Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Enjoy My Stake with a Side of Snark and Unique Characterization

Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Scattered Thoughts After Viewing About 2.5 Seasons

So I have a confession to make. Until about two weeks ago, I had never watched an entire episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whew! It feels better to get that off my chest. I had seen a clip or two in passing but that was it. I heard about the show a lot though. Many of my friends are huge fans and it was mentioned frequently in articles, message boards, and discussions alongside many of my favorite tv obsessions, such as Veronica Mars and Firefly. It was actually getting to the point where I was starting to feel slightly ashamed and somewhat confused as to why and how I had missed this pop-culture bandwagon. So a few weeks ago I had an hour off and deciding tool around on Netflix, that enabler of all my television addictions. Low and behold, Netflix instantly provides access to entire series of Buffy.

Since that fateful day, I’ve watch approximately 2.5 seasons of BTVS. And as predicted, I’m completely addicted. The combination of pulpy fun, quirky and smart dialogue, complex teen characters, and dark humor is irresistible to me. So I naturally felt the urge to discuss my newfound Buffy love. Sadly, no one in my vicinity seems terribly interested in my pop culture catching-up. So I will simply state my thoughts to the broad and anonymous online world instead.

First, quick overview if you too have not seen BTVS. While just over a year ago she was an ordinary 15 year old California girl worried about clothes and boys, Buffy Summers has been transformed into the Slayer-the young woman of her generation destined to become the primary combatant in an ongoing war against the powers of evil, especially the undead. After a rather obvious mishap in her hometown of LA, now 16 year old Buffy and her mother have moved to Sunnydale, CA where they hope to begin a new life free of Buffy's recent 'behavioral issues.' However, it turns out that Sunnydale is ripe for Buffy's arrival; the town is located over a Hellmouth and so experiences an unusually high amount of supernatural activity. Unable to escape her destiny, Buffy takes on her role as Slayer with the aid of her Watcher/high school librarian Giles and her new friends Willow and Xander.

My instinctual reaction to Buffy is similar to my reaction to other awesome inhabitants of that fantastical place known as the Whedonverse: this is how good sci-fi is done. Whedon creates a believable and interesting universe but does not allow the mythos or the world-building process to overpower either the story or the characters. Instead the supernatural elements are used to discuss current, human issues in new, revealing ways. My tv preferences are frequently like my reading preferences: I’m all about the characters. While the supernatural aspects can always draw me into a show, it’s the characters that keep me watching. The fantastically clever and amusing writing doesn’t hurt either.

The title character took a few episodes to grow on me; I was more immediately a fan of ‘the Scooby Gang’ than the Slayer herself. But she has grown on me. I like Buffy and I think that in many ways she, like Veronica Mars, stands out among female characters on television. I enjoy her snarky wit, of course. But more so, I enjoy the combination of vulnerability and pure anger that she illustrates. Like Veronica, Buffy has some distinct flaws and she makes mistakes. She does not always win. She can be incredibly tough yet still break down into an emotional wreck. Also, her gifts and training as a Slayer give Buffy the opportunity to be aggressive and to express her anger more openly than most women are ever permitted or encouraged to do. This ties in with a larger topic I’ve been thinking about for over a year now: the portrayal of angry young women in YA media. I first began thinking about this after reading the amazing Graceling by Kristin Cashore and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart last summer and the thoughts are still brewing in my mind.

But, I think I will let those thoughts brew a little while longer before I share them in detail. After all, I still have SEVERAL more seasons of Buffy to catch up on, in between reading, writing, and that whole having a job business. But watch for more teen tv chatter mixed in with the book reviews and an upcoming booklist over the next few weeks!

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