Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Re-Watched

It's over. Last night, I finally finished re-watching the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the beginning. Seven seasons (or series, if you use British terminology). 144 episodes. 6,480 minutes. It took a few months, but I accomplished it and the experience was worth it.

After watching it all over again, I think its greatness is undiminished. It still deserves to belong on the short list of not only great genre shows, but great television shows in general. Even now, eleven years after its debut and five years after it went off the air, it's still one of the best written shows to ever grace mainstream television. Watching it is like taking a crash course in good storytelling. Its influence on shows like Justice League, Battlestar Galactica, New Doctor Who and Torchwood is apparent.

It remains significant for its portrayal of young women, and for the surprising amount of feminist and leftist ideas bubbling beneath, and quite often bursting through, the surface of its fictional universe. Perhaps not always consistently so, but that's only to be expected when you have a large and shifting writing staff producing material. I would also argue that no other American television show has handled a character coming out as a lesbian or her relationships with women quite as well as this one did, despite the original network, the WB, trying to keep scenes of two women kissing out of the show (moving to a different network, the more open-minded UPN, for its final two seasons allowed it to develop without that and other creative interference).

The middle section of its run, seasons two through five, were its finest. The first season was very much a case of creator Joss Whedon and his writing staff figuring things out as they went (especially in light of the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer theatrical film being regarded as somewhat of a failure). If the sixth and seventh seasons as a whole weren't quite up to the same level as the four they followed, they were still remarkably good and individual episodes like "Once More, with Feeling", "Seeing Red", "Villains", "Grave", "Conversations with Dead People" and "Chosen" were as good as any from earlier seasons. "The Body" from the fifth season remains the best single episode out of all of them.

The final episode of the fifth season, "The Gift", would have been the best possible ending for the show had it not returned for two more seasons on a different network, but the show's actual final episode, "Chosen", wasn't too far behind it. "Chosen" still has emotional and dramatic impact. I feel like it was a satisfying end to a great story told over many years. I still don't feel the need to read the comic books that continue the story.

The box set includes a bonus DVD that offers a revealing round-table retrospective of the show by creator Joss Whedon; showrunner Marti Noxon; writers Jane Espenson, David Fury and Drew Goddard (who went on to write Cloverfield); and actors Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, Emma Caulfield and Danny Strong.

In short, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was and is a great television show.

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