I’d sing, “Happy Birthday,” but like the course of true love, Buffy birthdays never did run smooth, so this is decidedly an anniversary celebration, instead. Twenty years ago today, on Monday, March 10, 1997, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show premiered on the now defunct netlet, The WB. Television, and the internet too, have never been the same. Check out our epic BtVS picspam from the two part premiere episodes, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest,” (with a promo shot and bonus screencaps from later episodes, all courtesy of screencapped.net).
From creator Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer starred Sarah Michelle Gellar in the title role. Over its seven seasons and 144 episodes, the cast also included: Anthony Head, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Kristine Sutherland, Seth Green, Robia LaMorte, James Marsters, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, Seth Green, Marc Blucas, Danny Strong, Tom Lenk, Eliza Dushku, and Armin Shimerman (and more).
On March 10, 1997, this writer and mother of three only had one child, didn’t have her beloved dog, and had celebrated her 30th birthday less than a week prior. A Clinton was President of the United States. Life is so very different now, so let’s re-establish the mood.
Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Series Premiere Part I: “Welcome to the Hellmouth”
BtVS was a lovely, subversive work, from the start. Remember Darla (Julie Benz) breaking into Sunnydale High with a guy, and it looked like she was going to be vamp kibble, any second?
Yeah, that happens much less often on Joss-y good TV. Welcome to the Hellmouth, bitca. It wasn’t the cute blonde girl in the parochial school uniform in danger. She was the thing that went bump in the night. Meanwhile, her boy-toy ended up as the “extreme dead guy” in Aura’s locker. Good times.
The next morning would see Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wake after an unsettling prophetic dream about The Master (Mark Metcalf) and a horde of vampires. It was in the light of day that she had to face something even more terrifying, though — her first day at a new High School. Say it with me, Slayerettes: High School is Hell.
Fun fact: because BtVS premiered mid-season, the whole first season was shot before the premiere episode aired. This allowed Joss to sift through footage from all 13 season one episodes, to use in Buffy’s season one dream sequences.
Oh, look at poor Joyce (Kristine Sutherland). Don’t you miss her and her stilted stabs at positive parenting? “Okay! Have a good time. I know you’re gonna make friends right away. Just think positive. And honey? Try not to get kicked out.” Wanting to be a good daughter, Buffy said, “I promise.” And she did try, Joyce. It’s just that these things weren’t always in her control, but I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Since a new school can be so daunting, it’s a shame none of Buffy’s prophetic dreams introduced her to some of the people whose love, support, and assistance would make her into the most successful slayer, ever: her friends. Here comes one, now. Meet Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon).
Never shying from visual anvils, Whedon made sure we understood that with just one look…
Xander immediately fell for Buffy. I’d say he was slain, but the connotations of that word are far more serious, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Still, Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) was there to help him to his feet, as well as with his problem with the math. “Which part?” “The math.” Oh, Xander. Check out Theories in Trig. “…From the library, where the books live.”
Xander wasn’t the only boy at Sunnydale who noticed the new student. Jesse (Eric Balfour) summed up his in-depth analysis thusly: “New girl.” I agree, Xander. Jesse certainly was a font of nothing.
Meanwhile, Buffy had to meet with Principal Bob Flutie (Ken Lerner). Although at first he tried to act all cool and progressive, once Flutie ripped up Buffy’s record from Hemery High School in L.A., he got a gander at it, and began taping it back together. “Do you think uh ‘colorful’ is the word, not um ‘dismal’? […] You burnt down the gym.” Buffy sighs. “I did. I really did. But you’re not seeing the big picture, here. I mean, that gym was full of vampi — asbestos.”
After Flutie “serviced her needs,” the discomfort was far from over. Upon leaving the Principal’s office. Buffy walked smack dab into two students in the hallway and spilled the contents of her purse onto the floor. It seems her slayer reflexes were having an off-day.
This gave Xander the chance to swoop in for the rescue, which he promptly blew by blurting out, “Can I have you?” He corrected himself and provided Buffy with a sorely needed chuckle. His awkwardness, however, did not dissipate. From, “Xander — is me,” to “Maybe I’ll see you around. Maybe at school… since we… both… go there.” Oh, *sigh* Very suave, very non-pathetic, indeed.
And? He didn’t even get to give her back her stake.
From there, Buffy would meet pretty, popular Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter). While it first it seemed they might become fast friends, Buffy couldn’t quite stomach Cordy’s “softer side of Sears” snark at Willow. It was then I realized this little blonde chick might well win me over.
At first blush, Buffy couldn’t stomach Sunnydale High librarian Rupert Giles, either. After he slammed that moldy old Vampyr book down on the counter, Buffy said, “That’s not what I’m looking for,” and fled.
Being a social hero as well as a supernatural one, Buffy purposefully sought out Willow on the premise of getting some help catching up, even though Willow was pretty sure that Buffy couldn’t legally hang out with both her and Cordy. Buffy’s determination to reach out to this uneasy genius warmed my heart.
Once they spotted Willow and “new girl” Xander and Jesse rushed over to chat them up. Xander, as Jesse so aptly put it, immediately turned into a “bibbling idiot.” He did, however, manage to return Buffy’s stake and didn’t even laugh in her face when she claimed it was for self-defense.”Everyone has them in L.A. Pepper spray is just so passé.”
