There are many TV shows, movie franchises, and comic books which, because of their years-long legacies, might be intimidating for some newcomers to start enjoying. Hopefully, Film Dispenser can help newbies ease into these legends of pop culture by explaining some of the origins, characters, and factions of your soon-to-be new favorite show.
You all know the scenario: It’s nighttime. A lithe, blonde cheerleader walks alone down a dark alley or through a cemetery, when RAWR! – a monster leaps from the shadows and attacks. The girl responds by… well… usually by dying. But sometimes, she will execute a perfect roundhouse kick to the monster’s face and the bloodbath plays out in reverse. This is the simple premise behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The creation of writer (and god-of-geeks) Joss Whedon, this franchise began as a lackluster movie. Whedon dwelled upon what he saw as the film’s failures and wrote a pilot for TV – and the concept finally found its stride. Over a period of seven years, the series amassed a following whose members continue to vocalize their love of the show. And since the show now streams on Netflix, there are bound to be newcomers who want to join the cult of the Slayer – but who might be unsure of the difference between Angel and Spike. We at FilmDispenser Headquarters are here to help with this beginner’s guide to Buffy.
Joss Whedon: Known to the general public as the writer/director of blockbuster film The Avengers, Whedon built his reputation by creating several smart, character-driven genre shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first of these. Tired of male-dominated entertainment (and probably also of the emptiness in the burgeoning 90s phrase “girl-power”), Whedon sought to create an empowering hero for girls. He wrote a screenplay about a vampire-slaying teen girl which ultimately became a feature and, because of Hollywood incompetence, missed the mark – but this experience paved the way for a legend to be born. When he took his idea to then-new TV channel WB in 1997, he was able to maintain creative control, and finally managed to tell the story that he’d always wanted to tell. Combining horror, humor, and teenage angst, Whedon created a show that carries the hallmark of incredibly well-written television.
Buffy Summers: The protagonist of the series. Each generation, one girl is chosen to become the Slayer. Gifted with supernatural strength and speed, the Slayer is tasked with protecting the human race from vampires, demons, and various other forces of darkness. In order to start a new and safer life, Buffy and her mother Joyce move to Sunnydale, California. Everything goes well at first, but things start getting tricky; primarily because Sunnydale is built on a Hellmouth (a gateway between our world and Hell) which attracts supernatural baddies by the gross.
Despite this barrage of monsters and vampires, the series’ actual focus has always been Buffy’s desire to be a normal girl despite abnormal circumstance. Try as she may to do things that most girls her age take for granted (dating, going out for the cheerleader squad, etc.), it’s hard to take a day off when you’re protector of the human race. Luckily she has some back-up…
The Scoobies: Buffy’s friends and allies in her war against evil. The line-up changes frequently throughout the seven-year run of the show; but there are some members who are worth remembering. Rupert Giles is Sunnydale High’s stuffy old librarian, with a secretive and dark past (of which we learn more as the story unfolds). Giles is Buffy’s Watcher, a person appointed by the Watchers Council, and who is in charge of training and counseling Buffy.
Also joining the slayer from the beginning of the show to the end, through thick and thin, are Xander and Willow. Xander is the audience’s stand-in. A mortal surrounded by the supernatural, Xander is known and loved for being an affable geek who musters up the courage to do whatever is necessary when it’s necessary. Willow is Buffy’s best friend from the time they meet (and Willow is a shy teenage girl) until the end of the series (by which time Willow is a powerful witch).
Later joining the show are Dawn (Buffy’s sister through supernatural means) and reformed demon Anya. While they provide the support Buffy needs, their interpersonal relationships are the source of most of the show’s drama.
Big Bad: Every season of the show has one overarching villain known as the Big Bad. These are incredibly powerful villains who challenge Buffy, both physically and mentally. Throughout the series, monsters like the Master, Glory, Spike and Drusilla, and Adam force the Slayer to push herself in order to defeat them. The greatest of the Big Bads that Buffy faces is easily….
Angel: Once the most wicked vampire in the world, Angel was cursed with a soul as punishment for his crimes. Now seeking to redeem himself, Angel moves to Sunnydale and aids Buffy for the first four seasons of the show. Inevitably, the Slayer falls for the tall, dark, and handsome bloodsucker but this leads to his curse being broken (and with that the loss of his soul). Once this happens, Angel takes great joy in destroying Buffy through psychological means. Eventually his soul is returned, and he will leave Sunnydale and have his own adventures (chronicled in the aptly-named show Angel).
Spike: Spike and Buffy easily share the most complex relationship of the show. This punk-rock vampire first appears in season two with his lover Drusilla – and the hankering to add Buffy Summers to the list of Slayers he has killed. Spike quickly becomes her arch-nemesis by threatening her and the Scoobies on a regular basis. Eventually he is captured by the government and implanted with a computer chip which prevents him from harming humans, thus forcing him to take out his bloodlust on other demons. The newly chipped Spike becomes a reluctant ally to Buffy and eventually her lover. By the end of the series, he regains his soul and becomes a trusted confidant to the Slayer.
Where to Begin: This should be easy, the two-parter which began the show, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest”. This establishes Buffy and introduces all of the prominent characters, as well as the first Big Bad. The Origin comics, however, should make for a good read. Joss Whedon says that they are an acceptable substitute for the failed film, and do fit into the Buffy-verse that you will come to know and love.
What Beginners Should Avoid: The film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Though this was the first appearance of the character, the makers of the film neglected Whedon’s vision and did their own thing – making for a mediocre-or-worse film. However, this is no big deal as the events of the movie are barely mentioned in, nor do they have bearing on, the series. Also to avoid: the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 & 9 comics (obviously). As the title suggests, they take place after the show’s end, and will confuse newcomers – much more-so than they confused long-time fans.