What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Taught Me

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday. Today, our deep-fried food is served with a blood cocktail, to honor the vampires and other paranormal creatures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of my friends know that I’ve been watching through the entire Buffy series on Netflix. (All seasons are available through streaming episodes.)

I missed this TV show when it was on from 1997 to 2003. Why? Those were the years of early parenthood for me, so my television set was tuned in to shows like Yes, Dear and Blue’s Clues instead. I finally decided to figure out what all the hype was about and started watching the series a few months ago.

As I watched all seven seasons, I made a few interesting observations which apply to TV and other sources of fiction (books, movies, etc.). Other than the obvious conclusions that karate moves are still cool and fighting evil doesn’t preclude dressing fashionably, here’s what Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught or reminded me.

Genre is just the setting; the story is about the characters. Is Buffy the Vampire Slayer about vampires or Buffy? Well, yes. But the vampires, demons, prophecies, ninja fighting, etc. are all background to simply tell the story of teenagers growing into adulthood.

Buffy with her mentor Giles

Ditto for Harry Potter. The Twilight series is about lovers couched in vampire/werewolf legends. Mysteries are about the sleuth solving the case. Horror is about someone we’re rooting for making it out alive. Fantasy is about the journey of a questor. And so on and so on.

While I believe that world-building and plots are important, ultimately who cares how clever you are with that unless there is some underlying struggle for a character we can relate to or root for. We cheer for Buffy to kill the bad demons because she embodies struggles we face — such as wanting to be special versus wanting to be normal; needing to stand up to bullies and wanting to take a backseat; dealing with the complications of relationships; and moving from protection by parents and mentors to making our own way in the world. The reason Buffy resonates is because we all have our demons to fight; we understand why her story matters.

Xander, Anya & Willow

Sometimes your favorite character isn’t the protagonist. Buffy Summers is the main character, and the series is about her. Thus, the name: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yet often the protagonist is a person in constant conflict who needs a little support or humor from others around her. Buffy’s closest friends, Willow and Xander, provide that — Willow with compassionate support and Xander with humorous quips. There are plenty of other famous sidekicks in fiction. These characters have their own appeal.

As the series progressed, my favorite character became Anya, an ex-vengeance demon, who ends up working with Buffy’s mentor Giles at his magic shop, having a romantic relationship with Xander, and fighting alongside the good guys even when her motivation is a bit unclear. Why do I love her? She says exactly what she thinks. I love such characters in fiction — the ones who speak with no filter whatsoever, who say what we wish we could say but have too much restraint to, and whose charm lies in their optimism that truth is always best.

If you start a fantastical story, you have to get really inventive to keep it going. I noted to my husband that Buffy and Chuck share this in common: Since they begin with such a far-fetched premise (hellmouth under your town and teenage vampire slayer; all-knowing Intersect stuck in Chuck’s brain and spies to protect him), where do you go from there? You have to keep coming up with bigger and better stories, several of which can get a little, well, unbelievable.

Yes, we’re already in the territory of unbelievable, but sometimes it reached, “Ah, c’mon!” I think this is one of the reasons why long fiction series don’t often work well. The author must either regurgitate plot lines dressed up in other attire or get more and more out there in raising the stakes to keep the conflict and tension up. How far we’ll go with the writer likely depends on how much we like the characters and feel invested in their story.

Romances do not always work the way we wish. Team Spike or Team Angel? I think that predated the perpetual Jacob vs. Edward argument. Maybe you’re even willing to go out on a limb and suggest Team Riley. I know exactly who I think Buffy should end up with, but others have their own ideas. And I doubt anyone was fully satisfied by the end of the series on the romance front.

Interestingly enough, two of my beta readers on my mystery, Grace & Fire, were upset that the romantic portion of my novel didn’t go the way they wanted. I stick by my decision, and more readers than not agreed with me, but I can understand the disappointment of the couple you root for not getting together in that “ain’t it all great” happily ever after. I’m more willing than most to deal with such a proposition — given that among my favorite novels are such depressers as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary — but it still irks me a little. Why can’t it all work out the way we envisioned in our pretty little heads? Maybe like life, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

David Boreanaz is my “type.” That has nothing to do with fiction. It’s just another take-away. Actually, the actor who played Angel, the vampire with a soul, reminds me a bit of my husband:  Tall, dark-headed, broad-shouldered, hard to read, and not a big talker. My hubby does need fangs and a long black leather coat to complete the look. I understand that I can keep gazing at David Boreanz now that he’s in the Bones series. I’ll have to check that one out.

