Leaving the Buffyverse: Is that all there is?

A gross series–that is, there were 144 episodes in all.

Seven seasons (the first one short). That’s probably the perfect length for a show (that’s not a prime-time soap) with a strong sense of continuity and year-for-year aging. The star and the creator agreed that seven years was a good time to stop.

But, of course, the show went off a couple of years ago (2003). I’m leaving the Buffyverse (if that word doesn’t make sense, you don’t know BtVS) now because I just finished watching the last commentary-added episode with commentary–three weeks after we finished watching the last episode of the last season, and then the featurettes and brief wrap filming that finished out the final disc.

It really is “the Buffyverse”: Joss Whedon crafted a strong, complex mythology in the course of producing one of the most soundly feminist TV shows ever aired. (If you don’t get that Buffy the Vampire Slayer–the TV show, not the movie, which Whedon wrote but which was badly weakened by the director–was a strongly feminist TV show, well, I’m not sure what would convince you. The final episode is pretty up front with the message, but in fact, Whedon was leading up to that final episode throughout the series.)

We started watching it from the beginning, bemused at first and convinced by the end of the first episode. Of course, it had no critical cachet at the start: It was on a commercial network (sort of–The WB), and critics mostly fawn over HBO and Showtime shows. It gained cachet later, as it became clear it would never be a big hit (and would never get a richly-deserved Emmy except in technical fields). But it was good. Better than good: It was first-rate.

By the second season, it was already a little late to tout the show to others. (There’s the factor of looking like an idiot, when you’re 50+ and saying “You really should give Buffy a try,” but I’ve not worried about the idiot factor for a long time…) The show built on its remarkable ensemble cast (for one of the four, his first real acting job) and its remarkable mix of humor, the supernatural, and the real evil represented by high school years, but that constant building meant that there was a lot of background within a very short time.

We started buying the DVD sets as soon as they came out. They’re reasonably priced (unlike the absurdly overpriced Star Trek DVD sets), well-packaged, with a reasonable number of commentary episodes in each season and some pretty good featurettes. We didn’t even have to think long about the difficult seasons, partly because we like Dawn, partly because “Once More with Feeling” (a musical, the only wide-screen episode of Buffy ever filmed, all original music by Joss Whedon, and with an entirely logical plot-driven explanation for all that singing and dancing, having to do with an entertainment demon–and Michelle Trachtenberg is a fine dancer) made up for a lot of weakness.

So when Buffy went off, or actually a little before, the DVDs went on: Tuesday night, most weeks, same as Buffy. By the end of the first half-season, we knew we were right: It was a remarkable show, one of the best we can remember on TV.

And now we’ve left the Buffyverse. For a while. I’d guess that we’ll start all over again in another year to 18 months–and that we’ll thoroughly enjoy the shows once more.

[For those in the know: We still haven’t decided about Angel. Sure, we watched it, and I love the cast, but my wife reminds me that I was grumbling about much of the show while it was on. Even money as to whether we buy the DVDs. Certainly not up to BtVS. Oh, and one reason we’re watching Gilmore Girls DVDs is…well, Gilmore Girls was opposite Buffy, so we never saw it for the first three seasons, and then didn’t try it until late in the fourth season. It’s also remarkable, in a wildly different way. It’s Tuesday night; in a little while we’ll watch season 3, episode 9. Which will be all new to us.]

One of these days, I’ll put together a post about the threat to new TV shows posed by all those DVD sets. Although maybe that’s obvious. (Just a hint: Moonlighting is just as good as you might have remembered. Greatest American Hero is fun but definitely a period piece. Remington Steele–with the pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan, but dammit Stephanie Zimbalist was the star–well, too soon to tell.)

5 Responses to “Leaving the Buffyverse: Is that all there is?”

  1. Rikhei says:

    Joss Whedon is brilliant, isn’t he? I had horrible timing – I started watching Buffy at the end of the sixth season, and after it was cancelled, I started watching Angel (which I agree is not as good as Buffy), which of course got cancelled too.

    Have you heard about/seen Firefly yet? If not, I think you’d probably really enjoy it. It’s another one of Whedon’s brainchildren. It’s only one season, unfortunately, but it’s really good. (And it has nothing to do with vamps: it’s a space western.) Now would be a great time to watch them, as the movie comes out September 30th.

  2. Laura says:

    Seconded for Firefly. The whole set is only $40 and it’s easily the best thing to come out in years. Even people who don’t normally watch sci-fi get instantly addicted.

  3. walt says:

    We watched Firefly when it was on. While the cast was great, I never felt that the setup worked all that well, and wasn’t too surprised when it was canceled. We never could decide whether the series was going to be great or a dud.

    It didn’t help that episodes were shown out of order.

    We have not picked up the DVD set.

    (Then there’s the migration of Firefly’s chief protagonist to the role of Caleb in the last five episodes of Buffy season seven…now, there’s the true face of evil: Snide, joking, and utterly complacent in vicious nastiness. It was hard not to cheer when Buffy bisected him…)

    The sad but unsurprising bit, having to do with the real world: In the brief footage of the wrap party, one star is fairly obviously absent, namely Ms. Gellar. I’m sure there were excellent reasons.

  4. walt says:

    A timing note: For some reason, Laura’s comment required moderation, so I didn’t see it (and approve it) until I’d already responded to Rikhei’s comment–so the thread is a little off.

    Actually, “Even people who don’t normally watch sci-fi get instantly addicted” is a telling statement in its own way: Firefly worked best as a strange cross-genre hybrid, and–for me, a long-time science-fiction reader and sci-fi viewer (there’s a difference)–it was a little too forced as a hybrid. But that’s just me. As always, YMMV.

  5. Freya Anderson says:

    Not to beat it to death, but I have to give one more plug for Firefly. Broadcast tv did not do it justice, airing the episodes out of order, with the pilot last. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Firefly is a truly amazing show when watched in order. In my opinion, the biggest treat is when you get to Out of Gas on the third DVD, but even that is best in order.