Happy 20th Birthday, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A bit more than twenty years ago, Joss Whedon had an idea. He was thinking about horror movies, and the cliche scene where a young girl goes into the forest to do drugs and have sex, and it subsequently eaten by a monster. Instead, Whedon thought it might be really interesting to play out that scene, but have the girl kick the monster’s ass. That idea would come to define the career of the young screenwriter, and (after the campy movie) create one of the coolest TV shows to ever exist: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Even the name sounds silly. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” The show about Buffy Summers, high school student and also the Chosen One, who is destined to destroy the vampires and protect the world. It should be the kind of goofy comedy that lasts for a season and then is fondly remembered in poorly attended panels at comic book conventions. Instead, Whedon and his writing team created a living, breathing world full of interesting, flawed characters that was still desperately funny, but had the heart and the darkness to carry it through.

In the twenty years since it aired, Buffy has had an incredible impact on modern media. A hundred sassy, supernatural and female led clones popped up on TV afterwards, including some gems like Dark Angel and occasionally Charmed. But none of them came close to the emotional impact of characters like Willow, Xander, Angel and Spike. Over the course of seven seasons of the show, we saw heroes fall, villains get redeemed, and love stories come and go in a mature, adult way that was so unusual for shows of that time. Buffy was lighthearted, sure, but without the kind of storytelling it pioneered we may never have gotten shows like Game of Thrones.

But maybe more important than all of that was the effect Buffy had on female heroes in pop culture. It had been at least twenty years since Wonder Woman had graced our screens, and while Xena had been kicking ass for two years, Buffy Summer grabbed hold of pop culture and didn’t let go. I mentioned earlier the amount of shows that suddenly came to our screens with female leads that kicked ass and didn’t wait for the men in their lives to save them. That’s all due to the huge popularity of Buffy, which made marketing executives suddenly look around and say, “Oh, people like action shows with female leads? We never would have guessed!”

As we look back on the last twenty years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has left an indelible mark on pop culture, and we owe the show a debt of gratitude. It’s still one of our favorites – go back and grab a DVD set, the outfits are dated but the show holds up in almost every way. (Except for most of Season 6. Just avoid that.)

So thank you, to the cast and crew and everyone who put their hearts onto the screen and came up with such a wonderful show. I can’t believe it’s been twenty years.

My favorite Buffy episode has to still be Season 3’s The Zeppo, where the entire episode focuses on poor, poor Xander’s B-plot. What’s your favorite Buffy memory? Let us know in the comments.

Patrick Lowry

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