Monday, July 19, 1999

Fire Bad, Tree Pretty

My name is Dave and I'm a Buffaholic. It's been six days since I last saw an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I admit I really enjoyed the final episode of yet another fine season more than I probably should have and I truly realize I need some help. In a defining moment in another lifetime a person whose opinion still carries a great deal of weight told me that I often say things that I don't mean. Thus I know when I tell family and friends my fondness for Buffy the Vampire Slayer they more often than not roll their eyes and probably think to themselves, "Just David being David." Little do they realize that I haven't felt such an emotional attachment to television since Hill Street Blues (my all time favorite TV show) left the air all those years ago.

Buffy of course has little in common with Hill Street other than the rather extraordinary writing in a medium that more often than not relies on formula and commerce over artistry and soul. That is understandable since the name of the game is to attract not only the largest audience possible, but to also appeal to the demographic that advertisers feel spend the most money on their products. Creativity while a worthy goal thus gives way to trying to be everything to everybody. Kind of sounds a bit like what enduring high school is all about. And of course there has been no better show than Buffy to demonstrate the pain that is the undercurrent of high school life. In that icky setting one either realizes or doesn't that the demons one must fight are as likely to come from within as they are from the insensitive ghouls that exist in every high school in the country.

The best part of the show is how the kids of Sunnydale week after week are attacked by demons and vampires and yet even as classmates disappear left and right they are still more worried about being popular, about finding love, about the prom. Even the vampires themselves often have self esteem issues. The show's dialogue is constantly witty, the best television has to offer.

One thing that Hill Street and Buffy do share in common is a rather black sense of humor. Both shows strive on showing that the best defense from confusion and chaos is a resilient sense of humor. In the center of the storm of the Hill Street police precinct that at its best tried to hold together an impossible situation, was its unflappable captain, Frank Furillo. The glue that holds together the ever skeptical group at Sunnydale High is Buffy, the wannabe California girl who after a night of vampire slaying jokes her way through the horror of her involuntary status as the "chosen" one.

The season finale of Buffy of course got some unwarranted attention because the WB network decided at the last moment to pull it after the tragic events of the shooting at Columbine High. The episode dealt the with "ascension" of the city's mayor into an indestructible, all powerful, serpent like creature due to take place at Sunnydale High's graduation. (Symbolism? Graduating from high school is to turn into something that thinks it is all important but to others looks rather demonic?) That the mayor/serpent is to be stopped by students armed with weapons made WB officials feel that the episode too closely mirrored issues involved with the killings in Colorado. Back in May when the episode was originally scheduled to air, I had a lot on my mind. I programmed my VCR to tape my weekly fix of Buffy only to find when I got home that I hadn't set the button to record the show. It was late after midnight when I discovered my error, and I felt insufferably sad that I had seemingly missed the finale (part two of two). The next day I read that the episode had been pulled. Whew. I applauded the WB not for the integrity of its decision but because I hadn't missed something I truly did not want to miss.

Last week when the episode finally aired my anticipation was great. I remembered how my friend's grandmother has a saying about how anticipation is so much more powerful than actual events. In this case grandma's words did and did not ring true. There wasn't anything the show could possibly do to live up to expectations. But it nearly did. The heart of the show- the doomed relationship between slayer and bad vampire gone good, Angel, who is being eternally punished by being given back his soul so he can understand the consequences of his past actions- is heart wrenching. Buffy may be the one with the tears but Angel no doubt suffers from knowing that he must forsake the great love of his life simply because he knows what happens tomorrow will be more difficult than whatever happiness today may bring. The scene where Buffy saves Angel was about as sensual as TV can get.

At the end of the finale Buffy's group of friends take the time to reflect on their accomplishment; not so much the slaying of the mayor/serpent but rather that they have somehow managed to survive the struggles of high school. Something else is now around the corner and while it is important to understand that, they realize that at the very least they must acknowledge the events they have already seen will forever mark all the difficulty that tomorrow inevitably brings.

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