How to binge watch... 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Almost 20 years after first battling the Hellmouth, Buffy still packs a punch

How to binge watch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The cast of the first season of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' [Pixabay]

Why binge... Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

At a time when turning failed movies into serialised television is pretty much par for the course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a genre-bending show that brought us Joss Whedon. The writer and director, known for quietly punching up the scripts of many blockbusters, cut his teeth on the Kristy Swanson movie in 1992, only to see his vision for the project ruined by heavy-handed studio executives. Five years later, and Buffy rose from the dead – and it wouldn’t be the only time she’d do that – in the form of the A-typical California girl who just happens to have a birthright that means she’s destined to protect the world from the forces of evil.

Cleverly balancing the fantastical fights with vampires, demons, and hordes of magical ne’er-do-wells with the very real high school dramas of bullying, peer pressure, and homework, Buffy turned into something magical. With scripts consistently better than they ever needed to be, a cast of actors so perfect for the roles they inhabited and utterly game to mine them for comedy and pathos, the show introduced us to the concept of the ‘strong female character’ – and went on to one-up it by making them as fragile as they were tough.

With Whedon’s patented bloodlust to kill his darlings whenever he wanted, Buffy fans were often left reeling from the sudden departure of characters at the hands of demonic and human forces. But the farces also paid off, with Sunnydale’s Hellmouth providing as many opportunities for a hell of a good time. Equally scary, funny, comedic, shocking, and romantic, the truth about Buffy is that she really did slay.

How long will it take to binge?

Seven seasons, telling series-long arcs, mean you can’t really afford to skip more than a handful of the 144 episodes. That clocks in at four days, seven hours and 12 minutes. The good news is that the light and shade of the writing makes back to back episodes an easy binge, so realistically, the full series shouldn’t take more than a month and a half.

Where can you binge it?

Irish on-demand services have abandoned the Scooby Gang and left them fending for themselves in repeats hell on Syfy. At the time of publishing, the current run of episodes is nearing the end of the final season, so it’s not a bad time to set up a ‘Series Link’ to catch the show from the start when it kicks off again. Aside from borrowing copies from libraries, a brand new DVD boxset will set you back less than €50. On eBay, it can range from €35 for the entire series or as low as €1.14 for one season.

Any hurdles to overcome?

For a teen show that went into production almost 20 years ago, it’s showing some wear and tear on many of its special effects. While the show favoured the use of practical effects, meaning the make-up design (particularly on the vampires and demons) holds up very well, a lot of computer-generated stuff needs some forgiveness. Furthermore, while the show was intended to find a cult audience in teens, teenagers today might well be lost at sea when it comes to understanding the multitude of topical references the show threw into its peppy script.

Other than that, season five brings with it a new Dawn, a character almost universally hated for being incredibly annoying. Stick with her, by the finale she’ll have worn her way into your heart. Finally, the less said about David Boreanaz’s Irish accent the better.

Who steals the show?

While the supporting characters offer fantastic moments throughout the run, with each one charming you more and more until their (almost inevitable) bloody demise, the truth is that it’s lead actress Sarah Michelle Gellar who rules the roost as Buffy Summers. A petite blonde with a wonderfully expressive face, she displays a kind of comic timing that deserved more attention from awards shows – only bagging one Golden Globe nod in 2001. Utterly convincing as a teenage heroine and able to convincingly utter the pithy dialogue without missing a beat, Gellar’s performance is a delight from start to finish. And her work in the episode The Body (Season 5, Episode 16) will break your heart.

A scene to sample:

It says a lot about a show best known for its clever writing that it’s the episode in which the entire town lose their voices that stands out as the true classic. In Hush, which saw Whedon bag an Emmy nomination for ‘Best Writing’, most of the action is played out against the score, with the characters having next to no lines. It’s a masterstroke, and creates arguably the most original and creepy monsters of the entire run.

What to follow up with when you’ve finished your binge?

After three seasons, David Boreanaz’s vampire-with-a-soul-but-many-sex-issues was spun off into his own titular series in Angel. Never quite reaching the same heights as Buffy, it still ran for five seasons of its own and was a noble effort to do a grittier, more urban version of the show. At a push, consider Charmed, a far more camp and far less successful show about a trio of San Francisco sisters who discover they are witches – all 178 episodes, inexplicably, are on Netflix now.

You can also seek out Whedon's other shows; the space western Firefly is a bone fide classic and the misunderstood Dollhouse has moments of absolute brilliance.

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