So are you a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan? Why did you like the series? Who was your favorite character? What are some of your favorite TV series and what were your take-aways?

26 thoughts on “What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Taught Me

  1. I watched about half the series, and then lost steam. Boreanz was a favorite of mine too.
    Loved the tension between Buffy and her bad boy loves.
    About the time I stopped watching was when my kids showed up.
    Ah, the days of Fraggle Rock.

    Fun post.

    1. “Bad boy loves” — well put, Sandy. And I LOVE Fraggle Rock! My best friend and I used to watch it in college. Fun show. My takeaway from that one was how cool puppetry is, no matter how old you are! 😉

  2. Oh, David Boreanaz. You MUST watch Bones. He’s so good on there, and his character is fantastic. Love that you stuck by your love interest in the novel! Readers won’t always agree with our decisions, but I truly believe you have to write the book you want to.

    And I loved this post, because while I never watched Buffy, I do agree that most shows, movies, and books are about the characters. That’s who we relate to, who we invest in, not the setting or genre. Great job!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! “I truly believe you have to write the book you want to.” Love that. And yes, I do plan to watch Bones one of these days. I think it’s on Netflix too.

  3. I loved reading your takeaways from the series. I missed Buffy while it was on the air because it ran in the days before DVR. I missed about a decade of TV before DVR came out and got me interested again. I have a hard time having my hiney on the couch at X time on Y day.

    I have watched a few episodes Buffy: Season 1 online. The silliness turned me off; however, I am perfectly willing to entertain the possibility of giving it another day in court. I mean, so many people like it. It’s very possible that if I kept watching the show would become less episodic and appeal to me more.

    Your points about genre being the background are great. What people really like is the soap opera of the character’s lives. Creating that in a way that is not cheesy or cliché is a tall order.

    1. You definitely have to buy into a pretty campy concept with Buffy. But I think the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, did a good job of mixing character drama with an underlying recognition of how far-fetched it all is. Some of my favorite episodes are those that don’t take the series too seriously (the musical one, for instance).

      As you can see, I can’t plant my backside in front of a tv at the time any show airs either. If it weren’t for Netflix and the internet, I’d see nothing.

      Thanks, Catie!

  4. I am so glad that you watched Buffy, Julie! I agree with you that our favorite characters aren’t always the protagonist. Nothing against Buffy, but I LOVED her supporting cast. The show wouldn’t have been the same if it was just Buffy battling the vamps and demons – Cordy, Willow, Xander, Spike, and Angel made the show!

  5. I never got into Buffy, but maybe I will now. On Netflix? I’m looking for something else to be sucked into.

    I love the lessons you took away here! Especially about how genre is just a backdrop for the characters. Stories are about the characters. Very nice!

  6. fun post! i got into buffy when i was in college (around 2002). definitely one of my all-time favorites.

    the metaphors joss whedon dropped were amazing, and they always related to real life (high school is hell, and a girl has to be a super hero to survive it). did you know he was a women’s studies minor in college?

    1. I agree. The comparisons were quite clever, Gina. I didn’t know about the women’s studies major. Another tidbit: I was surprised to find out after watching all of the series that Alexis Denisof (Wesley Wyndham-Price) and Alyson Hanigan (Willow) married.

  7. Love this post! Buffy is one of my long time favorites, One of my favorite aspects of it is the dichotomies and uncharacteristic character development – they might be good guys and bad guys, but no one is ever ALL good or bad. Even sweet Willow goes all skin-flaying nuts now and then – for me, these uncharacteristic elements make the characters all the more real – we area all multidimensional.(Spike *sigh*)

  8. Great post. I watched Buffy as it aired, because I was pregnant and then had a brand new, nursing baby. So I was sitting a lot. Buffy saved me. I was Team Angel, but can’t say I hated Riley. In the end, I wanted her with Spike. He made the biggest turn around. There was something dirty, but real about their relationship.

