The Cultural Catchup Project: Catching up with…Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Catching up with…Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

April 9th, 2010

Into each generation a television show is introduced.

One show in all of television, a chosen one.

One created with the strength and skill to spawn fandom, to spread their gospel and increase their numbers.

This show, of course, is Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the winner (along with Angel, which I plan to watch “chronologically” along with Buffy when the time comes) of the Reader’s Choice poll to decide which show would be featured first in Cultural Learnings’ Cultural Catchup Project (which will start in earnest tomorrow).

This is not a surprising result, of course: as Alan Sepinwall pointed out to me, placing a sci-fi/fantasy show in an internet poll against shows from other genres isn’t exactly a fair fight, so I knew going in that Buffy (along with Angel) was probably going to take this one. And if I’m being honest with you, this result is both tremendously exciting and sort of terrifying as we set out on this journey together.

On the exciting side of things, I’ll finally understand a whole host of conversations and references that have previously made very little sense. Firefly was my first experience with the “Whedonverse,” and while I’ve remained on the bandwagon with Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible there is still that sense that I’m missing out on something. I know that Eliza Dushku and Amy Acker were on Buffy or Angel, but I don’t know why I should be excited about that fact, or whether I would personally be excited about that fact at all. Through sites like Whedonesque I know that the Whedon fan base is extremely powerful and extremely loyal, and to know that it was Buffy that started it all makes watching the show akin to entering a whole new world: now, all of the discussions about the characters, the actors, the creative struggles of later seasons, and everything else will be conversations that I can take part in, and this seems like the kind of fandom that I want to be able to participate in and better understand.

However, on the terrifying side of things, a lot has already been written about the show, and I guess I worry about having anything new to add to the equation. While I generally think the argument that “someone else has said it before/better” is defeatist and that writing about things can help both author and reader hash through ideas from a different (if similar) perspective, there is still a worry that I’m entering into some very well-traveled territory with this particular strategy. As an example, Noel Murray wrote about the first four seasons of the show at The A.V. Club, and I have to presume (I’m avoiding spoilers) that those writeups are as intelligent and thoughtful as the rest of his work; as a result, there’s this prevailing sense that my plan to write about the show as I go along may be one large redundancy.

But after watching the show’s pilot, which I’ll be writing about tomorrow, I came to the all-important realization that the excitement of watching the show for the first time and finally being “in the know” is likely going to carry me past any sort of writer’s block that may occur. Heck, I wasn’t even really intending on writing this piece until I really sat down and tried to think about how to confront the two-hour pilot, so even the frustrations of this process are starting to force out some content before we even get going. This process may well become as much about my experience watching the show as it is about the show itself (I’ll try to keep things balanced), and I’m hopeful that those who voted for the show (or didn’t vote for the show but remain interested) will stick with me as I embark on this rather epic journey.

In terms of timeline, I really don’t know: I’m starting the show this weekend but don’t have a lot of time to devote to it in the next few days, so I’ll be starting in earnest later in the week. I’m sort of playing it by ear, similar to my plans for what I’m going to write about, and so I might be writing about Buffy and Angel into June or I might be finished with the shows by mid-May. Either way, the plan is to write about the show(s) every weekend, with either one longer piece or two shorter pieces (that, considering I am writing them, will still probably be considered long by 99% of you), and there’s every chance that I might even pop in with a brief weekday commentary (or a Twitter-based discussion/conversation) should the situation arise.

Otherwise, though, it’s just what it sounds like: it’s officially time to start catching up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer – see you at Sunnydale.

You can follow along with the project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be hosting a link to each installment.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “The Cultural Catchup Project: Catching up with…Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  1. If people thought like that about Shakespeare — that everything possible had already been written — then the last hundred years of Shakespeare scholars would have had nothing to say.

    There is always something new to say about a text, because it has different meaning for every person who watches/reads it. Especially a well-constructed and emotionally resonant text that still has ramifications in the present (as I would argue that Buffy definitely does).

    • P.S. I’m so excited you’re doing this. I remember vividly everything about my first viewing of Buffy. Watching that show changed the way I think about TV to such a point that it’s like my life is divided into two sections: BB and AB (Before Buffy and After Buffy) because I had never seen anything like it before. Characters CHANGED. Things HAPPENED. Questions were ANSWERED. It blew my 19 year old mind.

    • dbs

      I agree that each viewer/reader brings a unique perspective to a great work of art (like Shakespeare’s plays or Whedon’s TV shows) but also, as times change, there will be new things to find in the text/video. The present is changing constantly, and what we can find in work like Whedon’s or Shakespeare’s also changes.

