The writer’s love for Sunnydale’s heroine and her gang was all-consuming. Just don’t tell her how it ended
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The WB, 1997-2001; UPN, 2001-2003
UK tx: BBC2/Sky 1
I consumed a lot of television growing up. Some good, some questionable, some eye-bogglingly awful but in a brilliant way (here’s looking at you, Sunset Beach).
But the show that took over my life was Buffy. I didn’t just watch it, think about it, talk about it – I was consumed by it.
Every week, I would issue a warning to my family: it’s Buffy time. They knew to leave well alone. I’d then shut all the doors, put the videotape in to record the episode (because of course I would need to watch and rewatch) and then sit down and wait for the blissful forty-five minutes to begin.
Blissful is the wrong word. In fact, no one word comes close - often it was terrifying, devastating, hilarious all in the space of five minutes.
Here was this young woman, Buffy Summers, the ultimate outsider having to find her people, her place in the world (whilst saving it) and her identity.
There was nothing saccharine about the band of misfits that grouped around Buffy. They didn’t always get along, they teased each other mercilessly, they even broke each other’s hearts, but ultimately they always came together in service of a greater good.
In another writer’s hands, these powerhouse female characters would be rendered as types, but here they’re flesh and blood: difficult, contrary, capable of great kindness and then casual cruelty.
It feels odd to me even now to analyse it, to try to talk about things like the intensely brilliant and detailed character work. When I was watching it, I had no clue that I would end up as a scriptwriter. I barely even knew writing was a job, it felt like more of a fantasy.
Of course, I’d see Joss Whedon’s name flash up - I’d read as much about him and his team of writers as I could - but I was experiencing the show purely as a fan.
Certain episodes are seared into my memory. Becoming, when Buffy has to kill her love to save the world; The Body, in which an utterly normal day is upended when Buffy discovers her mother lying dead on the sofa; Graduation, where slayer faces off against slayer, leaving both forever changed.
Anya. Cordelia. Faith. All such powerhouse female characters – in another writer’s hands rendered as types, but here they’re flesh and blood: difficult, contrary, capable of great kindness and then casual cruelty.
Then of course there’s Buffy – who didn’t have to act like one of the boys to be the best at what she did.
They provided everything a good TV show should – emotional engagement, then release and lots and lots of laughter.
Although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, it made me want to write. Keep writing. Write until it was good enough for people to watch, always put women at the heart of every single story, and make sure never to leave the humour out of any situation.
I must end with a confession: I love the show so much that I have never watched the final episode. I couldn’t bear to then, I can’t bear to now.
I can only dream that one day someone feels they too can’t say goodbye to my characters.
- Marnie Dickens is the writer of BBC3 drama Thirteen and BBC1’s Gold Digger, which will air later this year