The impact of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and why it still matters

Alex Moreland

It’s not exactly an original take on the matter to say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was highly influential, if not pivotal, in terms of how television has developed over the past twenty years.

That does not, however, make it any less true.

Certainly, Buffy was groundbreaking in many key respects – many of the most popular television shows today owe a huge debt to Buffy, and may not have existed without it. It’s not difficult to draw a link from programmes like The Flash or Supergirl back to Buffy, to say nothing of Supernatural and others of its ilk. Russell T Davies has always been very open about the extent to which he drew on Buffy when bringing back Doctor Who in 2005, and Doctor Who has retained elements of that ever since. It established a number of the genre tropes and conventions that we’d still recognise today, and subverted plenty more. Arguably, every programme with a female lead owes a debt to Buffy on some level. Perhaps most significantly, Buffy opened up ‘cult’ television and made it universal – Buffy was for everyone.

In some regards, it’s a little bit like Isaac Asimov’s story about the woman who read Hamlet for the first time and said “I don’t see why people admire that play so. It is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together”.

And yet despite how familiar certain aspects of the show have now become, Buffy still stands above them – after all, part of the reason why it was so influential was because of just how good it is.

Here, admittedly, is where it starts to get difficult to write about Buffy – we all know, by this point, about how innovative the programme was in terms of subverting the horror genre and making it a metaphor for growing up. Today of all days, really; no doubt everyone has read about the sheer genius of the Angelus arc in season 2, or the grim reality of how Buffy handled adulthood in season 6, or everything that is so compelling about The Body. After a point, it becomes difficult to find new ways to express the quality of Buffy, and eventually you find yourself wanting to stop writing about it and just marathon the whole show from the beginning once again.

But then, that’s part of why the show has endured – why, even despite breaking all new ground twenty years ago, it still matters now. Because Buffy tackles these issues head on, it was able to create something that would always resonate; the themes within it are universal. There will always be someone, somewhere, who will take something from these stories; someone who will relate to it, and glean something deeper. The girl whose boyfriend turned mean after they slept together. The boy who feels ignored. The child who lost a parent, and the teenager who became an adult.

The hardest thing in this world is to live in it – but Buffy makes it easier, as well as a hell of a lot more fun. And that’s why, twenty years later, we’re still talking about the show – and will be for twenty more.

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