How Buffy the Vampire Slayer Broke TV Barriers

Now, Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have aired in the ’90s, but it has swelled to cult status even in 2020. How can a show that had its heyday in a different century still appeal to contemporary society? Let alone one that was aimed at an older generation?

Yes, sometimes I re-watch episodes and find them a tad dated – well, from a 21st century standpoint. However, Joss Whedon‘s supernatural action series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar smashed genre TV barriers back then that are still applicable to modern culture.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke the mold and paved the way for genre TV as we know it today. (Spoiler warning!)


LGBTQIA+ representation

Naturally, this one is significant. As I was preparing for this piece, Buffy‘s impact on LGBTQIA+ representation in television was the first thing that popped into my mind. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara’s (Amber Benson) open relationship was so poignant and touching. It’s something we seldom saw on network television in the 20th century.

While we still have a long way to go, I feel Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s portrayal of queer love helped open the floodgates for more representation. Side note: I’m still mourning Tara’s death. Please allow me my privacy at this time.


Strong and complex heroine was its focal point

We’re so used to seeing the heroic, dashing male character leading the charge in genre TV. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) changed that dynamic for the better. She was a strong heroine who kicked her fair share of vampire/demon ass. She was more than capable of standing on her own without a man.

Not only that, but she was multifaceted and complex. Buffy had flaws, and that made her all the more relatable. Nowadays, we have more shows with female leads taking names and kicking serious bum.


Broke the mold with a musical episode – “Once More, With Feeling”

More modern series are adding musical episodes to their arsenal all thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Once More, With Feeling” aired in the show’s sixth season. To this day, I still see various singalong gatherings dedicated to this episode. It’s become elevated to The Rocky Horror Picture Show status.

“Once More, With Feeling” impacted fantasy shows like The Magicians, which now has one musical episode per season. The musical theater fever is spreading!


Social issues ran rampant

The social themes/issues presented in Buffy are still relevant today. For example: Willow’s use of dark magic after Tara was murdered. It amplified the grief process, and how it’s easy to rely on temporary solutions for a permanent fix instead of wading through the waters of grief headfirst.

Not to mention, characters like Spike (James Marsters) and Angel (David Boreanaz) wrestled with their morality on a constant basis. It was a reminder that light and dark exist in tandem within us all. In Season 6, Buffy struggled with depression after she was raised from the dead.


Witty, fast-paced dialogue 

If you thought Aaron Sorkin jam-packed his projects with fast-paced dialogue, then you need to check out Whedon’s work. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had brilliantly clever, tongue-in-cheek one-liners. His brand of humor is also quite dry, which appeals to me.

Wynonna Earp, another modern supernatural series, was definitely swayed by Whedon’s dialogue. In addition, contemporary humor has taken on a drier tone thanks to Buffy‘s influence.


Killed off its main character

Supernatural, who? Buffy the Vampire Slayer killed off its lead character in 2001. Well, that’s when Whedon and co. was convinced Buffy wouldn’t garner a renewal.

Regardless, Buffy’s sacrifice was as poignant back then as it is today. Now, it’s not unusual for genre shows to take this course of action i.e. The Magicians and Game of Thrones.


Bad guys turned good

We love a bad-guy-gone-good! Spike and Angel both took this route amid the course of Buffy, as well as in Angel (Angel’s spin-off series). Both vampires eventually gained their souls along with sound moral compasses.

However, there was always the possibility they could lose their souls and morph back into evil children of the night. That makes for good drama, folks. Once Upon A Time played around with this trope as well – Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen eventually turned good.


Took creative risks 

“Hush” from Season 4 is a prime example of this. It was an episode completely devoid of sound, which made the Gentlemen (the villains) all the more formidable. “The Body,” from Season 5, dealt with the aftermath of Joyce Summers’ unexpected passing (Buffy’s mother). When Buffy initially discovers her, the scene is bereft of sound.

In fact, the remainder of the episode continues on without music. It’s a punch in the gut, and a realistic reaction one has when a loved one dies. Time seems to stop. The world ceases spinning. Not to mention, Anya’s heartbreaking monologue on not knowing how to process grief is vulnerability personified.


“Monster of the Week” approach 

This is especially evident in Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s earlier seasons, back when Buffy was in high school and regularly patrolling the cemetery for fiendish vamps. She would defeat a “monster of the week” with her Sunnydale High cohorts.

We normally see this formula adhered to procedural dramas, but now it’s not uncommon to see genre shows adopt said formula. See: Wynonna Earp, Supernatural, LuciferThe Flashetc.


Buffy‘s impact will resonate as long as TV remains a popular medium. Its legacy will continue on forever. Long live the Slayer – Savior of Sunnyvale and beyond!

Have you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Let Your Geek Sideshow in the comments below and share your favorite memories of the show!