20 years ago this summer, the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit theaters. Starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy and erstwhile heartthrob Luke Perry, the movie remains nostalgic cheesy fun, even though it never set the world (or movie theaters) on fire with its creative brilliance. It did, however, inspire one of the most critically acclaimed and influential TV shows of all time, which is celebrating its 15-year anniversary. In honor of Buffy Summers and her ragtag posse of Sunnydaleians, we take a look at some of the marks Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer has made on our pop culture landscape.
It redefined the genre mash-up
At a time when Ally McBeal and Friends ruled the airwaves, Buffy came out of nowhere on a network (The WB) that was known for frilly pink shows and gave us a genre-defying surprise. Buffy had elements of fantasy and horror, with magic and portals and vampires and kitten-eating demons (amongst other things). It was always comedic—often hilarious—from Xander’s quips to Anya’s wry observations, to the subtle differences between ‘vengeance’ and ‘justice’ demons.
The show was also a full-fledged drama, however, which can be seen in one of the series’ best episodes, “The Body.” Things never got more real than when Buffy came home to find her mother dead of the most human of causes: a brain aneurism. From episode to episode, Buffy glided in and out of genres with ease, paving the way for shows like LOST and Battlestar Galactica to do the same later.
It’s use of Slanguagee
The dialogue and over-all language used in Buffy influenced the way subsequent shows and their characters communicated. The smart, rapid-fire, pop culture fueled lines Buffy and Co. threw around were later heard again on shows like Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. Some even argue that the show has influenced our cultural lexicon. Seriously, there’s a book about it. Slayer Slang, A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon, by Michael Adams, notes that Buffy introduced several new terms and phrases (the show used Keysar Soze as a verb, for example, or the way characters often made up words, like when Xander called a guilt trip a ‘Guiltapalooza,’ are examples Adams cites). He also notes that the gang made language their own, while also using many familiar phrases, thus creating a new way of speaking.
It has seeped into academia
It’s called “Buffy studies,” and it has its own Wikipedia page. What is it? It’s the collection of scholarly writings on Buffy—and there have been A LOT of serious academic papers written about everything from the elements of feminism to the potent allegory and philosophical possibilities found in the show. Colleges from DePaul to Marquette University have had professors teach courses about the show, or have used it as a teaching tool.
The way it played with and utilized form
Joss Whedon wasn’t the first to think of the self-contained season, but he certainly made it popular by demonstrating how effective it can be to have a different theme each year and begin anew with a whole new set off villains and problems the following season. He also did a musical episode before Glee made it popular to do so, and there’s the revolutionary episode “Hush,” in which spooky floating dudes steal everyone’s voices, and there is zero dialogue for the first 27 minutes. Oh, and Whedon also did crazy things like have random major characters just show up outta nowhere (that would be Buffy’s lil’ sis Dawn, the most divisive TV character since Wesley Crusher). Regardless, most fans and critics agree that Buffy redefined what could be done in an hour long drama.
We see it all the time in other shows
When it aired, Buffy’s romances with vampires Angel and Spike were nothing revolutionary, but they certainly proved that inter-species relationships can be entertaining and moving, (hello, True Blood, The Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries, etc.), and you cannot sit down and watch an episode of Supernatural without thinking of Buffy. Echoes of Buffy were also heard throughout LOST, particularly in the final season. Take the scene when Jacob uses a bottle of wine as a metaphor for the island and how he must keep the evil of the island corked—that was kinda-sorta-exactly how Giles described Hellmouth, where it was Buffy who had to keep chaos from spilling out. Some have even said that latter-day Dr. Who episodes borrowed from Buffy tonally and thematically, although that’s a different debate for a different day.
What cannot be debated is the show’s lasting impressions on its fans and pop culture in general. Those who wrote for Buffy went on to write for shows including LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, Rome, and Dexter, among others, and even though it has been off the air for nine years, it remains one of the most beloved franchises of all-time.
What do you think is Buffy's biggest influence on today's TV?