A Joss Whedon Animal, with many other contributors
Starring Sarah Michelle, Flute-Masturbator, Obligatory British Stuffypants, blah blah blah for 500 words right here
Whatever format this will turn out to be
This shares a fair amount with Harry Potter in that it's about the super-special dork from high school who has a mentor and a cadre of essential friends and parents who just don't understand. Wait... I just described practically every story about a kid in school; and I also decided that I don't want this to be eleven thousand words of drivel. If you're expecting something akin to my Twilight stuff, you'd best tune away now.
I was reluctant to begin this exercise. I'm the on the space end of the SF spectrum, not the sorcery side. I am a proud roll player, as differentiated from a role player. I just don't have time to take this stuff so seriously. But I sat through it, because it bought me a few decibels. I didn't write down any notes during this experience, so I'm not going to be very specific and I'm probably going to get some things wrong. Please correct me. I will enjoy the waves of your fervor as they crash gracelessly against the cliff of my indifference.
Two introductory paragraphs later, we begin the first season. One forgives most series their first season, as it takes time to develop ground rules and give voices to a myriad of characters. I have no problem extending that clemency here. Nothing made me hate the show or the concept or anything like that. Even while friendships developed and bitchinesses were reconciled, the show found time to develop itself as a classic procedural. In the majority of episodes in the first six seasons, I could set my watch by when things happened. 90% of the time the solution to the week's problem made itself apparent during minute 33. Extend that out to the level of the season, and episodes 22 and 23 were dedicated to defeating an enemy who was fully analyzed somewhere between the end of episode 19 and the middle of episode 21. So what? Law and Order had a similarly rigid format and that lasted over 20 years.
This show was a train, chugging along the track of that formula; and in fact the first season was above average in execution here. With the exception of the last, the seasonal arc stories were all mostly irrelevant. The factor most responsible for making the show interesting or annoying is the secondary characters. Seasons 4 and 5 were dragged to the ground by the twin foils of The Government and Angel (who I think appeared before season 4 and who regularly showed up to either deus-ex-machina the proceedings or just annoy them to a halt). And both of those items made me groan when I saw the appropriate actors' names in the credits. There was plenty of fun here as well, with people like Anya and (to a lesser extent) Xander around to be unintentionally funny and unfunny, respectively. Season 6 had those three fucking kids; and it was the most ill-conceived of them all. I do not accept that it took Buffy, especially with Willow the techie let alone Willow the witch so long to figure that stuff out; but I do appreciate how those characters had done in earlier seasons some things to sow the seeds for their later development.
(This is a good spot for a brief discussion of the growth of Buffy herself. While it might be marked by which idiot she chose to fuck that's not really the point. She went from schoolgirl stupidity (pre-Angel) to stupid neediness and pretend maturity (Angel) to slightly-greater maturity (army guy whose name doesn't even register with me) to raw sex followed by the comprehension of codependency which is a mature relationship (Spike). Each of those phases is mirrored in the way she behaves and how she fights. So good job on that one.)
There were some ambitious ideas at play through most of the show. A school blowing up in the face of real world events, especially 15 years ago, was pretty ballsy. There were the "concept" episodes, like the musical one (shmeh) and the silence one and the addition arc (OK). Joss never shied away from aspects of sexuality which could very well have cost him some sponsors. I'm not just talking about the frank depiction of lesbians. There was plenty of intersection between humans, demons, vampires, and werewolves as well. And people's various addictions, the high water mark of which is Willow's bender, influenced their actions in believable ways which were only over the top when necessary (which, I suppose, undercuts the notion of 'over the top,' but...)
It's that ambition which drove a generally very good seventh season. With tighter serialization and much higher stakes, the show became interesting to watch for both the large plot AND the interplay of the characters. While the way it was presented had the side-effect of undermining the stakes of most of the earlier "big bads," the change in tone drew me in on a cerebral level which I hadn't experienced in this show. The idea that people all over the world were dying made the notion of Buffy as protector much more believable, and the other elements of multi-stage bosses and mystical weapons provided a narrative (for more good than ill) much more like a good video or role-playing game.
All of that's a shame in light of the truly weak two-part-but-not-really series finale. Aside from the fact that nobody needed reminding that Angel was still around, the whole thing kind of ended with a thud where the involvement of Buffy and all the potentials was just a side point in getting pure ol' Spike to act as a lens for the light of the sun--see the proto-Meyers middle school poetry and fake irony?--be destroyed while laying waste to all the super-vampires. Technical issues aside, the last shot of the remaining crew members standing in front of the crater that is Sunnydale was unnecessary and more than a little silly.
I had held out against this for years, and the four or five month exercise of watching all 150-odd episodes has left me with little actual improvement other than the chance to get oblique references made by friends who I hardly see anymore. Sure, I was entertained, but I wasn't moved in the way I had been told for a (fuck!) almost half my life that I would be.