    You are so right… it’s about characters. Vampires equal any other kind of bad/misunderstood guy. Life’s all about decisions and choosing paths, and Buffy was full of that. (Angel’s spin-off series was never the same. Not just because Buffy wasn’t there, but the characters were lacking.)

    Add the supernatural to teenagerdom and you’ve got so much potential! 😉

    1. Yeah, another TeamAngel person! I understood the thing with Spike, but I still wanted Angel and Buffy to ride off in the sunset together.

      I love this line from you, Tia: “Add the supernatural to teenagerdom and you’ve got so much potential!” Amen.

  9. I LOVED Buffy! I didn’t watch it during it’s first air run either, but that was almost better because I could enjoy the seasons back to back 🙂 Excellent post – I loved how you related the lessons you learned from TV to reading and writing! It was very unique. I 100% agree on your point about supporting characters. Often, both in fiction and TV shows, I am just as, if not more, more invested in the supporting characters (my favourite Scoobie was Willow) than I am the MC!

    Look for this post to be featured as one of my favourite bookish discussions and posts in my feature “Required Reads” next week! I’m also thinking of starting a BTVS feature to showcase my love for the series. Plus, I have a TON of the Buffy/Angel books I should probably read instead of letting them just sit pretty on my bookshelf. Some of them are pretty good – have you ventured into the books yet?

    1. I often like watching shows after their done so I don’t have to wait in between episodes! I’m impatient. 🙂 Thanks, Rachelia. I haven’t read any of the books. I have seen them in the library, though. I liked Willow as well. I’m enjoying her now as Lily in How I Met Your Mother. In fact, I watched HIMYM before I started Buffy, so when the show came on, I was surprised to see Lily as Willow. Supporting characters can make or break a show or fiction, in my opinion. Appreciate your coming by!

  10. Well Written
    I had a couple of friends back in 2003 who loved Buffy but I had never watched it. It would have been around 2004 – I was 15 at the time – I was just flicking through tv channels and saw Buffy was on so I started watching it – it was an episode in season 4 (something blue) and i was just like…what the.. I loved the combination of humour and supernatural and all around wittiness of the show. So I pretty much ordered the series from there and fell in love, and so came Angel, and then Firefly of course. What I’m trying to say in my rant is that people’s love for these shows, for Joss’ shows is so understandable; they just take you to another world, let you escape and just be with the plot and these characters – he had a way of connecting with people through characters that you could relate with, and scenarios/plots you could surprisingly (as it’s a supernatural aspect) relate to as well. I never really focused on the supernatural aspect, although I did find it entertaining..What I most loved was the characters and their dialogue.

    It was just insanely witty and I find myself randomly quoting things from the show (both Buffy and Angel). I agree, Anya was a fantastic character. I also loved Andrew. Though I have to say my all time favourite is Xander. You can’t beat Xander.

    And I highly recommend watching Bones – another terrific show that is based a lot on the characters. (It’s also fun/funny to recognise a lot of guest stars that had little roles on Buffy/Angel…or is that just me? :P)

    1. You are so right about characters and dialogue, Kate. That is so important in fiction.

      And I love Xander too. No supernatural ability, just a great, loyal guy. And he was no slacker in the looks department himself. (I was mad when he left Anya, though.)

      Getting to Bones soon. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. I love BTVS. And: Team Spike! But other than that, what I’ve always loved about the series is the amazing writing, the resonant themes, and the soulful acting. It sounds weird to say that about a show that showcased vampire-killing and teen angst, but it did so from the heart and deeply.

    I will always be Joss Whedon’s biggest fan.

    (Love this post!)

    1. Well put! I think you’re right. Joss Whedon managed to take a series about vampires (which we don’t experience) and make it about people, emotions, decisions, and relationships (which we do experience). The vamp-fighting and humor kept it fun, but the storylines about the characters kept it real. Thanks!

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