Every Tuesday for seven years, I sat and watched a little cult show about a Slayer, her nerdy, bookish friend, and a boy with no special powers other than his ability to see. The three were joined by the popular girl, an ex-demon girlfriend, a werewolf boyfriend, an otherworldy sister and a witch girlfriend, among others. There was also the Slayer’s mother and the Watcher (the ever-handsome Anthony Stewart Head). This was before vampires were cool. Anne Rice was the only one to have really been into vamps at that time. But these vamps and this Slayer and her band of new-school Scoobies were just so interesting. And the banter! I was addicted.
Years and years ago when I was in the dating pool, I had rules. I didn’t date men who weighed less than I did, men who were more than six feet tall, or men who couldn’t write. I made sure not to read anything a potential boyfriend wrote until I had already developed fairly significant feelings. Poor grammar was the ruin of many a budding relationship in my life.
On the flip side, a man who could write could get away with lots of things (like being way too tall and underweight, e.g., my husband when we met). The guy responsible for Buffy, Joss Whedon, is—no surprise—one of my favorite writers. Buffy was consistently witty, intelligent and soulful. It promoted girl power in ways that hadn’t been discussed before. All of the girls on the show were strong. When my youngest is old enough, I will require her to watch. There are lessons here she needs to know.
So, for parents of teens and pre-teens, here are some reasons why I think everyone should watch Buffy together. (In absolutely no particular order.)
1) Joss Whedon so accurately captured the hell of high school and the teenage years that he set Sunnydale High on the Hellmouth.
Seriously, think about it. The high school was set atop the mouth of Hell. Last year, when my teen went through some really dark stuff during his freshman year of high school, as I dropped him off each morning, I couldn’t help thinking that I wished I could leave him with something as simple as a stake or a bottle of holy water to fight his demons.
The horrors that are high school are depicted on Buffy in the form of monsters and demons and swim teams that turn into giant fish. Kids feel left out (in one episode one character cannot be seen or heard by anyone else), they wish could be someone else (and are stunned by who they turn into), and they’re startled to learn their parents might have been kids once, too.
When my teen and I watched the series several summers ago (Episode One to Episode Done), we had really excellent conversations as a result of topics covered on the show. We talked about safe sex, how to pick your friends, who to trust, what happens when bad things happen to good people, death, life choices, don’t go into dark alleys alone, and that love is a really good thing to have. Rarely are these issues raised in a show about monsters. But the underlying messages were there in the show, and because my son and I were open to watching and talking, these important conversations took place.
2) There were always consequences to actions.
Actions taken in Season 1 might not show consequences until a later season of Buffy, but they were there. Some actions, however, had consequences right away—for instance, sex is rarely a non-volatile issue for teens. Everyone in this show had to pay the piper, in some very unusual ways. I appreciated that it showed that life is full of actions and ripple effects. We aren’t in this alone, and our actions affect other people. And most times, even when we think they won’t, they come back to affect us.
3) The adults weren’t stupid.
OK. I thought the mom was a bit annoying. But she loved her daughter, and for a lot of parents, loving is the majority of what is important. Giles, Buffy’s Watcher, was a horrible Watcher, according to the people who judged that sort of thing, because he loved Buffy. And in that, he gave her both his knowledge and a father’s love. And he was bright and witty and a hottie. British to boot.
4) You had to pay attention.
This wasn’t a show that you could miss a week of and pop back into and be fine. You had to know what was going on. Honestly, my son and I debated whether or not Joss Whedon had the entire series planned out before it aired because there were characters in Season 1 who appeared once but then became major characters in later seasons. For me, watching it again was tremendously interesting, as I tried to see what I could find along the way that became something important later. These little Easter eggs were a delight. Again, good writing.
5) It is called “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” and yet her two great loves were vampires.
We all need to see people as more than labels. We need to see people as a totality rather than a sliver of who they are. The great debate with other viewers about which vampire Buffy should end up with is one I treasure. I’ll not share my preference, but I think it’s obvious.
6) It is called “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” but she was at her best when she wasn’t working alone.
One of the hardest things for Buffy to learn was that even though she was the Chosen One, she didn’t have to operate alone. She could choose to be in a group. When she and her friends worked together, she was stronger. We are all stronger when we let other people into our lives and when we trust in the bonds that tie us together.
All of the characters made horrible friend choices along the way, and I think that’s important for teens to see. Everyone gets played. Everyone gets a broken heart handed to them by life at some point. How we choose to handle that is what makes us who we are. Learning to choose well and to choose good friends, friends who will stay with us even if we go all demon-y for a bit, is a valuable skill to acquire.
7) Without spoilers, in my favorite season ending, love saved the world.
It wasn’t anything flashy, and it wasn’t magical. It was love. It’s good to talk to teens about love because they’re growing out of one type of love—parental love—and they’re trying so hard to grow into grown-up relationship love. If we can’t talk to them about this transition, they’re going to be doing a lot of the kind of loving they’re not ready for just yet. This show gave me chances to talk with my teen about love.
And not just my undying love for Xander and Spike.
(If you decide you aren’t ready to commit to the entire series, watch the episodes “Hush” and “Once More With Feeling.” I think “Hush” is the best stand-alone episode of the series. It’s eerie and haunting. “Once More With Feeling” is the musical. “Buffy” was the first show to do a musical ep, and it was fabulous. Not only did they sing, but they sang information that advanced the plot line of the season.)