The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Reboot and the Fall of Joss Whedon

In 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on The WB on Monday nights. The show was an attempted sequel/reinvention by creator Joss Whedon after his film of the same name was heavily changed by studio intervention. Its premise was based on an inversion of tropes: what if the blonde-haired valley girl, who was typically the victim of both the male gaze and monster attacks in horror movies, was also the action hero who snapped off one-liners mid-fight?

While the show did not become a mainstream success at the time, it did become a cult sensation and aired for seven seasons, also earning a five season spin-off called Angel. The story of both continue to this day in the pages of several comic book series published by Dark Horse, all of which have served to expand the universe that was established in the TV series while also further developing the characters. And that still does nothing to properly convey the show’s cultural impact.

 

 

The titular Buffy became a feminist icon to an entire generation alongside other female action heroes like Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Xena. For the times of its release, the show’s politics were groundbreaking. Even today, it’s rare to see a woman in popular media depicted in a traditionally masculine role while also allowing her femininity to remain intact. And that’s not even touching on later developments, like the openly gay relationship between Willow and Tara not being treated as a joke or “just a phase” they were going through.

The show established Whedon as both a showrunner and an auteur. Every project he has impacted in any major way bears his distinct fingerprints as a writer and director. He focuses on juxtaposing the dark and occasionally brutal alongside the just plain goofy, and this contrast ultimately opens the audience up to stronger emotional resonance when things get bad, because you need to make them laugh before you can make them cry. Juggling these themes became as much a trademark of his work as his talent for snappy and memorable dialogue. Whedon is just really good at writing scenes where two or more characters bounce off of each other, and this has resulted in hundreds of quotable lines.

So on March 13, 2018, when the Fox TV group chair Gary Newman teased the possibility of bringing Buffy back as either a reboot or a sequel, you would think that would be worth being excited about. According to Variety, Newman stated that, “Buffy is probably the most ripe show we have for bringing back.” He went on to say that “when Joss decides it’s time, we’ll do it.” So not only is the studio interested in bringing one of the biggest feminist icons of the ’90s back to TV, they want to do so with the original showrunner creatively involved.

 

 

And while that may sound wonderful at face value, it is a flat out terrible idea.

For one thing, while Buffy was groundbreaking when it first came on the air, that was two decades ago. The show has not aged gracefully, both in terms of creative execution, and in the politics behind said execution. While it attempted to subvert the clichés that were popular at the time, if you look back at it now you’ll find it contains multiple clichés from this generation, from “women in the refrigerator” to “bury your gays,” with a pinch of queerbaiting for good measure.

That aside, the story from the show is still ongoing. New writers have done new things with the world and its characters in several comics centring on Buffy, Angel, Faith, Willow, Spike, and Giles. Whether this hypothetical new show were a sequel or a reboot, it would almost certainly require these stories to end. There is very little chance that the studio would want to allow two different storylines to run concurrently using the same characters in different mediums. Just look at what happened when Disney bought Star Wars: all expanded universe material was cancelled, and most of it was branded non-canon to the films. To the dismay of fans who were following those stories, they now never happened, at least not in the context of the rest of the franchise.

But maybe that isn’t so bad. After all, television has a greater reach than even the most popular forms of traditional print media. And with the original creator attached to the project, maybe that would mean a proper revival of this feminist icon for a whole new generation.

 

 

But it probably wouldn’t.

The unfortunate truth is that a lot of Whedon’s past work squirms under critical scrutiny. From the aforementioned tropes in Buffy and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, to the way Inara is the butt of endless jokes due to her profession as an escort in Firefly, to Whedon’s painfully obvious creative burnout during Avengers: Age of Ultron. And that’s not even touching the at times uncomfortably sexist leaked Wonder Woman script that he penned. In a post-#MeToo world, we need more feminist icons whose voices aren’t just witty one-liners written by Joss Whedon.

When it comes down to it, we need more than snappy dialogue. And when Whedon was at his best, he might have been able to deliver it, too. There’s a now famous episode of Buffy from Season 4 titled “Hush.” In it, the monsters of the week steal the voices from everyone in town, and the end result is an episode with very little of the dialogue that typically carried the show. This episode is also lauded by many fans as being one of the show’s best. If Whedon were more willing to remove his own voice and let others have the spotlight with his intellectual property, this just might be worth getting excited over.

But if there is one thing that Buffy has taught us, it’s that most things that return from the dead are definitely not meant to.

 

Source: 1/2/3