Thursday, 18 March 2010
Being a Buffy-holic
Being a Buffy-holic
I recently rewatched the 2008 Paley Television Festival event honouring Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was attended by most of the cast as well as Joss Whedon and many of the writers. Once More with Feeling was screened and then the cast and crew did a long Q&A with the moderator and the audience. The moderator was Matt Roush of TV Guide. Roush, a long time fan of the show, got up at the start and quipped, "My name is Matt and I'm a Buffy-holic." I laughed and nodded in understanding. He wasn’t joking. I know how he feels.
I first watched Buffy the series on Sky TV back in 1998 despite my not exactly liking the original movie it was based on. Word of mouth and critical reaction made me give it a go. I’m glad I did. Season one was great. I really, really liked it. And then it moved in to season two. Spike and Dru arrived. Yay! And about half way through that season the show went and pulled the rug out from under the audience. That’s when I started to truly love it. There was simply nothing else this weird, this witty, this bold, and this emotional on television. And nothing with characters so damn vibrant and likeable who were put through so much endless pain yet kept coming back for more. By the time season three had finished I was forever smitten by this smart, often hilarious, often daft and sometimes incredibly moving show. Season three is still my favourite for two big reasons: Faith and The Mayor. Oh, and Doppelgangland (vampire Willow rocks!”)
Anyway, I realised upon rewatching the Paley Fest thing that, like Mr Roush, I am a Buffy-holic. I admit it. There it is. There has not been a time since the show ended in 2003 that I haven’t been watching it either on reruns on TV or on old taped off the TV videos or latterly on DVD. A couple years back I caved in and bought all seven seasons on DVD as the price had finally dropped to an affordable level. Since then the various seasons have been on continual rotation on my player with only a few short breaks in between. Also, for the past few months the Sci Fi channel has been showing Buffy on weekday evenings (they seem stuck with seasons one, two and three only at the mo) It’s on just after I get home from work. Perfect. A mug of tea. A choccy biscuit. The Slayer. I’ll watch them even though they are heavily edited for language and violence. I’ve also recently finished watching season five on DVD again (though I had to skip The Body this time for personal reasons) and have literally just finished season six. I wasn’t intending to, I swear. I just had a hankering to rewatch the season five opener Buffy vs. Dracula after finishing reading a great new Dracula comic adaptation. And I did watch it. And it was fab. But Whedon & co. pulled me in, so I just kept on going. Then when I got to the end of season five and the Bufster does her sacrificial swan dive from Glory’s Tower I just had to rewatch the start of season six (Bargaining parts 1 & 2) to see her return to the land of the living. And so I did watch it. But – again – Whedon & co. pulled me in. And I rewatched that whole darn season. Grr Argh!
Jeez! I nearly forgot how messed up season six is.
I love it. But, boy, do things (and a certain red headed Wiccan) go to dark places. Destructive and depraved sexual relations, ‘magic’ addiction (the drug metaphor is not well hid), attempted rape (on more than one occasion), cold blooded murder…and the list goes on. What starts out as potentially jokey and very silly with the Trio of villains Andrew, Jonathan and Warren soon gets very nasty indeed. These three regular human beings descend into sub-humanity after initially setting out to just have fun. It’s in this season that Buffy the series develops what is truly its worst villain of all. Warren. He is a human being, not a demon or a god or a vampire or a cyborg. He is a selfish, messed up, misogynistic and utterly despicable human being. Just like the ones that really are out there in the world. He is happy to rape and murder if it makes him feel better about himself. A true monster. And then there is episode 6.19 Seeing Red – probably the darkest and most disturbing episode of the entire show. There is a shocking attempted rape scene that’s very uncomfortable to watch. And there’s the attempted and the actual murder of two main characters that happens in a sudden, brutal and very human manner. The last heartbreaking words of a much loved character being, “Your shirt…?”
Yep, grim stuff indeed. But I understand why.
Joss always said that as the characters grew up then the problems and dangers they’d face should change accordingly. Season six is about adulthood, responsibility, dealing with the big bad that is life in the real world. And so we get Buffy having to work as a wage slave at The Doublemeat Palace to pay the ever growing mound of bills but still having to be bailed out financially by Giles after her house gets flooded by a burst pipe. “Full… copper… re-pipe! No… more… full… copper… re-pipe!” she cries while beating a demon to death in her flooded basement. We also get her being forced in to the mother role to Dawn, taking responsibility for her little sis’s behavioural problems. And other characters are dealing with similar things. Xander and Anya are getting married and talking about having kids and building a life…all of which is starting to freak the Xan Man out. And Willow has to deal with a dangerous addiction that threatens to destroy everything she cares about. Yep, season six is dark, dark stuff. So much so that SMG went to Joss at the time and said she had lost the character. She didn’t know who she was anymore. Which I guess was kinda the point. But Joss agreed that they had gone far enough and needed to pull Buffy back from the darkness and give back to her much of what she’d lost.
