- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, the characters and concepts contained from these shows are copyright Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. Their use and mention here is not intended as a challenge to these rights.
- All information on the nature of vampires, demons and the Slayer within the BtVS mythology is amazingly speculative, even where backed up by reference to an episode. I have in all cases, however, attempted to remain faithful to the source material.
This is my garbled account of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For a more developed approach, try The Complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episode Guide.
Joss Whedon is regularly described as a third-generation TV writer - possibly the first such in the world - and I see no reason to deviate from the trend. His father and grandfather both wrote for TV sitcoms, and Joss grew up swearing he would forsake the tawdry ground of television for the bright lights of Hollywood. While he did indeed manage to break into the movies as a screenwriter and as a script doctor, Joss has also written for television, and found - with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her sister-show, Angel - a better niche there than on the silver screen.
Buffy is Joss Whedon's baby, but many others give their awesome talents to its creation and realisation. A bevy of writers, producers and directors, and of course a cast of talented and unbearably good-looking actors all play their part in the process of bringing some of the best television in years to our screens.
Gail Berman, David Greenwalt, Marti Noxon, Tim Minnear, Doug Petrie, David Fury, Bruce Seth Green, Jane Espenson and many more form the team behind the scenes. In front of the cameras, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Tony Head, Seth 'no relation to Bruce Seth' Green, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Amber Benson, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Emma Cauldfield, Amy Acker and even Marc Blucas, bless his cotton socks - to name but the most exposed players - have graced our screens with their performances.
Admittedly, there was some dodgy acting in the first Season (David Boreanaz, I'm looking at you, but my how you've grown), and a definite learning curve can be traced in the evolution of the lighting, makeup and direction, but even from the very first episode, the show has had a certain something that set it apart from the herd of Hercules/Xena wannabes - and later Buffy-lites - that came and went around it. If I ever had the time, I could write a hymn to almost everyone involved in the show's history, but that would be a major headache, and besides, it's already been done, and probably better than I could do it. The Complete Buffy the Vampire slayer Episode Guide provides a good start.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was born in the mind of screenwriter Joss Whedon, as a reaction to the conventions of the slasher flick. Its original concept was simple and elegant: the little blonde girl walks into the alley, like in so many films before, and gets attacked by the monster. But - aha! - not only is the little blonde girl ready for the monster; she kicks his ass. While the concept was straightforward however, there was much that could go wrong with its execution, and in fact, it did.
"I pretty much eventually threw up my hands because I could not be around Donald Sutherland any longer. It didn't turn out to be the movie I had written."
Buffy first came to life in a 1992 movie, starring Kristy Swanson in the title role. While the script was by Whedon, the film had to pass through the standard Hollywood process, and suffered further indignity at the hands of Donald Sutherland - great actor, lousy script doctor - cast as Merrick, the Watcher. In an interview with The Onion, Joss Whedon described the process as being too painful to watch. The film, when it arrived, was panned by the critics, and largely ignored by the public, gathering only a small cult following. To be fair, it deserved what it got. While the film has a lot of good ideas, it is hamstrung by some weirdly mismatched performances, Sutherland's rewrites, and by a distinct tendency to treat itself as a one-joke movie, despite Whedon's undeniable flair for more subtle and intelligent comedy.
Flash forward however, and with the movie enjoying limited cult success, Fox producer Gail Berman suggests turning the idea into a TV series. Joss says yes, and there is - eventually - much rejoicing.
Starting out in 1997 as a half-season filler, the TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer remained very much in Joss's control. Featuring arc stories in the vein of Babylon 5 (instead of a purely episodic format), boasting an impressive - if initially obscure - cast, and showcasing some of the best writing around, the series was a hit. After the first 12 episodes, it got picked up for another, complete season, and then another, and another. The finale of Season 5 was its 100th episode and the Series finally closed out with its 144th episode at the finale of Season 7.
More impressive than the numbers, Buffy got to do what so few shows do: It didn't just end, it finished. Season 7 very effectively closed the book on the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a way that was poignant and optimistic. Nay-sayers who seem to think that the story can't be over while any of the principals yet draw breath notwithstanding, Chosen must stand among the great series closers; well above the long-overdue X-Files finale or the anticlimactic ending of The Fugitive. With luck, Buffy will not be faced with the indignity of a series of lame TV movie spin-off like The Incredible Hulk either, although I would pay to see Ben Afflek's Daredevil getting his ass kicked by the Slayer.
The series continues to run in syndication and retains one of the most devoted fan bases of any TV series. Aside from hundreds of websites, there are dozens of mailing lists, newsgroups and posting boards dedicated to all things Buffy. When the series moved from the WB to UPN, the fans mobilised in a campaign to make sure that everyone knew that - WB publicity notwithstanding - there would be another season of Buffy and to get their local networks to carry the fledgling station.
Throughout its seven year run, Buffy regularly displayed dialogue to die for, strong plotting, strong characters - strong female characters, yet - and good acting. Its fight choreography, cinematography and special effects were done on a TV budget, but shamed many Hollywood movies. The show rarely had a duff episode, and never a duff season, although everyone has their favourites and their personal bugbears. All things considered, a pretty stellar achievement for a gaggle of obscure talent working in the mythos of a failed movie.
The character Angel, a vampire tormented by possessing a human soul, was Buffy's principal love interest for three seasons. At the end of Season 3, however, he left and moved to LA and to his own, eponymous spin-off. The two series ran in close parallel for the first season, and featured a number of crossover episodes. The second season of Angel had no real crossovers, but stayed in touch with Buffy and featured the parallel episodes Fool For Love and Darla. With Season 3 of Angel remaining on the WB, there were references but no real crossovers. In Season 4 the connection was back at full strength, with characters crossing over and Angel's season resolution linking to Buffy's. With Buffy now gone there are plans to include guest spots for Buffy regulars and runaway fan-favourite Spike has been confirmed as an Angel regular.
