BtVS was always on my radar, but I long considered myself camp-intolerant (at least with a show as visually dim and murky as Buffy – I do better with candy-colored shiny camp #Glee) and never gave it much of a chance. Also, I’m old enough to remember when the movie version came out, and Luke Perry is enough to make a person keep their distance from a show with the same name and (on paper, anyway) the same writer. I’d tried multiple times to watch it, but found the first couple of episodes painfully boring and the production values made me cringe. People recommended skipping the first season and starting with the second, but I am so not that kind of girl; so I just gave up (because, oh yeah, I am totally that kind of girl). Repeatedly.
When I fell off (on?) the GleeWagon this Spring, however, I decided to once again give it a shot. After all, there are something like 23 seasons of the show and each season has like a hundred and fifteen episodes (please, do fact check me), so it would keep me occupied for awhile, if nothing else.
I slogged through the first season, realizing that part of my problem is that I don’t find David Boreanaz remotely attractive and I didn’t buy into Angel’s struggle and pain: Severus Snape he’s not. That was a hurdle, but I got over it because Sarah Michelle Gellar is all kinds of fetching. Also, you know, I’m all for “old” guys with glasses and British accents, so Giles had my attention, even if Angel did not. Xander and Willow are both irritating and charming, at turns, and it was enough to go on.
So I watched Season 2. Okay. Interesting. Still don’t get the Angel thing, but I did get Buffy’s pain with regard to Angel, so that was workable. Also, mmm Giles and by then I’d gotten used to the badly drawn monster makeup and 8th grade design project special effects. And I kind of loved Cordelia. I don’t know anything about this fandom, and I don’t know if it’s gauche or cool to like Cordelia, but I like Cordelia. I’d been warned of the dangers of falling in love with Spike, as well, and he’s interesting: I enjoyed the character a lot more than Angel, but as with Boreanaz, James Marsters does nothing for me. It’s lonely when a show is populated by actors who are supposed to be hothothot but leave you cold.
Then Season 3. Up and down, but the desire to watch began to grow a bit more pressing. I was thinking about the show when I wasn’t watching, analyzing the things I’d seen, wishing I could speed through and see how it all ended. The whole demon!mayor thing and bad!Faith were hit or miss, but I was committed to watching at this point.
And I noticed, as I have begun watching Season 4 (I’m at about mid-season as of this post), that I can only look at the screen intermittently. This isn’t because of the silly special effects, though. I think it’s because I’m trying to keep minimum safe distance between myself and what are increasingly compelling, but difficult, characters. And I am aware — from a lot of spoilers and a lot of good writing — that things are only going to get more complicated and more uncomfortable before the next 19 seasons or so draw to a close. I’m keeping my guard up. I want to watch and enjoy the show, geek out a little, but I don’t want to be submerged in another fandom. Like, ever again. Never, ever again. Hi.
As someone only recently recovered from Glee, it is shocking how well Joss Whedon has done some things. Like what, you ask? Well, like sex. His characters, after their tender first moments of sexual awakening, seem to continue having all the sex. They use language that indicates an ever-increasing awareness of themselves as sexual beings, and their relationships evolve and incorporate the new facet of physical intimacy. It’s clear from the moment Willow and Oz have sex forward that they are in not only a romantic but a sexual relationship. Because they had sex. And because, having had sex and still being in love with one another, they have sex again. Probably on a pretty regular basis. But forget “probably,” because we actually see them many episodes later, nude from what the blankets would tell us, waking up in bed together. Can you, for one moment, imagine Finn and Rachel snuggling skin to skin, post coital, familiar and comfortable with one another? Or — and I’m laughing, can you hear me laughing? — Kurt and Blaine? Kurt and Blaine who, I assume from the stuffed animals and G-rated private moments we were offered after their “First Time,” agreed to just take a step back from all those nasty, naughty things and enjoy the pleasure of each others’ adorably coiffed company? There’s always next year, I guess…
But also, BtVS presents simultaneously as our known world, but also as this alternate universe where, hey, no biggie, but there’s a vampire or a demon or a giant face-sucking spider behind you. Glee, similarly, invites you into a world in which things are totally normal except, oh yeah, when we sing we are suddenly transported to a full stage where there are costumes and backup dancers and lighting engineers; a world where you can write songs for a national competition the night before you perform and come in a solid 12th; a world where a car mechanic with an openly gay son gets elected to Congress as an 11th hour write-in candidate. It’s not reality reality, but something just the other side because if we wanted reality reality we wouldn’t be mainlining TV shows in the first place.
And even as Buffy’s reality is on the surface a bit kookier, a bit stranger and far less “real” than Glee’s, it is also much more honest. I don’t mean this in an allegorical after-school special, “Aren’t we all monsters of some sort? Don’t we all have a demon inside us?” kind of way, but in the sense that Joss Whedon just put vampires and other baddies into the mix because that, to him, is fucking hilarious; those elements are pretty much incidental to the real storytelling he does, which is so utterly about the characters and their journey. Glee, on the other hand, often sacrifices too much of its story and characters for the sake of The Big Number. The characters on Glee are increasingly ill-fitting pegs to be pounded into the prefab holes of whatever pop song/guest star/Very Special Episode the writers have agreed upon.
I haven’t read a word of BtVS meta or analysis. I don’t know if everything I’m saying is old news — and admittedly, I’m only about 1/352nd of the way through the series — but I wanted to plot a course here, roughly, in case I decide to keep talking about it. If you’re a seasoned Buffy professional, feel free to school me on the things I’ve gotten wrong, or the ways in which all of my ideas will be flipped on their asses as the series moves forward. But don’t be surprised if Glee picks up next week and I am only looking at it as a foil for Buffy… You’ve been warned.