Forget #StayAtHome – during the UK lockdown I’ve been choosing to #SlayAtHome with Joss Whedon’s peerless pop-culture watermark Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aka the best “monster of the week” TV series ever made.
But actually, don’t forget #StayAtHome. That’s sort of the whole point. Sorry for the mixed messages.
What’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer about?
In every generation, there is a Chosen One – and this time around, it’s 16-year-old ex-cheerleader Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) nominated as The Slayer, destined to battle vampires, demons and all sorts of supernatural beings around the Sunnydale Hellmouth.
Along with her friends and Watcher Giles (Anthony Head), she’ll protect the world from the forces of darkness, quip her enemies into oblivion and romance reformed vampire Angel, all while balancing her social life and schoolwork. Suffice it to say, the stakes are high…and pointy.
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How long is it?
Seven seasons and a total of 144 episodes (each around 45-50 minutes) should keep you occupied for weeks to come.
Promotional portrait of the cast for the television series, ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer,’ c. 1997. L-R: Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charisma Carpenter and Alyson Hannigan. (Photo by Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images)
For me, this whole rewatch started long ago while I was engaged in strange, fantastical activity that now seems part of a different world – a non-essential shopping trip.
Skulking round a branch of CeX in Wimbledon, I came across a heavily discounted box set for all five seasons of Angel, the David Boreanaz-starring Buffy spin-off that (to the horror of my girlfriend) I’d never actually seen an episode of.
Surely, this was a perfect purchase. After years of TV series sneakily dropping off various On-Demand services we’d been trying to invest a bit more in physical media (if you own the DVD you can’t lose it from your TV!), we often struggled to find a show we both wanted to watch and this was something she could introduce me to. It all clicked.
I was pretty familiar with Buffy itself, of course. Over the course of the mid-2000s it was a regular feature on BBC2, sandwiched alongside The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and when I’d first moved to London in 2013 (an act of unintentional self-isolation) I plowed my way through all seven series on Netflix from my lonely flat in East London.
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy and David Boreanaz as Angel (Sky)
Still, I felt like I wanted a refresh – and given that we’d never watched Buffy together, we decided a rewatch was in order. Just as soon as we could track down a similar Buffy box-set, we reasoned, we’d be caught up enough to kick off with Angel’s adventures in LA. 90s and early-noughties nostalgia awaited!
In reality, though, as was often the case in the “before-times” we never actually got around to it. We failed to find a Buffy set, and the Angel DVDs were always something we could catch up on when we had more time – when we didn’t have friends to see, or trips to go on, or long country walks to get lost on.
But then we did have time. Everyone in the world suddenly had time to spare, and a need of distraction – and when pulling up a movie on an ancient Amazon Firestick, I noticed that all seven seasons of Buffy were available to stream as well. Reader, I binged them.
At time of writing, we’ve managed to get through almost the first three seasons in about two weeks, often burning through four or five episodes a night. Really, it’s perfect comfort viewing – a show we’re familiar enough with to know we’ll definitely enjoy it, but distant enough in our memories that we can still be surprised.
Anthony Stewart Head as Giles and Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy (Sky, Fox)
We’ve groaned as Buffy and Angel have another ill-judged emotional clinch, chuckled at the early introduction of James Marsters’ Spike (“You’re going to fall in love in series 6! Haha!”), raised an eyebrow at ropey stunt scenes (the swords!) and cringed at Xander’s…slightly dated sexual politics.
For the most part, though, as a whole Buffy stands up brilliantly. It’s as sharp-witted, brutal and brilliantly clever as you remember, and remains so ahead of its time it’s baffling. One episode about a Mr Hyde-esque boyfriend gaslighting and abusing his girlfriend would be considered groundbreaking storytelling today – but in Buffy, 20-odd years ago, it’s just a monster of the week.
Ahead of us we have four more Buffy seasons – Adam, Glory, The Three, Dark Willow and the First Evil await – and five of Angel to enjoy, and after that we’ll have to really dig deep into our collection for something as perfectly distracting.
Maybe nothing will hit the spot in quite the same way. Given our current “turbulent times” I have wondered if there’s something uniquely comforting about a series that shows a world of real danger, death and fear rubbing up against normal life – where some parts of your life stay resolutely mundane and everyday, while other sections are changed beyond all recognition from what you knew.
Or maybe I’ve just fallen in love with Giles all over again. Who knows? Whatever the reason for Buffy’s status as my go-to lockdown binge, I’m not alone. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen quite a few friends, acquaintances and strangers on the internet independently delving into the annals of the Slayer, so maybe there is something uniquely comforting about it.
(Though have those “fans” written lyrics to the theme song, above, based on the actors’ names popping up, culminating with a cry of “And Anthony Stewart Head….as….Gilllesssss!”? I think not. And hope not. I really need to go outside.)
So that’s my lockdown recommendation – binge Buffy, and transport yourself to a carefree world where the biggest concern was being horribly dismembered by demons.
Pfft, look at them all, congregating outside together! They didn’t know how good they had it.
All seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video