for the girl. There is no real thought about what it might mean for God and the Devil to actually  meaningfully over someone’s heart, or even what it means to be a good or evil person. The good vs. bad is couched in terms of which boy the girl sleeps with. The high level premise is fine, but the book as written just makes no sense except on the most superficial level, and most importantly the characters are cardboard cutouts serving only the voice and premise — so who cares about them. This makes Twilight seem a work of art, and is exactly the kind of pseudo-religious story that I wrote my novel in counterpoint to.