Saturday, 22 February 2014

Vampire Slaying, fifteen years too late.

I've never seen a vampire in real life.  Apart from some questionable characters seen during various festivals at Whitby, my life has been vampire-free, and all the worse for it, it seems.  I've recently been getting into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you see.  The endless joys of Netflix have enabled me to scoot merrily through seasons 1-6, and it is being made increasingly clear by Joss Whedon's critically acclaimed show that vampires make your life a whole lot more exciting.

Anya's Hallowe'en suit - like Bishop
Len Brennan, she is terrified of rabbits.
I should have watched Buffy at the proper time, of course.  It first aired in 1998, when I was fourteen, sitting comfortably in its demographic; however, I somehow managed to miss out on its charms.  Being an American show at a time when  The Simpsons and Friends were still pretty esoteric and niche on this cold, huddled little island made it almost imperceptible to me.  I am vaguely aware that it was on BBC throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, but I was busy with the grimy business of being a teenager and later a student.  I simply missed it.  But now, eager to make for lost time, I'm imbibing the contents of this macabre, funny and tightly plotted programme like a crazed man drinking Drambuie before Christmas is up.

It's tricky to define what makes Buffy such a good show.  I should confess that part of my joy is probably taken from my naive assumption that a show with a name as seemingly foolish as 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' must be awful.  How nice it is to have one's prejudices slashed like this - if only the same thing could happen to my view of Tories.  So, part of my enjoyment may stem from this astonishment.  However, the bulk of it is down to the character arcs.  In fact, they are more viaducts than arcs, given their complexity.  Buffy, for example, undertakes challenges and difficulties that shape, distort and bend her into one of the most complex characters I've seen in a TV show.  She dies at least twice (by Season 6 - I won't tell you how or why) and has family members come and go like Pop-Up Pirate.  She has a turbulent love life revolving around the undead themselves, and hates herself for it.  Her best friends are regularly put in mortal danger by her very existence.  She holds the fate of every living creature on Earth in her poor hands.  Watching her life billow and crease and occasionally fall apart is great fun.  The supporting cast have just as convoluted and myriad plotlines that weave and twirl around each other, creating a colourful, emotional and hilarious tapestry of death and despair.  The oxymorons mount up due to the very dichotomy at the heart of the show - it's a true horror-comedy.

So, a complex, involving show that makes you scream, cry and chortle in equal measures?  Yes; that's precisely what Buffy is.  A sample episode - the Emmy-winning 'Hush' from Season 4 - had me squirting hot tears of terror at regular intervals, thanks to the menacing yet oddly camp withered-headed villains that steal the voices of a population, leaving an episode almost devoid of dialogue (usually the show's strongest suit).  The characters resort to crude charades-style miming to convey the plot to each other, and to us.  Yet this is, of course, where the humour comes in - confusion, bewilderment and misunderstood gestures are always a grand source of amusement, after all.  So I dilly-dallied between fear and amusement like a man on a waltzers filled with twirling axes.

As for the archetypal Englishman, Rupert Giles... I cannot stress enough what a fine portrayal of a disconnected yet caring father figure this is.  Anthony Head gives a performance that even trumps his Nescafe adverts of the late 1980s (no mean feat, and you know it), and his departure is a harrowing moment that suggests that a vital safety net has been removed from underneath the Slayer, making her even more vulnerable.  I'm told he returns before the end, and I seriously hope he does, as watching the younger characters flounder and struggle to find answers without his wisdom and security is probably as stressful as actually trying to sort it all out yourself.

So, fifteen years late, I am discovering a show that has shocked me with its quality - a show that I am actually extremely sad to have missed the first time round.  I can only imagine how it would have impacted my impressionable little brain back then.  It even has an episode that is entirely in the form of a traditional musical...

No comments:

Post a Comment