      (this is the same idea that drives the debate about the interpretation of the American Constitution (another great piece of writing), but
      that’s a completely different discussion.

  2. I felt very much the same way. That I was missing something very special, which is why I finally took this journey over the last three months. It’s quite a ride and one that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

  3. kat

    i’m now a whedonite. i’d seen almost all the latter eps of Buffy (and every ep of Angel) in syndication, but I just recently went chronologically through the entire Buffy series and I fell in love. The humor, the honesty, the humanity, the love, the pain, the hate, the disgust, the sly and witty jokes, the Whedon way. I loved Dollhouse, and I’ve seen a tiny bit of Firefly, but having seen Buffy completely, I know know how amazing Joss Whedon and his empire is [are?]!

  4. I’m about 9 episodes into my personal re-watch. I really need to pick up the pace! I look forward to your unspoiled thoughts on this show that is still picking up new viewers (not only via DVDs but also re-runs on MTV, LOGO, etc.) and inspiring new ideas.

  5. Nawid Ahrary

    I shall attempt to follow your pace as I gave up on Buffy after a quarter of Season 2.

  6. Tausif Khan

    I just recently finished watching all of Buffy (including all the DVD commentaries) and I was able to watch the first three seasons in three weeks (first having seem them on Hulu I was able to breeze by and second I was on Winter Break). The last four season took me all the way to spring break. It takes a while just to watch. I believe there are 144 episodes which amounts to 96 hours for Buffy alone.

    Anyway I am glad Buffy/Angel won. The more people exposed to the amazingness that is Joss Whedon the better. I look forward to following this cultural catchup.

  7. alexnking

    Looking forward to it!

  8. Oskar

    Just be aware that the first season isn’t the show at its best (rather the opposite), but if you’re able to stick it out, it gets awesome the second half of season two. Like, “what the fuck is happening!?!?!?!” awesome.

    This is a ride we all have to go on as TV-fans. It’s just inevitable. I only wish I could watch Buffy for the first time again.

    • Oskar

      Oh, and by the way (this isn’t a spoiler), Amy Acker is on Angel, Eliza Dushku is on Buffy (though neither from the start, they both enter in their respective show’s third season). And if you are one of those Eliza Dushku-haters, get ready to be knocked on your ass. She is one bad-ass chica.

  9. Cartman86

    I tried to get my roommate into Buffy as he likes every TV show I like, but it turned into a horrible disaster. Everything that Buffy fans love about the show was turned into a cliche by him. We have been ever so slowly trying to get to season 4, but every episode he just can’t help but make fun of it. It was really really sad. Which is so weird considering I got him into Doctor Who and that show is very easy to make fun of.

    Hopefully I can live vicariously through Miles in these LTTP write-ups. I’ve had lots of fun reading The AV Club ones so I’m sure this will be no exception.

    • Tausif Khan

      On its face I think Doctor Who might be easier to make fun of but by the end of the show who ever is playing the Doctor gives the gravity necessary to take the show seriously.

  10. Joao Santos

    I agree with all above/below. Buffy is for me both my favorite show ever and the best.
    It was definitely a seminal moment in Tv and I’m very excited about your watching it and looking forward to your reviews. 🙂

  11. Loretta

    For some reason, I’m reminded of that episode, late in the Freaks & Geeks run, where someone gives Lindsey a copy of a Grateful Dead album and tells her they envy her the opportunity to listen to the album for the first time again…

    You’re in for a hell of a ride–hope you enjoy it. 🙂

  12. Katiekins

    Have a great time watching these two shows!

    Though I am most definitely a Whedon fan, I have to say both Buffy and Angel take at least a season before you can really get into it, but the end result is so worth sticking with. So bear with it! You will be rewarded. Kind of like Dollhouse, when you think about it.

    (In fact, Firefly might be the only Whedon tv series in which everything kicked ass pretty much from the first episode.)

  13. Jen

    I cannot believe you have NEVER seen Buffy!! It is my favorite show of all time. It doesn’t really start getting good until Season 2. Also the 90s clothes and hair is getting funnier the more time that passes. But that show owns my heart, I love it SO MUCH. It’s also crazy how plot from the very first episode wraps up in the very final episode of season 7. You’ll be able to see that better since your’e going through it so quickly. ENJOY!!!!
    Xander is my favorite, haha.

