As we enter yet another week of our Government imposed Quarantine (and, seriously, guys, stay inside please) I find myself wondering what TV show I should begin streaming. I’ve always been reluctant when it comes to TV to begin a new series, knowing that the time commitment is much longer than a film and, often, it can leave you bitterly disappointed. If a film is no good, I’ve only lost, at most, two hours. If a TV show turns out to be crap… well, I was watching Game of Thrones for eight years and look where that got me.
There are, however, a fair few TV shows that I’ve returned to time and time again, happy to watch from beginning to end, no matter how well I know them and how many times I’ve seen them. These tend to be shows I have a fair level of nostalgia for, admittedly, but they are also what I would consider the “great” TV shows. Whether it be Life on Mars or Futurama, these shows all offer up something I think other shows lack.
But there is one show that reigns supreme. It sits high above all other shows, a perfect example of expert storytelling, brilliant character work., fantastic performances, emotional engagement and a damn fine sense of humor. It is well and truly a masterpiece of the medium and, as far as I’m concerned, the single greatest television show to have ever graced our screens.
Frustratingly enough, however, it also seems to be a show not many of the people I know and speak to have never seen. Quite often, when it is brought up in discussion (almost always by me), people have a tendency to turn their noses up at it. As though it were trash. They’re wrong.
And since we’ve all got a shit load of time on our hands now, I think it’s about time they all sat down and gave it a go. Available free to stream for Prime users, all seven seasons of Joss Whedon’s exceptional Buffy the Vampire Slayer are just about the most perfect viewing you could ask for, and by the time you’re done with it, you’ll feel just as part of the Scooby Gang as I do.
“But Alex,” I hear you ask, “isn’t Buffy that cheesy 90s show with bad rubber masks and really rubbish visual effects?”. To you I say, no. No, it is not.
I can understand why some might have this viewpoint. I truly can. But Buffy is genuinely so much more than that. Of course, we all know it's a deconstruction of certain horror tropes, with the traditional victimised "dumb blonde" becoming the kick-ass action heroine. And while that deconstructionist angle continues throughout the series run, Buffy has some more smarts hidden underneath the surface.
A carefully constructed character study of a young woman with the weight of the world thrust upon her shoulders, and the trials and tribulations of those closest to her, it also finds time to somehow be an epic love story, a heartbreaking tragedy, a laugh out loud comedy and, perhaps most brilliantly of all, a metaphor for universal experiences.
From its first season Buffy uses its premise as a jumping off point to explore, with great care, the issues, relationships and hardships of its central characters, and by extension the audience, through the genre of horror. Whether it’s the cliché of High School is Hell made literal by a High School physically situated upon Hell or simply just the struggles of puberty, the show takes these concepts and runs with them.
And it doesn’t stop at High School. As the show progresses it goes on to explore themes and complex as adulthood, loosing ones virginity, suicide, rape, isolation, mental health, sexual orientation, drug abuse, and even, in what is undoubtedly (as far as I’m concerned anyway) the most heartbreaking hour of television ever, grief.
The genius lay within its ability to tackle all of these themes, and so many more, with a genuine sense of sincerity and understanding, while always maintaining a consistency that keeps the audience engaged throughout. And, unlike so many other television shows, Buffy never really looses its edge. Instead our story progresses and, as we watch the characters grow and evolve and change, the mythology builds. It seem now, looking back on it, almost impossible to me that certain events toward the end of season six were not planned in advance given how perfectly certain events in season two foreshadow them, but then… Buffy’s writing is just THAT damn good.
All of this, you may think, doesn't sound all that unique to Buffy. Plenty of TV shows explore complex characters and themes. And you're right. Hell, Breaking Bad does it without the use of vampires, demons and witches, but Buffy has another ace up its sleeve.
For all the deep and emotional stuff, there is even more humour and inventiveness. Anyone who has seen a Joss Whedon show knows just how witty and clever his dialogue is, but Buffy is the most pure example of it. Every episode has some brilliant quote or hilarious gag, and if that isn't selling it to you, let's not forget Buffy is not a show content with becoming formulaic.
There's the iconic musical episode, an episode told almost entirely in silence, and episode about dreams, and episode featuring a time-loop... basically, Buffy was never a show to stand still and let itself go stale. Every season is littered with episodes built around a high-concept.
So, look, anyone who knows me and hasn’t watched Buffy has heard this rant a thousand times, but that doesn’t make it any less true. A genuinely brilliant piece of television, everyone should be watching it. And, to all of you who I have made this plea to before, remember you’ve got time on your hands now, so when we all come out of this and I learn you haven’t watched Buffy… let’s just say I’m preparing my next rant. And I've got plenty of time to work on it.