Good news, all: yesterday I finally woke up from a holiday-induced turkey-coma and today doctors cleared me for work! Okay, that’s not exactly true, but whatever….
Last time we were discussing Joss Whedon’s commentary on the very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, specifically his decision to treat the adult characters (Giles and Buffy’s mom, Joyce) as less than perfect and more than two-dimensional, and to reinvent the (formerly) helpless blonde girl in horror movies.
Although Whedon was more than willing to subvert these genre clichés, he found himself forced to work around the limitations of shooting for television as opposed to film, which took some adjustment on his part. When it came to shooting elaborate stunts, action sequences, or even certain locations, he had to lower his expectations, usually because of limited time and money. However, he thinks these restraints actually benefited the show overall because, he says, “the less elaborate I could be, the more I just had to make things matter, so that I couldn’t hide things with the dog-and-pony show because I couldn’t afford the pony, I only had the dog” (00:16:00).
It’s quite possible that these limitations, coupled with the nature of Buffy’s character, also influenced Whedon’s method of creating tension in the show.
“One of the biggest problems with the show, as a writer, is that your heroine is…stronger than a lot of the things she faces…. Creating opportunities for her to be in genuine peril are difficult…, so it’s very good to have the ancillary characters especially because…sometimes they actually get killed, so [we] can really put them in danger, and really stress their vulnerability. With Buffy, it turns out to be a question more and more…of putting her in peril emotionally, because just because she can defeat something doesn’t mean that it can’t affect her…. Buffy’s problems are less physical than emotional….” (00:36:40)
So rather than have Buffy fighting increasingly extravagant battles against progressively formidable foes, this approach required Whedon to add an inherent layer of depth to the show while keeping the budget down, which ultimately satisfies both producers and fans.
Despite his budgetary constraints, Whedon made it a priority to have the vampires be visually recognizable as such. As he explains,
“The decision to make ‘vamp-face’ for the vampires was very conscious and very thought out. The idea that they would look normal and then change into vampires was done because we wanted…to have normal high school students who you could interact with, and then they would turn out to be evil and you would never be sure which was which, and also because when Buffy is fighting them, it was important to me that they look like demons, like monsters. I didn’t think I really wanted to put a show on the air about a high school girl who was stabbing normal-looking people in the heart. I thought somehow that might send the wrong message. But when they’re clearly monsters, it takes it to a level of fantasy that is safer” (00:37:45).
As you might have noticed, Joss Whedon provided more genuine insight in his commentary on a 43-minute television episode than many filmmakers offer on a two-hour film. I can’t imagine what he has to say on his other commentary tracks, but I’m pretty sure it’ll put many filmmakers to shame, and I know I’m excited to find out and share it with you. Be sure to check back with us!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 1, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ | Directed by Charles Martin Smith | Written by Joss Whedon | Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head
Want to know more?
– The next time some snob sneers at you for watching a “lowbrow” or “juvenile” show like Buffy, slam down this trump card courtesy of Emily Nussbaum at the New Yorker.
– Not sure I agree with some parts of Laura Hudson’s article – for instance, far from feeling that the show “fell apart” in either its 6th or 7th season, I think it continued to get better – and it’s interesting that she lists the season one episode “The Pack” as one to skip while Emily Nussbaum, in the New Yorker article above, says that’s the one that won her over, but an interesting read nonetheless.
– The Cynical Slayer is a fun blog for devoted fans. Imagine People Magazine if it only focused on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What do you think? If Buffy had staked people who weren’t in “vamp-face,” would it have altered the tone of the show? Did you feel the show was ever too reliant on putting Buffy’s friends in danger, or that one of her inner circle should have bit the dust eventually? How does season one hold up to the rest of the series? Could people just discovering the show skip it? What’s the best episode in season one? Leave some comments below and let us know!