  14. Irene

    I’ve got to say my Buffy and Angel DVD’s are pretty much my security blanket. I’m always re-watching them. I look forward to hearing someone’s opinion on them watching them for the very first time.

  15. Red

    Like you, Firefly was my first (& still face) Whedon show. And that led me to finally watching Buffy/Angel last year.

    Even if there is a ton of commentary out there already, world events keep changing and viewers keep changing so the subtext stays fresh and interesting. Plus it’s fun to follow along in real time.

  16. Just popping in via Whedonesque, your whole blog seems quite interesting to me, but reading you while you experience Buffy for the first time is enough to add you to my regular reading list!

    I was an initial victim of what is known as the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” hex/curse whatever… as in people who won’t give a show a chance based on its title or the original premise of the story. I was like “really? a vampire-killing cheerleader? no thanks!” It didn’t help that I’d seen the original movie when it came out and I wasn’t at a point in my life when I could “appreciate” cheesiness in a bad movie and enjoy the original intent. But when I was doing my Master’s Degree several years ago in Belgium, after a couple of years without a TV/computer or anything with which to view any sort of media (I thankfully lived withint 2 blocks of 2 excellent cinemas) a friend loaned me an old TV. With the antenna I could only pick up 2 channels, and the programming was usually lousy. But one of them was showing Buffy every Wednesday evening in English! This was a big deal for me since everything in that part of Belgium was in French (except for the art cinema) and I was kind of craving some English. So I sat down every Wed and watched. After several weeks I was a convert! I don’t even know what season it was any more. Once I got my first laptop about a year later, the first thing I did (after ordering The Lord of the Rings extended edition off Amazon) was head over to the Mediathèque (sort of a cross between a video rental place and library) and rented the first disc of Season 1 of Buffy. I started pacing myself 2 by 2 (episodes) but soon ended up devouring discs. It was torture the final seasons waiting for them to appear on dvd… Ditto with Angel.

    Since then I’ve bought both series and have watched my own copies straight through -also putting Angel discs right after corresponding Buffys, helps with the occasional crossover- at least twice completely (maybe 3, not sure, I think the 3rd time I just jumped around to favourite episodes), and several episodes I’ll pop in the machine just ’cause I feel like it (“Once More With Feeling”, “Hush”, “Smile Time”, the pilot…)

    So I’m really looking forward to your trip into the Whedonverse! And as others have said, be patient with the first season of each, but after that… WOW!

    Sorry for the endless comment… I seem to have let my inner slayer out and she won’t shut up! And for the record, I’m not one of those 99% you mentioned who will find a post too long! 😉

  17. Do you have a crossover list for Buffy and Angel? Because there are several times where you’ll need to flip between the shows for crossovers and whatnot to get the full effect. I mapped it out for a friend once, email me if you would like this list for when you get later into the series. 🙂

    • I’ve done it both ways, and honestly, the constant flip-flopping between Buffy and Angel was distracting. Unless all I’m sitting down to do is watch the crossover eps, I much prefer watching each show on its own.

      Myles, you should definitely consider watching it crossover style, but it’s a lot of work and can take away your focus from each show. Anyway, you have until the beginning of Buffy S4 to decide. (I mapped it out a while ago as well, and I’m relatively certain I’ve seen at least three other time-lines online in terms of when to watch what, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to figure out.

    • deducter

      There is a significant amount of crossover for Buffy S4/Angel S1, with many episodes that make much, much sense or tie up plot lines from one show in the other. I’m sure fans are familiar with the Ring of Amara, I Will Remember, This Year’s Girl/Who Are You/Five by Five/Sanctuary. There are numerous crossover episodes in the subsequent seasons too that makes the most sense when watched in order. I agree with the decision to watch the shows in order chronologically, even if it involves the hassle of switching DVDs.

  18. stevi

    Just discovered your little project from the Whedonverse site, and I’m really excited to follow along. I recently began introducing a friend to the series, and have been super excited to experience it through her fresh eyes. She’s fairly unspoiled in regards to the big plot twists ahead, so it’s really interesting to see how she reacts. It’s always a little nerve-wracking introducing a friend to something near and dear to one’s heart (what if she hates it? Can we still be friends?). But it’s also fun to relive those moments – the funny ones, the sad ones, the shocking ones, the “what the heck is going on” ones – with someone who’s experiencing it for the first time. I hope your journey is enjoyable, entertaining and educational. Welcome to the Buffyverse!

  19. Pingback: A Cultural Comeback: The Return of the Cultural Catchup Project | Cultural Learnings

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