Buffy Redux: Watching BTVS with my Daughter

I have a confession – I made my daughter cry. Not on purpose – well, not exactly – but with an admitted amount of foreknowledge. You see, I let her watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer from start to finish.

Not in one sitting, but almost. We started in December and finished it only a few days ago. I knew the characters she’d grown attached to, knew their traumatic ends, and yet I did nothing to warn her.

The Scooby Gang at the end, copyright WB Television Network
The Scooby Gang at the end, copyright WB Television Network

She sobbed.

We bonded.

And in the end, I realized just how important the Scoobies still are. Seeing the show through my tweenager’s eyes helped to open mine. I’m not saying I didn’t love Buffy the first time around, but I don’t think I truly appreciated its power. Only now, with maturity and years of watching our cultural progress, can I see Buffy’s role in my life, parenting style, and our collective society.

  • Girly girls can kick ass too!

Before Buffy, girls didn’t have a lot of options when it came to action-figure role models. Sure, comics gave us Wonder Woman, Super Girl, and She-Hulk, but unless we wanted to fight in high-heeled boots and lingerie, we were out of luck. And that’s assuming we even got to join in the fight!

More often, our choices were Daphne or Velma – a different type of Scooby gang. We could be Daphne, the girly girl who ran away or let the boys save her, or Velma, the geeky girl who never got lucky.

Buffy_Season_1-211x300.jpgBuffy changed all that. We could be tough, and hot. We could have long hair, lip gloss and carry a weapon. Buffy gave us a new kind of superhero. It seems only fitting that the revamped version of Daphne as a live action butt-kicker would be played by Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle-Geller. My daughter has never known a world without tough-as-nails girly girls – and the best part? She is one!

  • Genre shows reimagined

Before Buffy, there was serious drama, comedy, and those pesky genre shows. No one expected much from Dark Shadows or the original Battlestar Galactica. But then Buffy drove a wooden stake through the barriers.

Joss Whedon, Buffy creator and geek god, created a show that was all genre – vampires, werewolves, and witches, oh my – but equal parts drama and comedy. At its heart, the saga of the slayer is a truly human story of growth and change. Couples form. Romances die. People change, grow and mature. They battle inner demons as well as the more concrete Hell Mouth variety. And like real life, they laugh and cry through it all.

At times, Buffy and company had me and my daughter in stitches. At other times, we were in tears or scared to look around the corner. To my daughter, this seems commonplace. Think of the Doctor Who or Battlestar Gallacta reboots. No longer is entertainment so easily categorized.

Joss Whedon in Showrunners © Black Sheep Productions
Joss Whedon in Showrunners © Black Sheep Productions

Is that all due to Buffy? Likely not. But was she there to help kick apart the distinctions? Absolutely.

  • For us they were firsts…

Do you remember the fuss about Willow and Tara? Ah, those were the days! The beginning of their relationship could only be hinted as the viewing public wasn’t ready to see a happy lesbian couple in prime time. When I told my daughter how groundbreaking their relationship was at the time, she barely believed me. We live in a much different world. Certainly Willow and Tara were not alone in pushing the boundaries of television depictions of LGBT couples, that tidal wave was growing across the country. But they were there at the very front.

Taking vast societal changes out of the equation, Buffy and the Scoobies pushed through the staid confines of what we consider “normal” television artistry. As the series grew, Whedon was able to give us unusual stories that challenged the characters, as well as the audience. Who could forget the traumatizing episode “Hush” with The Gentlemen – perhaps the most terrifying of all monsters? Almost no words were spoken throughout the entire show.

The Gentlemen are pleased to meet you. Photo via 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions
The Gentlemen are pleased to meet you.
Photo via 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions

On the opposite end of that spectrum, we got the equally upsetting episode, “The Body,” where the absence of background music brought the death of Mrs. Summers into clear relief. (Decade old spoiler alert!)

And can we take a moment to discuss musical episodes? While these shows may still be “events” in the world of broadcasting, when Buffy and Co. danced their way through the streets of Sunnydale, no one knew what was happening.

I could go on.

And on.

And on.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Photo via 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions
Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Photo via 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions

When my daughter and I sat down to discuss the show, we had trouble narrowing the list down at all. We could talk about Whedon’s gift for dialogue – about how Buffy-speak is now just common parlance. We could talk about the long-term story arcs with characters from the very first season (Amy, anyone?) reappearing with full storylines in the last seasons. Before Buffy, few shows had such continuity. Even more rare, perhaps unheard of, was a show that built and maintained a complete world. The people in the Buffy-verse didn’t disappear. They kept living their lives. At times, we got to cross their paths, check back in and see how things were going.

Photo via 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions
James Marsters as Spike. Photo via 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions

I could even posit that without Buffy, we’d have never had Twilight.

Okay, so this might not be the biggest recommendation, but it still speaks to the cultural significance.

Vampires as boyfriend material? While many girls might scream about Team Edward, I’m on Team Spike. And now — thanks to some serious binge-watching – so is my daughter.

E. Lillith McDermott writes dark fiction for young adults and adults who still believe they are young. She collects apothecary bottles, spellbooks and the tears of her enemies.