Today marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a series now so revered and academically analyzed you can literally get a Masters Degree in Buffy studies (well, technically, a Masters in Cult and Film Studies). I can’t claim to be a Buffy fan from way back, but I can at least say that I first got into the show back when the only way to binge something was through DVD box sets. Remember the Portlandia sketch about binging Battlestar Galactica? That was me with the Buffy box sets. Actually, that was me with Buffy AND Battlestar. TV addict=me.
Anyway, the internet has been celebrating Buffy‘s #buffyslays20 anniversary all week. Various outlets have been running their “Buffy is so, so great. We need more shows like it” and “No, seriously, Buffy is amazing. It changed TV forever!” and “If you don’t stop and watch these 10 best episodes of Buffy right now I will kill this puppy in front of you” pieces (I might have made that last one up). Vox even terrified some of us by revealing Netflix might drop Buffy and Angel at the end of the month just as it already has in several international markets. But, hey, the episodes will still be on Hulu. Yay?
However, in addition to the various essays praising the undeniable greatness that is Buffy there have also been multiple interviews with cast members, writers and producers (via AVClub, THR and others). Here’s what I learned from reading those:
1. They first started talking about doing a musical episode way back when they were still filming the 25-minute presentation which more or less served as their pilot
Anthony Head: Joss was directing the presentation and he, Sarah and I were waiting to shoot the library scene and we started talking about musicals. He was a huge musical fan; Sarah said, “Me too!” And he had the idea right then and said, “We must do a musical one year.” Year after year went by and I’d keep saying, “Are we going to do the musical?” And he’d say, “No, no. That’s not a good idea.” And then we did it [in season six]. That was one of my favorites because I was in my element.
2. It entered the zeitgest faster than you think
David Greenwalt [Buffy Writer-Director-Producer/Angel Co-Creator]: Within three weeks of the show there was a Jeopardy question about Buffy. That shows how quickly it went into the zeitgeist.
3. Danny Strong originally auditioned to play Xander.
Strong: I think—and it was actually my first encounter with Buffy—was auditioning for the pilot presentation for the part of Xander. And to this day, I say I was robbed. I think I would have made a great Xander.
4. It wasn’t hard for Kristine Sutherland to find the inspiration to play a divorced single mom.
Sutherland: It was very moving for me to play a single mom. My own mother was a single mother, and I watched her struggle with that role at a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable to be divorced. So to have had the opportunity to play a single mother struggling with raising her own daughter was something personally very close to my heart. My mother had to accept that I wasn’t going to have the life that she had envisioned for me, just as Joyce had to accept Buffy’s destiny and come to admire her strengths and her gifts.
5. James Marsters had the greatest comeback for anyone who trotted out the ole “Buffy’s too small to be believable as a badass” argument
Marsters: I remember talking to one of the original Star Wars actors and he said Buffy was a stupid show because no woman that size could hit that hard and defend herself that well. (Laughs.) I said, “I am so glad I am talking to you, buddy! By the way, I do a lot of my own stunts, and I’m doing the stunts with the stunt doubles for Buffy. There’s three of them, they’re multiple black belts and believe me they could kill us right here, right now, without breaking a sweat.” And then he kept going on and on and I said, “How tall is Bruce Lee?” And that was the end of the conversation.
6. Charisma Carpenter once spanked Danny Strong on set because, well, she’s Charisma Carpenter and can thus do whatever she wants.
Strong: It was early in my run on the show, and I was walking by Charisma Carpenter, and, I don’t know why, but she spanked me. And then I turned to her, and I said, “Do it again.” And then her eyes lit up, and she spanks me again. And that’s my story.
7. The invisible girl now runs Skydance Television. Kind of.
Gail Berman [Producer]: When I heard the story of the “invisible girl” [from season one’s 11th episode, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,”] that’s something I could understand, very well. It was my favorite early story because I totally understood that a girl who felt invisible and no one paid attention to would ultimately become, invisible.There was just so much pain and anger in that story. It was so impactful to me. And the invisible girl was named after my assistant Marcy Ross, who is now the president of [production company] Skydance Television (Netflix’s Grace and Frankie). Marcy and I are probably the only ones who would say that’s our favorite episode, but there’s a real reason for it.
8. The Spike-Buffy romance almost didn’t happen because Joss felt like one romantic vampire (Angel) had been enough
Marsters: In Joss’ world, evil is not cool. He does not want to put out the message that you should fall in love with the school bully and you’ll have a great time because that’s a lie. If a man is mean to people he’s going to be mean to his girlfriend. They had to grapple with that a lot. Joss got talked into one romantic vampire and that was Angel. It wasn’t his idea, it was David Greenwalt’s. And Angel took off and Joss said, “That’s it. We do one of these only.” And then Spike came along, and the audience wasn’t supposed to respond to him that way. Joss felt like the show was teetering off its theme after that. If I had been him and that had happened with a second vampire I would have killed him off immediately. But then Joss had to find a way to work that in there. I always thought it would be great for Spike to fall in love with Buffy and her not reciprocate it. And they went a whole different way. First they put a chip in my head to keep me from killing anybody and then they had both of them fall in love with each other which just blew my mind. But ultimately it served the journey for Buffy and Spike. Love hurts in real life, and that’s what it was.
9. Buffy almost ended up with…Xander?
Nicholas Brendon: It was season seven and Joss sat Sarah and I down and he thought about having Buffy and Xander end up together at the end of the series. He said, “What do you guys think about that?” And we both said to go ahead and do it. In the end it didn’t work out.
