The Sunnydale Side of the Street
I’m Buffy. The vampire slayer. And you are?
WHEREAS this year marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and
WHEREAS you have already watched all 144 of the episodes that comprise the seven seasons of this landmark show, and
WHEREAS you have gone back and rewatched all 144 episodes again, and –
Wait a second.
You haven’t watched the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
It’s just, you’ve had twenty years. I’m just sayin’.
Are you under the mistaken impression that you don’t need to watch all seven seasons of Buffy? I mean, yes, it’s a twenty-year-old show that struggled to stay on the air and got booted off its own network after season five — but it’s also a gamechanger that permanently altered the sensibility of most of biggest properties on the pop-cultural landscape. You’re soaking in it.
Don’t believe me? Compare the hokey and stilted jokes in Star Wars: Episode IV (1977) to the knowing, character-centered sense of humor that pervades the post-Buffy Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The deflationary self-awareness of Guardians of the Galaxy; the hip character dynamics of mainstream prime-time shows like Bones. It’s Buffy’s world; you’re just reading a blog in it.
But okay, this is cool. We can still work with this. Go ahead and go watch the show first. Watch all seven seasons. Go on — I’ll wait. This blog isn’t going anywhere.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Welcome back. 7,200 minutes really zooms by when you’re having fun. Which was your favorite episode? “The Zeppo?” No way, me too.
I like the quiet.
Now, where were we?
Oh yeah. Ahem: And
WHEREAS finishing all the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer leaves one with a restless emptiness inside, and all other pop culture feels insufficient somehow,
NOW THEREFORE this blog entry proposes to direct you to other shows, movies, books and music that might help fill that Sunnydale-shaped crater in your heart.
Your first step might be to make sure you’ve explored some of the other television series created by Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy.
Firefly, a space western inspired by Whedon’s reading of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Killer Angels, builds on and perfects the Buffy template: a team of squabbling do-gooders navigating morally murky adventures. And it includes one whole episode driven by the ideas in Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist novel Nausea. (Gilligan’s Island never did anything like that.)
The noble failure Dollhouse is a speculative feminist action-drama that explores issues of identity, personal agency and women’s objectification, and at first it’s every bit as fun as that sounds, but it gets more confident and expansive as it goes.
Another, more delightful creation for smaller screens is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a rollickingly funny but surprisingly thoughtful combination of songs, superheroes, and Neil Patrick Harris that Whedon threw together with pals during a TV writers’ strike.
As you may have heard, Whedon also makes big-screen movies. Among his projects as a writer or director is a Shakespeare adaptation filmed with friends at his house over a couple of weeks; a fun, self-aware horror flick; and a modest little art-house indie flick called The Avengers.
Whedon has also lent his storytelling talents to comic books, such as Buffy seasons 8, 9, and 10, which continue the adventures of the self-described Scooby gang in two dimensions, with wilder effects (Dawn becomes a giant!) and occasionally shaky artists’ renditions of the actors’ likenesses, which sometimes makes reading them an exciting adventure in ambiguity (“Well, I guess maybe that’s supposed to be Andrew?”).
Joss Whedon has been most obliging about continuing to create stories, in other words, the better to stave off Buffy fans’ pangs of withdrawal. But at a certain point he has to go home to his family. Nap. Take out the trash. Stuff like that. Which means you have to move on. Is there other stuff in the world — TV shows, movies, books, music — that will recreate that Buffy the Vampire Slayer feeling?
The answer is: kinda.
Probably the worthiest successor to Joss Whedon’s brand of world-building is the graphic novel author Brian K. Vaughan, with his implication-heavy premises, robust sense of feminism, sly sense of humor, high-stakes storytelling and the capacity to both embrace and interrogate the trappings of genre at the same time.
A lot of readers first took notice of Vaughan with his lively comics series Y: The Last Man, which imagines an earth where all the males have died except for one. Even more surehanded are his current series: Paper Girls, which is a little like Stranger Things only with tough-talking teenage girls; and Saga, a dizzyingly inventive interplanetary drama that spirals out from the star-crossed love of an embattled mixed-alien marriage.
But another post-Whedon artist worth a look is Rob Thomas. (No, not that Rob Thomas!) His TV shows Veronica Mars and iZombie are built around smart and assertive young women just doing the kinds of things modern young women do: solvin’ murders, stoppin’ apocalypses.
And there are other TV shows that have taken Buffy’s formula of throwing grounded, recognizable characters into an unreal situation and watching them clash and bond over the ensuing crises. The send-in-the-clones drama Orphan Black, boasting an unexpected sense of humor and anchored by Tatiana Maslany’s virtuosic performance as about a dozen different people, is a standout.
Another good show — and this might seem like a stretch — is the musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. One of the reliable pleasures of a Whedon joint is the way it indulges in the satisfactions of a genre (horror, action, superhero) even as its characters point out and subvert the conventions of that genre.
And that’s pretty much the way every toe-tapping, hilarious song written by Rachel Bloom, this show’s star and creator, works. You groove to the jam of “Sexy Getting Ready Song” even as the lyrics identify what’s weird about a jam like “Sexy Getting Ready Song.” Check out the soundtrack volumes one and two.
If you don’t have time to binge a whole series, try the movie Snowpiercer. It pits a team of scrappy rebels against an oppressive establishment in an imaginative futuristic world that’s meticulously conceived and often surprising. Best of all, it boasts the inimitable Tilda Swinton as a villain who would’ve made a formidable Big Bad in a lost season of Buffy.
But sometimes you need to step away from the screens, and try to find a book that’s an appropriate post-Buffy palate-cleanser. May I recommend Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, a novel about a high school full of superhero teens but which focuses on the un-superpowered kids on the margins. It’s a book about a bunch of Xanders.
Or The Girl With All the Gifts. Whedon’s work often focuses on characters isolated by their exceptionalism — the one slayer in all the world; the only vampire with a soul. M.R. Carey’s novel revolves around a zombie girl who shows unprecedented signs of humanity. It’s grimmer and more straight-faced than much of Whedon’s work but it shares his interest in how human virtue and frailty emerge in the face of supernatural adversity.
Or The Magicians, Lev Grossman’s speculative novel about what the world might look like if there really were a Hogwarts-ish magic school but its graduates were just as petty and venal as the rest of us. Grossman has as much fun tweaking Narnia as Buffy does playing with horror movie tropes.
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshiped by mountain lions.
Not every gift is a blessing. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh. Melanie is a very special girl.
As a senior in high school Quentin Coldwater became preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. After graduating from college and being admitted into a highly exclusive, secret society of magic in upstate New York, he makes a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined for his childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.
And if you just want to relax with some music — and you’ve already memorized all the lyrics to “Once More With Feeling,” the season-six musical Buffy episode — there are some bands out there with a slayer-friendly vibe. But not — ironically enough — Slayer.
The Flaming Lips’ album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots loosely tells a story about a girl fighting monsters, so the narrative parallels to Buffy are obvious. But the candy-coated exuberance of its melodies recalls the series at its most buoyant, while songs like “Do You Realize” are almost as heartbreaking as tearjerking episodes like “Becoming (Part 2)” and “The Body.”
But maybe you’d rather rock to something that more closely echoes the show’s female-empowerment angle, in which case you can never go wrong with Garbage’s Absolute Garbage — who, as an appropriate bonus, are also so very 1990s — or The Runaways’ Mercury Albums Anthology whose music always sounds like they’re scoring a fight scene in a cemetery.
That should get you started on an acceptable post-Buffy cultural diet. And if the apocalypse comes, beep me.
Written by Toledo Lucas County Public Library blogger and Children’s Librarian Eric P.