Inheriting a share in Buffy's stable of writers and crew, under the watchful eye of Joss, and of Buffy veteran David Greenwalt, as well as a seasoned cast and the complete repertoire of SFX and mythology, Angel jumped in with both feet. After a shaky start as an anthology show, Angel switched to an arc-based format, to great acclaim. The killing of a major character halfway through Season 1 brought some angry rumblings from the fans, but they stuck with it, and were rewarded as Angel went from strength to strength.
A shaky third season followed as Angel floundered with the darker edge of its format, but Season 4 was a definite return to form, even if a campaign to rename it the Wesley Windham-Price Show might be in order. Character dynamics were - perhaps overly - shaken up in the third season and four brought a welcome return to a kind of unstable equilibrium.
Season 5 promises yet more big changes and it remains to be seen if the cast and crew can carry them off. All concerns aside however, Mutant Enemy have never disappointed me yet.
Sadly the promised Buffy animated series fell through, Joss' UK-based Ripper project is on indefinite hiatus and his kick-ass space western, Firefly, crashed and burned at the hands of stupid, stupid network executives. On the bright side there is a hope of a Firefly movie, a Ripper BBC miniseries and of course the ongoing Angel.
There are also dozens of book and comic titles available, but for the purposes of analysis I have only considered The Origin, a comic treatment of the original plot for the movie (before it went weird), Tales of the Slayers, and Fray - the story of a Slayer in the distant future penned by Joss Whedon - largely because these are the titles I have actually read.
Cordelia: Did you hear what he just said about me?
Doyle: No. And neither did anyone else because Channel 4 cut the word 'hooker'.
Lonely Hearts - Channel 4 cut version
In Britain, Buffy fans have a problem, and that problem is that our television programming executives are a bunch of useless tossers even by TV executive standards.
The distribution rights for Buffy went to Sky 1 on satellite and BBC2 on terrestrial TV, and while Sky were prepared to schedule the show in a sensible, weekly, 8 o'clock (post-watershed for satellite) Friday timeslot, BBC2 planted it in the Thursday Star Trek slot - early evening - the usual dumping ground for genre imports, and postponed episodes at the drop of a hat to show such important sporting commitments as international bowls, snooker, darts and pro-celebrity napping.
Not satisfied with regularly keeping us guessing as to whether Buffy would be on or not, the BBC was forced to make cuts to be suitable for the timeslot, and failed to purchase the rights to Angel, which went instead to Channel 4. Channel 4 meanwhile scheduled the much darker Angel at 6pm (Sky grabbed the satellite rights and showed Angel immediately after Buffy; 9pm) and thus were forced to cut up to ten minutes from some episodes, and to remove the episode Somnambulist from their schedule altogether. When they got their knuckles wrapped by Broadcasting Standards in spite of the cuts, they swiftly moved Angel to a post-midnight, desperation zone slot. Despite this premature burial, they still acquired the rights to Season 2 and buried that too.
Meanwhile, an upheld Broadcasting Standards complaint saw the BBC's editing of Buffy get stricter, until 'crap' is deemed unsuitable. Notably Farscape never got slapped by the BSC and for the length of its run got to use the word 'pissed' with impunity. In their favour, Auntie Beeb did run a late-night, unedited showing.
This treatment of Buffy and Angel mirrors that of most other cult/genre TV shows on British TV, which are given either a teatime slot, or buried at midnight on Channel 4. There is almost no home-grown cult programming, which is a shame, since the last real examples was Channel 4's superb vampire-cum-police thriller, Ultraviolet and the undersold demon-hunting thriller Strange, which was scrubbed after a successful first Season. What little gets produced is almost invariably in the form of - often fairly bad - parody.
Season 5 of Angel went to Channel 5 - or Five as they are now - who seem to treat their genre a little more respectfully, but not by much.
The world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction is a truly frightening one, filled with sex and violence; and not in a good way. Barely a fiction seems to get written that doesn't involve at least one sex scene, and most writers simply have no ability to write within the tone and milieu of the show. The characters are rarely done justice to, as personalities are cast aside in the rush to throw them as violently as possible into bed together, and if at all possible to turn them into gay, dancing vampires. Perhaps a third of all BtVS fics also include at least one piece of vampirology lifted from somewhere else entirely; the Blade/Anita Blake silver vulnerability is the most common offender.
This is not to say that there isn't good BtVS fanfic out there, because there is. An unexpected gem is the Buffy/Hercules/Xena crossover When Hellmouths Collide, and despite some minor failings the Angel AU fic series Doyle Investigations has maintained a very high standard. Other examples can be found through FanFic.Net and The Complete Buffy the Vampire slayer Episode Guide
The LVISS (pronounced Elvis) is an organisation devoted to discovering the truth behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer's mythology, undaunted by the fact that there probably isn't one. Basically, we at LVISS are prepared to twist any fact to come up with a decent theory, because it's what we like doing. Please feel free to browse through some of the Institute's published works:
Slayers of Renown
The Powers that Be
The Old Ones
Messengers, Magi and other servants
Beasts and Minions
Weaknesses and Telltales
Death and Dusting
Magic and Magicians
Ghosts and Spirits
The Knights of Byzantium
Constructive feedback is always welcome: Please contact The Prophet with any comments.