10. James Marsters never read the scripts, beyond his own lines of course. Reason: spoilers.
Marsters: Joss doesn’t know this, but I never read the scripts for Buffy. I only read my scenes because I was actually a fan of the show and wanted to have that fan experience.
11. Joss Whedon personally re-filmed that scene with Spike and the cross. You know the one.
Marsters: There was a scene between Buffy and me in a church, and I think I ended up draping myself over a cross. I was very, very sad. [It was] a very dramatic scene. [Joss Whedon] didn’t direct it. He saw the footage and came up to me and he said, “Okay, James, I’ve got good news and bad news, what do you want?” I said, “Well, give me the bad news first.” He said, “Okay. That scene that was so important, your whole career-making scene? That sucks. It’s horrible. You kind of overacted. It’s not your fault. It was the direction. But it’s just so on the nose, and it’s just cringe-worthy. Do you want the good news?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Okay, I’m going to rewrite it, I’m going to direct it, I’m going to save this, it’s going to be right. Don’t worry.”
12. The infamous bathroom scene was a gender-swapped version of something that happened to one of the show’s female writers
Marsters: In the case of that scene, one of the female writers, in college, had been broken up with by her boyfriend, and decided that if she went over to his place, and if they made love one more time, everything would be fine. And so she tried to do that, and really kind of jumped the guy, and he had to push her off and say, “No, you have to leave now.” The thinking I think was that since Buffy was a superhero and completely capable of pushing Spike through a wall that it was kind of the same thing, and you could flip the sexes. My argument was that, actually, when anyone is watching Buffy, they are Buffy. That’s the vicarious experience that we’re offering. And so the audience, especially the female audience, they are not superheroes, but they are Buffy. And so I’m attempting to rape them. And that doesn’t quite work so well.
13. There was almost a Spike movie after Angel ended.
Marsters: Joss asked me at the end of Angel, “Do you want to do a Spike movie or something?” And I said, “Joss for you wherever I am in the world I will come and do it.
14. Emma Caulfield got an audition for Miss Congeniality off of Buffy. It didn’t go well.
Caulfield: [Buffy] marked me as a “funny gal.” I’d get sent out for comedies, but then I was told I wasn’t funny! (Laughs.) I read for Miss Congeniality and I was told that I can’t read for comedy. I was branded as a type of comedy. Nowadays that kind of humor is common. That was hard. I didn’t fit in anywhere. [People said], “Let’s give her the bitchy roles.” And I thought, “But I don’t want to play a bitch. Can’t I just play a normal person?” It wasn’t easy for me.
15. Michelle Trachtenberg is in the Writer’s Guild now
Trachtenberg: I was able to tell Joss recently that I’m in the Writers Guild now and I’ve sold screenplays and pilots, [Addressing a Buffy revival] but the thing I struggle with in my writing is that Buffy lived in a world where social media and cellphones weren’t a part of the story. You couldn’t Google “blah blah blah demon.” You had to go physically to the magic shop and find a book. You cannot re-create that today. Even if you tried to date it to back then it wouldn’t have the same impact as when it was fresh. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. From a writer’s perspective that’s what I view the show as. It would ruin the legacy to have it be in modern times, and we already did it right back then.
16. A revival, reboot or any kind of continuation is contingent on Joss actually wanting to do it, but everyone seems to have very mixed feelings
Berman: I would be really happy to get the call from Joss. I have my own thoughts of what it would look like, but my own thoughts are not important. It would be what he thought. I will always let everyone know this is all about Joss. I did everything I knew on how to to be supportive of that, but the stories, the direction, the writing and the tale telling, that’s all Joss.
David Fury: I can’t see Joss wanting to do it. He’s not looking for cash grabs. He’s proud of his legacy from that show and he has no reason to exploit it any further.
Eliza Dushku: Let’s leave it alone. This show still plays and works for people. In the finale the power was turned over to every girl in the world, to become slayers. That’s the revival we need and we’re already seeing today.
Charisma Carpenter: It would just make the fans so freaking happy. There’s a part of me that wants to satisfy that itch, but I don’t know if there are stories that could be told. We’re not in high school anymore. Most of us are in our 40s. It would have to be something like a Desperate Housewives meets vampires. And to do anything without Joss would ruin everything. I would absolutely do it if Joss was involved and it was an original idea.
Trachtenberg: A great idea would be an animated version of Buffy where it’s just our voices.
Greenwalt: You don’t reboot something when it was done right.
Joss Whedon: Somebody has to move on. We have to create new things for people to try to reboot. It’s something we all dreamed about. But then what happened? The sudden ending of My So-Called Life is only slightly less painful than the sudden ending of Firefly for me. I understand that feeling of, “We love this, and we can have it.” I was pitching a fan-funded Firefly to my agent before that was a concept. I see a little bit of what I call monkey’s paw in these reboots. You bring something back, and even if it’s exactly as good as it was, the experience can’t be. You’ve already experienced it, and part of what was great was going through it for the first time. You have to meet expectations and adjust it for the climate, which is not easily. Luckily most of my actors still look wonderful, but I’m not worried about them being creaky. I’m more worried about me being creaky as a storyteller. You don’t want that feeling that you should have left before the encore. I don’t rule it out, but I fear that.
If you’re hungry for more here’s our top 15 Buffy/Angel/Firefly episodes list as well as the story of how Buffy ended up re-filming its pilot.