Some thoughts, from co-host Laurel Hostak
It's okay to have mixed emotions about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot. Joss Whedon does too. So do I. I'm working through it.
I came to Buffy as a 10-year old kid obsessed with magic and the supernatural, wishing I lived in a world where mystical creatures, witches, and monsters lurked around every corner. My Hogwarts letter was on its way, it was just a little held up in the owl post. Throughout my adolescence, I lived my private magical life alongside Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, and the rest of the Scoobies. I looked to them for strength, for the courage to be different, to feel self-love as a young person. Buffy and Willow, in particular, were my heroes. Buffy--the Chosen One, who longed for a normal life and yet carried the weight of the world without punishing others for her pain--taught me responsibility, generosity, and the chutzpah to speak truth to power. Willow--teased and victimized in high school, who built herself up to become the most powerful person on the show--taught me to live without fear of judgment, and to allow myself to feel my feelings fluidly, not dogmatically.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was revolutionary in its treatment of women characters. It's clear from episode one that Buffy is not a scream queen. When faced with danger, she scissor-kicks the big bad and sticks the landing with solid quippage. We're introduced to several powerful women throughout the series: straight shooter Cordelia, witchy Willow, techno-Pagan Jenny Calendar, vengeance demon Anya, Buffy's fellow slayers Kendra and Faith, Tara, Glory, JOYCE... Each representing a different facet of a woman's strength.
A pivotal moment in the series comes during season two, during which Buffy must face off against a vicious foe, Angel. A few episodes prior, Angel was Buffy's boyfriend. A vampire with a soul, in love with the slayer. Buffy lost her virginity to him. In the act, by achieving true happiness, Angel lost the soul with which he'd been cursed. Back to his vampy ways, he goes after everyone Buffy cares about, torturing and killing her friends before coming for her. In the season finale, Becoming, Part Two, the two go tete-a-tete. Angel disarms Buffy and corners her. He taunts her. No friends, no weapons, what does she have left?
Buffy closes her eyes.
She takes a breath.
She taps into some ancient slayer energy, digs deep within for her own strength, and opens her eyes.
"Me," she says.
As a young girl, that moment was life-changing. It still is. Buffy asserts, with no sense of ironic detachment, that she is enough. It's a message more young people could stand to hear.
I think it's important to call out Buffy the Vampire Slayer's relationship to sex, too. In a coming-of-age story, whether fraught with monsters and demons or not, it's vital to address sexual awakening in the characters. And with a powerful woman as the lead character, it was crucial to be extremely intentional with Buffy's sex life. The series didn't always get it totally right. Early episodes weren't terribly sex-positive (I mean, Angel literally lost his soul), but given network restrictions and Puritanical tv audiences, it's pretty remarkable that the show was able to tackle the subject head-on. Not to mention Joyce and Giles' caring responses to Buffy's experience, which could be used in parenting classes. But as we watch Buffy's relationships evolve, we also witness her relationship to sex evolve. She likes it, she gets it when she wants it, and she doesn't get slut-shamed for it. In later seasons, Buffy even explores her changing appetites with Spike, and though her emotional state isn't the healthiest, there's no shame in openly addressing her sexual fantasies. It's later in season 6 that the series confronts sexual assault and trauma honestly.
Buffy was revolutionary, too, in its depiction of queer relationships on screen. The relationship between Willow and Tara was unlike anything that had been done before. A genuine romantic relationship between two women grew naturally over several seasons. We watched two women fall in love, find domestic happiness, fight, reunite, and kiss onscreen. After Tara's death, Willow's relationship with Kennedy gave us the first lesbian sex scene on network television. (Unless you count all of Willow and Tara's steamy spell casting sessions!)
It's been 21 years since the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on the WB. In those two-plus decades, television owes a major debt to the series and the ground it broke. Continuing series like Supernatural and Riverdale are obvious successors in tone and subject matter, but Buffy's influence is felt in any drama or comedy that addresses coming-of-age, power, sex, love, and trauma.
So do we really need a Buffy reboot?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, as I’ve said, revolutionary in 97. But as I rattle off the elements of Buffy that changed the game, I find myself frequently qualifying my own arguments. I just finished up another full series rewatch. I've been through it at least a dozen times, but this go-around, I watched with my fiancé and co-host of the Midnight Myth Podcast, Derek. As someone who didn't watch in the 90s, Derek had a surprising amount of criticism for the series I love.