So what is it about Buffy? Why am I especially addicted to this one particular show? I mean, there are plenty of other TV shows I love and will happily re-watch from time to time. Just not with quite the same yearning I get for the Bufster’s adventures, that feeling of needing to revisit much-missed friends. The closest is probably Babylon 5. If it ain’t a season of Buffy on rotation them it’s likely to be JMS’s epic sci fi myth spinning in the disc tray. Even classic Trek doesn’t pull me in this much. And I adore classic Trek.
So why Buffy?
I blame that sod Whedon. It’s all his fault. Why did he have to create such brilliant characters with lives and issues that can resonate so well either directly or indirectly? And why did he (and his writers) have to be so damn witty and clever? And why oh why did they have to hire such perfect actors – especially for the core roles? As Buffy, SMG IS perfect. She can go from cute and littlegirlsh to troubled woman (in stylish yet affordable boots) to witty kick-ass super chick in an eye blink. As Xander, Nicky Brendan is a natural comedian with perfect comic timing and an inherent warmth and geekiness that you can’t help but love. Xander is also the everyman, the one with no powers or abilities except for his loyalty to his friends and his quick wit. Alyson Hannigan is never less than adorable as Willow the Witch – except perhaps when she’s veiny Dark Willow or S&M-y Vamp Willow. Mmm…Vamp Willow! Tony Head is stalwart and true as Buffy’s watcher and father figure, Giles, but who has his own dark and troubled side to contend with. Emma Caulfield as Anya, the 1000-year-old ex-vengeance demon turned love interest for Xander, is pure comedy gold. She says what she thinks and what nobody else is ever willing to say. The pause control most people have in their brain to stop themselves from saying something blunt or undiplomatic no matter how truthful it might be is entirely missing from Anya. Her love of money and fear of bunnies only makes her funnier. Even Michelle Trachtenberg as the much maligned Dawn is spot on. Sure, the character is often whiny and annoying, but that’s not Michelle’s fault. She does a great job playing a troubled and angsty teen.
And then there is James Marsters as Spike.
Spike is possibly my favourite television character ever and one of my favourite fictional characters ever. From his first appearance in season two’s School Hard right up to his last on-screen showing in Angel’s final episode Not Fade Away, the platinum bad boy vamp has owned it all. Spike is a mass of contradictions. Starting out as a bloody awful poet called William in 19th century London, he meets Angelus, Drusilla and Darla (Mmm…Darla) and becomes a vampire with some decidedly icky mother issues. Later on he becomes the slayer of Slayers, until, years later, he arrives in Sunnydale where he tries to bag himself a third Slayer scalp before eventually falling in love with his deadliest enemy. Spike is a demon (until season seven anyway). He is a killer, a monster. And yet he feels love and appreciates beauty and things that are good and true…even if he feels compelled to destroy them. He seems to be at some level always at war with his demonic nature, as if the decent man he once was is always trying to get back out, which is something he finally sets out to achieve after the events in season six’s Seeing Red. Spike is also just bloody funny and has a strong anti-everything punk attitude. It is no secret that Spike and Drusilla were initially modelled upon Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Even after he is re-souled at the end of season six, Spike (after going mad for a while) still retains his punk attitude and sarky nature. And James Marsters is never less than awesome in the role. Even in outtakes you can see the ‘fuck you’ attitude he keeps about him while in character. The guy is great. And his English accent is impeccable. Upon first hearing him I thought he was English. Spike also gets many of the best lines in the show.
"Delivering melted cheese on bread, doing your part to keep America constipated."
"I love syphilis more than you"
“YOU MADE A BEAR!”
"I'm saying that Spike had a little trip to the vet, and now he doesn't chase the other puppies any more"
"Hey! What am I, a bleeding broken record? I'm bad. It's just... I can't bite anymore. Thanks to you wankers"
"Well, isn't this usually the part where you kick me in the head and run out, virtue fluttering?"
“Out. For. A. Walk.” (Pause) “BITCH!”
So, anyway, there it is. I’m a Buffy-holic. And I’m not alone. Far from it. Buffy may be gone from TV but she lives and breathes in pop culture fandom all around the world – especially with the continuing season 8 comic. The Paley Fest thing proves it. The show’s 800 plus tickets sold out in two hours flat. People came from all around the world including Asia and Europe with many camping out overnight just to get a good seat. Buffy is constantly being voted as one of the best TV shows of all time, recently making number two in Empire magazines poll. And the season five ender The Gift where Buffy dies to save her sister and the world was voted as the most memorable moment in TV history at the 60th Annual Emmy Awards in 2008. Go Bufster!
So, yeah, I’m a Buffy-holic.
And you know what? I love it.
THIS JUST IN (19/03/10): The UK's SFX Magazine's online poll for the top 25 TV shows of all time has Buffy at number two (Doctor Who is number one)
ANYA: (finishing lecturing the rest of the Scoobies) “…The workers are the tools that shape America.”
BUFFY: (off screen) “Good to know.”
We see her. The Slayer’s standing in the doorway, wearing red pants, a red-and-white striped shirt and a red hat with a cartoon cow’s head on top.
BUFFY: “I was kinda feelin' like a tool.”
The Scoobies look at her in shock
BUFFY: “And now I know why.”
Wolf howl. Opening credits.
- From the teaser of 6.12 ‘Doublemeat Palace’ written by Jane Espenson