Why You Can’t “Just” Reboot a Show Like Buffy
What set it apart, and why that makes everyone unreasonably angry at the idea of Buffy becoming the next James Bond
It’s been only a few weeks since the vague announcement of a Buffy reboot sent the internet into total uproar. Rising like a tsunami, fans of the show were quick to declare that you can’t just “reboot” Buffy.
It was quick. It was efficient. We all knew this was coming. We all dreaded that headline, and we had our ammunition ready.
There are a number of obvious reasons people didn’t want it: Why not just do a new slayer? Doesn’t a black actress deserve her own character?
But some reasons were more difficult to define:
“It’s already perfect.”
“Buffy means so much to me. I grew up with her.”
It’s since been clarified (thank god) that we’re looking at more of a revival than a reboot, and the tsunami that fans summoned has settled down.
Still, I’m left wondering: What is it about Buffy that is so sacred? Why can’t she be rebooted? Why does the very idea of it leave us quaking with anger?
I remember reading a comment on a Reddit thread that went a little something like —
What is everyone so mad about? Buffy is like Superman. They reboot Superman all the time for new generations. They should do it for Buffy, too.
This comment stopped me dead in my tracks, frothing my incoherent disagreement at my computer. But, as much as I disagreed, I couldn’t form a single logical argument to clap back with.
So I took a moment to reconsider. Can we redo Buffy every twenty years?
I tried to picture Buffy as Nancy Drew, a character whose books were revised multiple times to remain current, and portrayed by a variety of actresses over the years.
The idea made me inexplicably ill.
I ran through other recent examples of characters and stories that are so legendary that they could be considered American Mythology, trying to match Buffy with a comparable character. Wonder Woman? No. Batgirl? No. Lara Croft? No. Princess Leia —
I had my comparable character, and yet… And yet.
It’s just a garbage world to live in where Carrie Fisher does not get to take her final curtain call in Star Wars…www.themarysue.com
Whether or not Carrie Fisher would appear in the final episode of the latest Star Wars trilogy has become something of…www.vanityfair.com
A comparable character, even more legendary than Buffy herself, that is every bit as unrebootable. Even the suggestion of an OT reboot is enough to set off a riot, civil war, martial law, the god damned apocalypse.
I had nothing. There had to be a better explanation than, “This means a lot to me” — but I didn’t know what it was.
Last week, I was listening to a Writing Excuses podcast covering the topic of iconic heroes. They talked about characters such as Conan and Nancy Drew, and what makes them different from characters like Aragorn, or Princess Leia (which they define as epic).
The wheels began to turn. Now we have a name for the sort of character Buffy is — epic — but there’s still more to unearth. Epic characters are occasionally rebooted to varying levels of success, Buffy itself being among those examples. Aragorn is being rebooted to a TV show, although the verdict is still out on whether or not anybody actually wants it.
So let’s talk for a minute about what an iconic hero actually is.
Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, Conan, James Bond, Superheroes
- Not necessarily undeveloped characters — in fact, they typically have very well developed backstories and quirks. However, they are rarely changed by ongoing stories and have no significant developments further than they began. They do not have character arcs.
- Iconic heroes are designed so that you can jump in at any point and know exactly what you are going to get.
- The appeal is not in seeing them develop, but in seeing how they react to situations.
- Modern iconic heroes are marked by frequent reboots back to their origins to erase any development they’ve seen in a run: Batman, Spiderman, Wolverine, etc…
- They come in, save the day, then ride off into the sunset. They are myths, things of legend.
“The people who change are the people whose lives they interact with.”
— Howard Tayler
Now, rather than place these ideals over Buffy to see if they fit (because they don’t), compare them to what the show is actually known for and we begin to unravel why a reboot feels, at its core, wrong.
Buffy is a direct deconstruction of the iconic hero.
And that’s what made her so special to begin with.
In a day when shows like Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale dominate, it can be easy to forget that Buffy began at a time when iconic heroes were the standard of television. You could pick up any show in the middle of the season without worrying about what you missed in the twelve episodes that already aired.
As any proper deconstruction begins (see: Neon Genesis Evangelion; Madoka Magica; Cabin in the Woods), Buffy walked in as the very thing she set out to deconstruct. For the first twelve episodes, Buffy was the definition of an iconic hero.
Each episode begins with your iconic hero’s introduction. “Into every generation, a slayer is born…” She steps in, saves the day, claps her hands clean and is ready for the next episode.
They even pulled a classic Death is Cheap trope, by killing her for a commercial break only to quickly retcon for a heroic finale. Ultimately, Buffy closes “Prophecy Girl” in the same way that she began “Welcome to the Hellmouth”: a girl that really doesn’t want this job, but will rise to the occasion regardless.
If the show were cancelled right there, you can bet that we’d be having a very different reboot conversation right now.
Everything changed in the second season, when Angel famously lost his soul after sleeping with Buffy. This was the moment that defined what Buffy would ultimately become known for.
Rather than neatly restoring his soul in time for the next episode, Angel went on to terrorize Buffy for the rest of the season. Her friends are threatened, some killed. She’s outed as a Slayer to her mother. She’s left with no choice but to kill her former lover to save the world, and is so devastated that she runs away from home to start a new life.
Our iconic hero was beaten down and irreversibly changed.
This was a watershed moment in television history, and the show went on to build a reputation for being unexpected and inverting tropes. They later revisited the “Death is Cheap” trope by bringing her back broken and depressed, a character that had been ripped out of heaven to fulfill the selfish needs of her friends. They ended their run by defying the very mythos the show was built on, declaring that any girl in the world can be a slayer.
Over the years, Buffy faced down evil government cyborgs, vain goddesses, and the first evil itself. But perhaps her greatest nemesis was the idea of an iconic hero, the idea that anyone can face these things down and be unaffected by it. For seven years, she told us time and time again that being this hero isn’t easy. It takes its toll on you. Sometimes, you’d rather just stay in the grave your last enemy made for you, than to face another apocalypse.
It wasn’t something we’d seen fully explored on television before, and this is what we remember her for. Buffy effectively drove a stake into the heart of the iconic hero, and paved the way for new sorts of heroes to take over television: Flawed heroes. Main characters that bleed when you cut them, and may show a scar for it. The idea that you can’t watch this week’s episode, because you missed the last. Shows like Game of Thrones. Shows like Battlestar Galactica.
The iconic hero is dust, and television will never be the same again.
It’s little wonder, then, that the idea of rebooting Buffy met such vehement resistance. Even if we can’t explain it, even if it just feels wrong and we don’t know why.
You do not remember the character that killed the iconic hero by turning her into one herself.