This summer, I’m taking time to do something I should have done a long time ago: watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I know, I know, I’m way behind on this one. The first season came out in 1997, when I was not cool enough to watch amazing television, apparently.
So I’m making up for lost time, thanks to the wonders of Netflix and the ability to binge-watch shows.
Years ago–probably when everyone else was busy watching good TV–I remember hearing Joss Whedon say his vampire-slaying, demon-fighting, world-saving show was actually about normal high school drama. I remember smirking and being all “pssh, whatevs. The only vampires in my high school are teachers who suck out our lives with too much homework.”
Well, Mr. Whedon, I finally get it, and I apologize for my teenaged smart-aleck sass. This show really IS about high school being hell. For every vampire-related monster-of-the-week catastrophe, Whedon folded in some kind of completely normal high school problem.
So, to distract me from the crop tops I’m developing an unnatural desire for thanks to this show, I’ve made a list. For your viewing pleasure, this is all the episodes of the first season; the monster story and it’s real-world allegory.
- “Welcome to the Hellmouth”– discovering a den of vampires/being the new girl at school
- “The Harvest”- group of vampires have some kind of prophecy/making friends
- “Witch”– body-snatching voodoo-working witch/dealing with parental expectations and fitting in
- “Teacher’s Pet”– teacher eaten by a mantis monster/struggling with schoolwork
- “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”– pack of vampires are after you/struggling to balance dating vs. friendships
- “The Pack”-demonic hyenas eat the principal/changing friend groups and dealing with bullying
- “Angel”-falling for a vampire who claims he no longer feeds/developing a crush on and trusting a “bad boy”
- “I, Robot…You, Jane”– internet demon bent on taking over the world/online dating and the obsessive use of computers (guilty!)
- “The Puppet Show”– being bullied by your ventriloquist dummy/stage fright and mandatory school participation activities
- “Nightmares”– nightmares become literally real/test anxiety and fear of abandonment because of parents’ divorce
- “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”– invisible girl on a rampage/cliques and feeling like an outsider
- “Prophecy Girl”– fear of a deadly prophecy/not having a date to the big dance
Not only is watching this show a lot of fun, it’s been helpful to remember these kinds of teen pressures as I start a YA story. I’m not much older than the YA audience, but those years might as well be decades in terms of how my priorities have changed (and hormones settled down!).
It’s also great to see a master creator like Joss Whedon develop his work. I’m a familiar Whedon-ite by now, and he was certainly already good in the Buffy days, but this show isn’t as developed from the get-go as some of his work. It’s nice to know that even the pros can learn and grow.
It’s also a helpful reminder that no great story is just about the surface level. If Buffy were really about slaying vampires–and only that–I wouldn’t be looking forward to season two. But there’s a lot of emotional depth beneath each monster fight because of this “high school as hell” subtext. Sure, she may be in a fistfight with an invisible girl, but really she’s dealing with feelings of loneliness and isolation. And I’m not much of a fighter, but I can relate to feeling invisible.
I look forward to the rest of the show!