Back when I was in academia, my Film Studies chum Mark Jancovich and I would discuss how it was that television these days was so much better than the movies. And here we are twenty years later, and almost everyone has caught up with that idea. The movies are a zombified example of stuck culture: remakes and reboots and endless comic book films and cynical exploitation of a tiny constituency’s complete lack of critical faculties. Star Wars XVII here we come.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been experiencing the joy of watching my teenage children watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We’re up to Season 6, and last night was an orgy of delighted squeals as they watched ‘Once More, With Feeling’, the one with all the songs. The older one remembers hearing the theme songs from upstairs in bed when she was little; the younger one has been gorging herself on spoilers, via a friend who has already seen it. Watching that episode, you have to wonder how Joss Whedon ended up reduced to directing yawn-inducing interminable, plotless, superhero movies. Perhaps we’re in some crazy parallel universe, the Vamp Willow one.
Buffy ran from 1997 to 2003, which makes it a 90s show, though it refuses to confine itself to a single decade. It was in the 90s that Mark and I agreed that television is better than the movies. Back then, we based our opinions on such fare as The X Files (1993 to 2002); Homicide: Life on the Street (1993 to 1999); NYPD Blue (1993 to 2005); ER (1994 to 2009); Northern Exposure (1990 to 1995); and so on.
If these shows had parents, they were shows that started in the 80s, paving the way for the greatness to come: Hill Street Blues (1981 to 1987); St. Elsewhere (1982 to 1988); thirtysomething (1987 to 1991); and Seinfeld (1989 to 1998).
Anyway, all that preamble was simply leading up to this. People often ask me, what’s your favourite TV show? And I never really have much of an answer because I love so much that is on television at the moment. I love The Good Wife, and Game of Thrones, and Justified… But it was sitting down to watch Buffy with my kids that reminded me: christ, but that show was brilliant. So much good writing, episode after episode of brilliant performances, and a real emotional punch that showed it had heart. I think Sarah Michelle Gellar is brilliant in it, and the supporting cast (apart from Riley) are all superb. Buffy showed what television was capable of: that it could transcend the narrow confines of genre and become part of the vernacular. My idea of true happiness: watching my kids watching Buffy.