Buffy the Vampire Earns a New Convert

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Second Season (Slim Set)If you’ll recall, Denisa and I decided to give Buffy the Vampire Slayeranother shot at the beginning of the month, this time jumping into season two instead of starting at the beginning. Last night we had a binge episode watching session, polishing off the last five episodes in one fell swoop. That should tell you more or less how we feel about the show now.

Love it.

What do I specifically love? The characters, first and foremost. Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, Angel, Spike, Dru–all of them are individuals with their own needs and wants. They all have their own agenda, and they act (more or less) accordingly. I found it interesting to find that I still liked them, even when they did things that irritated me as a viewer. For example, Xander’s unending jealousy of Angel really gets on my nerves–and his at times weaselly actions to try and sabotage Angel were highly irritating. But despite that, I still liked him as a character. So many times as a writer, I think I try to make my characters too likable–to always have them make the right decisions. It’s important to be reminded that real people don’t make the right decision all the time. They often make the wrong decision. You like them in spite of their mistakes.

I also love the content–the humor mixed with pop culture mixed with snappy remarks. It’s right up my alley, and very similar to the style of books that I (try to) write.

Of course, I wasn’t 100% crazy about the show. My biggest complaint was that it felt like the writers didn’t quite have enough story to carry them through the big plot arcs of the season. Spike was in that wheelchair an awfully long time toward the end, and in the middle, Buffy and Angel were making goo goo eyes at each other for an interminably long time. Of course, some of this is probably me as a post-Lost watcher critiquing a pre-Lost show. One of the best decisions Lost made as a TV show was setting an end date, and it’s surprising they were the first to do it. (Although in an sense 24 had been doing it from the beginning, making each season have a firm end date.) So many of the shows I know and love these days are essentially long films, with beginnings middles and ends to the whole season or show. Imagine a movie that was made with no real end point in mind–with the director and screenwriters just continually making things up as they went along. You’d end up with a lot of filler, and that’s how some of Buffy season two felt to me–not the individual episode plots (which I really enjoyed), but the tacked on Big Season Plot Elements that were thrown in to remind viewers that bigger things were at work. For example, Angel would show up in an unrelated sub-plot to look broody, or Spike would have a special whiny wheelchair cameo thrown in now and then to remind us he was still trapped in Useless Mode. I didn’t care for those.

This also leads me to wonder why the show didn’t work for me the first time, and why it kicked it up so much this season. It’s got to be the characters. If you can get your audience to know and like your characters, you can get away with a lot more than you can if you’re relying solely on plot. And as I’ve thought more about this, I think I’ve identified something successful fantasies do to make characters more appealing: they give them real world problems. Thus, you have Buffy, a show about a girl battling the forces of the undead, but with huge subplots that focus on Buffy yearning to have a boyfriend, or struggling to handle an obnoxious teacher, or trying to navigate her relationship with her mother. In Lost, you have a show about a mysterious island with a smoke monster and Others, but you have big subplots devoted to a man trying to understand his father, or dealing with a run of bad luck, and so on. The big plots are all fantasy, but the subplots deal with things everyone can relate to. Those small plots allow us to connect to the characters in a way we can’t in the big plots alone. I don’t fight vampires, but I’ve had my fair share of tricky relationships.

Anyway–it was a fun season, and I look forward to many more. Now weighing going back and watching Season One to find out the origin of all of this, or going on to Season Three to find out what happens next. Thoughts?

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