Filling in the Gaps in my Education: Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the First Time

Filling in the Gaps in my Education: Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the First Time

Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?

In nerd-world, my credibility is pretty good. Star Wars was the first movie I’d ever seen in theaters, I can name all the Super-Friends, read comics, I’ve sold a bunch of science fiction and fantasy stories, and I blog here.

However, my nerdish education and vocabulary has, until now, had a few embarrassing gaps.

Hi. My name is Derek and I have a problem. I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nor Firefly.

I have other nerd-world-related problems, like thinking Dr. Who is a bit dumb, never having cottoned to Lost, and not being that particularly drawn to zombies in any of their incarnations.

But, at least with Buffy, there’s no reason I can’t fix this. So, I’ve set out to correct this deficiency.

In the last 3 weeks, I’ve watched two and a half seasons. I have two sets of reactions: the frivolous ones and my reactions as a writer.

Derek’s Frivolous Reactions to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  1. Wow. At least one teacher or student dies every episode.
  2. Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-Graduation-Day-part-1-Principal-Snyder-8
    All that matters to me is latinum.

    Hey look! It’s Quark, from Deep Space Nine! And he acts like he’s sullenly running a bar.

  3. Sunnydale School is remarkably poorly illuminated. So are the streets of Sunnydale and Buffy’s house. Is this an aesthetic choice or a season one budget problem?
  4. Hey look! It’s Jack Tripper from Three’s Company. And he’s a robot. This explains a lot about Three’s Company. But where’s Chrissy?
  5. What’s with this Master guy? Didn’t Dr. Who fight the Master? I think the original X-Men did too, when they fought Factor Three?
  6. Buffy’s pants: They’re really short. Like Star Trek: The Original Series short. Was that a 90s style I didn’t know about (entirely possible) or a ST:TOS Easter Egg?
  7. Wow. Cordelia is not nice. Really not nice.
  8. Is it me, or does the first season have a Scooby-Doo feel? Wait, in Season Two, Xander refers to them as the Scooby Gang. Nevermind. Scooby!
  9. Wow, a lot of plot problems end with Deux Ex Angelus. Lucky he’s around. And doesn’t need to breathe…
  10. Oh, that makes sense. I thought they said Aztec mummy princess…. My bad.
  11. Is the cave the Master lives in the same cave from every episode of DSP and Voyager? Where does Hollywood get these? ACME-Quick-Pour-Cave? Maybe the same place they got the dialogue for this Republic Serial Villain.
  12. Did any of you have frivolous reactions?
I mumble things imprecisely in British.

Derek’s Reactions as a Writer

I’ve heard people rave about BTVS for years, and I wanted to see what Whedon did to be so engaging. I have a few observations that may seem obvious, but they’re good reminders for my own writing.

  1. Exaggeration: Much like the Simpsons exaggerates its character, I found that Cordelia, Xander, Willow and Giles were all exaggerated, at least until season two. This is quick characterization short-hand. Willow is the shy bookish nerd. Cordelia is the monomaniacal narcissist. Xander is bafflingly inept with women (so much that my ten-year-old thinks he’s an idiot). Giles is the stereotype of awkward librarians squared.
  2. Romantic tension: The show runs on romantic tension. Xander for Buffy. Buffy for Angel. Willow for Xander. Cordelia and Xander for and against each other. Giles for Jenny. Angel for Buffy. Willow for the werewolf band guy. In the first season, the romantic tension is the B-Story or even the C-Story, but by the second season, the romantic storylines are occasionally the A-Story.

    I don’t like you. You don’t like me. Let’s go kiss.
  3. Foiled romances: This is not surprising, but it’s interesting to see how much mileage Whedon gets out of dashing people’s hopes. Angel and Buffy almost get together, then she finds out he’s a vampire. Then they almost get together and that blond vampire messes it up. Then they actually plan a date and she sees him with Cordelia, and feels rejected. Same thing with Drusilla. Then. finally, when they really love each other and declare to each other, she accidentally sets his soul free, turning Angel back into the Angelus Arch-Vampire he once was. The others follow similar arcs of misfortune. It’s all very frustrating. Argh! Someone be happy!
  4. What did I miss?

I’m about half-way through season two right now and I’m enjoying myself enough that I’m going to keep watching. Any thoughts or warnings I should keep in mind as I go forward?

Derek Künsken writes science fiction, fantasy and horror in Gatineau, Québec. He tweets from @derekkunsken. If you want to listen to a British guy read Dog’s Paw, it is available for free here from the fine folks at

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Martin Christopher

I’ve always been hesitating to watch this one again. It was great at the time, but I’ve always been suspecting that it probably aged very poorly.

But from what I remember, I do agree. The writing was pretty good in never making the show drag on. There’s always something going on that you want to see getting resolved in another episode or two. By which there is something new that keeps you coming back.

Allen Snyder

BtVS replaced Twin Peaks as my all-time favorite, and remains there despite the surfeit of great television that has developed over the last decade or so. I did re-watch when I got remarried about 8 years ago, catching my wife up with some of my favorites that she’s never seen (e.g., the Alien movies, the Terminator movies—she’d only seen the second, Clueless. I still haven’t gotten around to showing her Ghostbusters, which she’s never seen; I know, I know, how is that even possible?!?), and it held up remarkably well.

Some fans prefer the earlier seasons, but I thought it got better and better as it went on (it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth season that BtVS took over the top spot on my all-time favorite list). Spike becomes one of the greatest characters ever, and even the surfeit of Slayers in the seventh season—which many fans didn’t like—I enjoyed quite a lot. (And how often does one get to use the word “surfeit” twice in one comment?)

And the famed musical episode basically turned me into a musical fan, or at least someone willing to try them out. I distinctly remember dreading the musical episode when it was first previewed the previous week, thinking it would be a “special event” that I’d have to slog through with little actual plot development. But not only were the songs great, it significantly advanced the plot in a natural way (well, natural given the rules of the Buffyverse anyway).

And the fifth season episode The Body is in my opinion the absolute best ~45 minutes of television to ever be produced. The writing itself is great, but really the cinematography throughout is jaw-droppingly perfect.

And don’t forget the spinoff Angel. The first season might be a little episodic, but I enjoyed that at the time, but it becomes a series almost as good as its predecessor, and very likely as good during its final fifth season.

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