The Most Bingeable Nostalgic Show of The Week: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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There are few shows that consume your life like Buffy the Vampire Slayer can. It’s the perfect binge, and has a feminist hero at its center. The show, which aired from 1997 – 2003 on The WB (remember that?), was the kind of sprawling, fascinating show that rarely gets made today. The production values were never very high, but creator Joss Whedon never let that limit his ambition. It had its share of toxic relationships, especially in later seasons, and it even produced a successful spin-off that was popular in its own right.

The show focused on Buffy Summers, a normal high school girl who happens to be the Slayer, “the chosen one” to defeat vampires and other nefarious beasts; a new one is picked after the one who came before her died — usually prematurely. It’s a perfect mashup of horror and comedy, and a wonderful show about growing up that’s aged fairly well considering the era in which it was born.

The discussion around Buffy has often centered on the way it used larger-than-life stories as metaphors for the everyday experiences Buffy and her friends must navigate growing up: a bad boyfriend becomes a literal super-villain after he first has sex with our sacred slayer, a bout with grief becomes an earth-shattering event, and a group of angry, lonely young men becomes menacing nemeses.

Buffy’s story is moving. As performed by Sarah Michelle Gellar, she’s a hard-edged, angry girl who’s confident in her powers even as she’s frustrated by them. The toll of saving the world is never abstract because SMG plays Buffy as a burdened hero who just wants to live a normal life.

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Sarah is also surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. Buffy’s friends and love interests each make an impression and get a chance to grow over the course of the series. Willow, Buffy’s closest friend, evolves from a shy, sweet girl into a confident, powerful woman whose abilities may outstrip those of the protagonist she works to support. And she’s played by How I Met Your Mother‘s Alyson Hannigan, no less!

Like all great television, Buffy works not because its plots are thrilling (they often are) or because its dialogue is winning (it really is), but because it stays firmly rooted in character.

That enhances the show’s drama, but it also makes it easier to puncture the show’s darkness with frequent jokes. Buffy is often a serious drama, but it’s just as often an uproarious comedy. It’s best episodes blend humor and pathos, and provide a startling reminder that even when the world is ending, some people will naturally react by cracking a joke.

Joss Whedon has become well-known for his banter, and Buffy provided him with an early place to exercise that muscle.

Although it was created by a man, Buffy also gets quite a bit of credit for the way it created a lasting, iconic feminist hero. As a character, Buffy is strong and smart, but she’s also deeply feminine. The series never presents these two things as a contradiction, and usually gives her the room to be complex and human. She’s iconic for a reason.

What to Start With

Like most shows, the best episode to start with is probably the pilot. The first season isn’t as pristine as everything that comes after it, though, so if you’re looking to expedite your binge, you may want to jump right into the show’s second season.

It’s during the second season when Buffy proves to be truly great television. It introduces more compelling, down-to-earth villains and complicates Buffy’s relationship with them. You can glean the necessary details about the first season from Wikipedia, and dive right in just as the show begins to fire on all cylinders.

What to Skip

The lowest point in the series likely comes season four when Buffy makes the transition from high school to college. The series doesn’t completely grind to a halt, but there are installments here that don’t exactly merit close examination. If you choose to skip the entire season and simply look up what happens, no one will blame you. If you go that route, though, be sure to check out “Hush” and “Restless,” the season’s two standout episodes. Also, you’ll need to know who Riley is for season five, so Google it at that point.

Series High-Points

Many avid Buffy fans will tell you that the two-part season two finale, “Becoming,” is the show’s highest high, and with good reason. Season twp is one of the best from Buffy‘s run, and its culmination was the first time that the show revealed itself to us completely. It’s beautiful and heart-wrenching, funny and and exciting, and all-around excellent. Other highlights include season four’s “Hush,” which takes advantage of a gimmicky premise to marvelous effect.

The other notable episode comes in the series’ controversial sixth season with “Tabula Rasa” and “Once More With Feeling.” The latter is another high-concept episode that ultimately proves to be well worth your time. The music (yes, it’s a musical episode) is above average (for musical episodes of TV shows, that is), and it adds actual depth and context to how each of the characters is feeling. It combines a silly premise with real emotion, which is what made Buffy great TV in the first place.

Where to Watch It:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is available to stream in full on Hulu.

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