Some of that criticism has to do with production value. Because of course 20 years later the stunts, cheap CGI and early visual effects aren't still going to impress. And the show was known and loved for its campiness, so that’s all forgiveable, if a little cringe-worthy at times. But there are more substantial critiques to be found--
For one, the show seriously lacks racial diversity. The few non-white characters involved are generally second or third tier, and don't last long (a la Kendra). The issue is lampshaded at times, like when Mr. Trick in season three reminds us that it's "Strictly a Caucasian Persuasion here in the 'Dale," but rarely acted upon. It wasn't cool in '97, and it's not cool now. Looking back, it's all well and good to see a white woman fight back at the forces of darkness. Especially in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, that's inspiring. But in 2018, when most of the country is just beginning to wake up to the reality that's plagued POC for generations, the fact that black bodies are abused and devalued, isn't it fucking exciting to imagine a black Buffy? Staking vamps and smashing the patriarchy and demanding a better world and changing the rules?
Derek also held my feet to the fire a little bit about Spike. "How do you feel," he asked, mid-season 7, "watching Buffy go back to her abuser?" I pulled out my excuses about how it's different because Spike has a soul now and it's all complicated by the supernatural mojo and he went to the ends of the earth to achieve this redemption arc and blah blah blah... But here's the deal. It's not that different from reality. Abusers don't typically endure rounds of ritual combat to win back the trust of the abused, but you will hear people like me make stubborn, bullshit excuses for abusers because we don't want to believe the truth. Because they apologized. Because it wasn't that bad. Until we remember that behind the 'importance' of preserving a man's reputation, there's a woman's very real pain. Don’t we expect more from the Buffyverse when it comes to stories of sexual violence? Don’t we deserve more?
Last year, Wonder Woman came out in theaters. It was the first female-led superhero movie in more than a decade, and the first directed by a woman. And it was great. The Amazons training on Themiscyra, Diana's emergence from the trench to take the fire, the sincere assertion of love as the most powerful force. It wasn't the most feminist movie ever made, but it was groundbreaking in 2017, leaving many women in tears at the sheer excitement of seeing Diana onscreen. How is this possible? If shows like Buffy laid the groundwork for women superheroes twenty years ago, why did it take us this long to get a relatively tame Wonder Woman? A Wonder Woman that can’t go beyond mild innuendo in addressing the comic books’ covert lesbian narratives? Why is it so hard for producers (and audiences) to see women's stories, POC’s stories, and queer stories as worth telling?
The work that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did cannot be understated. It will always be my favorite show of all time. Always. I wouldn't be who I am without it, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way. But I can't turn a blind eye to its shortcomings, and though I'll defend the show as progressive for its time, the criticisms stand. We can do better. When I first heard about the reboot, I got upset. Why ruin something so special? Why try to recapture lightning in a bottle? But god, I really don't want to be that guy. The "You ruined my childhood" guy. My childhood is fine. You can't take it away from me. And no television reboot, or Star Wars sequel, or Harry Potter spin-off can change what the originals meant to us. I would love for Hollywood and television producers to greenlight more original content, tell new stories, and give us new perspectives. But I also co-host a podcast that continually illustrates that no story is really new, and that there is tremendous value in revisiting characters, themes, and moments that are meaningful to us. That nostalgia can sometimes act as a springboard to greater innovation. Buffy's story was revolutionary for my generation, and it deserves to be revolutionary for the next. I don't get to claim ownership over that story. Neither does Sarah Michelle Gellar, or Joss Whedon for that matter. Guys, the reboot might actually be AMAZING.
The glimpses we got of slayer lore in the original series showed us that the first slayer was an African woman, chained up by the men of her village and violated by a demon's essence to imbue her with supernatural abilities. And one girl in all the world has lived briefly and died with that same trauma in every generation since. Until Buffy, who changed the rules. She stood up to the men who controlled her and broke those chains. She embraced community, and shared her power with all the girls who chose to help carry it. She forged an intersectional community to fuck up the forces of evil.
It's okay to have mixed emotions about the Buffy reboot.
But don't we need her now more than ever?