Cordelia interrupted the boys’ onslaught of questions about Buffy, in order to apprise her that gym had been cancelled because of the aforementioned extreme dead guy stuffed in Aura’s locker. Totally dead. Way dead. So not just a little dead, then, and no Cordy, Xander does not have an elsewhere to be.
After investigating, and finding the boy’s corpse and noting the fang marks in his neck, Buffy seeks out Giles. When he asks if the victim will rise, Buffy says, “No. To make you a vampire, they have to suck your blood, and then you have to suck their blood. It’s like a whole big sucking thing.” He reminds her of her duty, and explains Sunnydale is a monster magnet. Buffy doesn’t care. She’s all, “Go ahead, prepare me” for the lives (not a typo) of suckitude she’s about to experience, and then storms out.
It’s then, a confused Xander emerges from the stacks.
Meanwhile, The Master is mystically trapped in the ruins of a church. His minion Luke (Brian Thompson) prays for “the Sleeper” to wake and the world to bleed. Amen.
That night, Buffy departs for the Bronze, and on her way, realizes this fine, “young” fellow is stalking her. She gets the jump on him, though. Hey Angel, we thought you’d never get here.
Hello, Salty Goodness (TM Cordelia). Gorgeous in an annoying sort of way, Angel laughs at her wee size, then gives Buffy some cryptic warnings about the Hellmouth, being ready for “The Harvest,” as well as some utilitarian jewelry, to boot.
Finally at the Bronze (in the bad part of town, just half a block away from the good part of town) Buffy catches up with Willow, who isn’t large with the mingling. “When I’m with a boy I like, it’s hard for me to say anything cool, or witty, or at all. I can usually make a few vowel sounds, and then I have to go away.” Buffy laughs and shares her philosophy: “Life is short. […] Seize the moment, because tomorrow you might be dead.”
When she spies Giles up on the Bronze catwalk, Buffy assures Willow she’ll be right back, and goes off to confront him. Although she says it’s skanky for him to party with students, he insists he’d rather be at home with a cup of Bovril and a good book. Together, they scan the Bronze for vampires and she tells him about Angel’s warning regarding “The Harvest.” It’s then that Buffy spots the “DeBarge” vampire, leading Willow out of the Bronze.
Buffy springs into action to save her fledgling friend, but almost stakes Cordelia, in the chase (pun not intended, but enjoy it, all the same).
Cordy’s all, “What is your childhood trauma?” Once Buffy slinks off, Cordelia addresses her Cordettes. “Excuse me, I have to call everyone I have ever met.”
As Buffy takes off to hunt down Willow and “DeBarge,” Jesse makes a new friend. Meanwhile, beneath Sunnydale, Luke meets with The Master about The Harvest. Dun dun dun.
Outside, Buffy asks where Willow went with some guy. Xander jokes that he hopes he isn’t a vampire, so Buffy won’t have to slay him. Buffy makes the point that vampires are real and so is the risk to Miss Rosenberg.
Upon tracking them down, Xander helps Willow and Jesse away from their vampiric captors and out of the mausoleum, while Buffy kills Thomas aka DeBarge (J. Patrick Lawlor). Eventually, Luke arrives, seemingly out of nowhere, and tosses our fair slayer around some, hurting her arm.
In the cemetery, Xander, Willow, and Jesse are approached by a fang gang. Inside the crypt, Luke blathers about The Harvest, The Master, and The Old Ones, while back at the library, Giles digs into his research. Finally, Luke leans in for the kill and “To Be Continued” flashes on the screen.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Series Premiere Part II: “The Harvest”
Now that we’ve met nearly anyone who is anyone in the Buffy series premiere, allow me to introduce The Master, himself.
Buffy will, of course, save Willow, Xander and most of the town, but not Jesse.
Eventually, Giles and Buffy bring Xander and Willow up to speed on vampires and vampire slayers and finally — the Scooby Gang is born. They’ll save the world. A lot.
And despite Giles’ predictions, because of them, the earth is not doomed. Furthermore, it is because of them it keeps on spinning.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Additional Characters
Over the episodes, seasons, and years to come, we will watch Buffy and Angel fall in love (and out of, but not really, it’s like cookie dough, or she is, or something. What we mean is this is how “it’s complicated” became a relationship status).
Ditto Oz (Seth Green) and Willow.
Giles and Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte).
We’ll get to meet Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau).
Annoying One Anointed One.
After Principal Flutie is eventually eaten by “The Pack,” we’ll even meet Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) who will subsequently get eaten by a giant snake.
Then there’s Faith (Eliza Dushku).
Jonathan (Danny Strong; yeah that Danny Strong, Game Change script writer and Empire co-creator).
Anya (Emma Caulfield).
Riley Finn (Marc Blucas).
Sweet, shy Tara (Amber Benson) who was Willow’s true love.
And don’t forget the wanna-blessed-be-s.
And to think it all started with these four California kids and their British school librarian.
Thank you Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and the cast and crew for so many wonderful memories and some terrific hours of television. Remember that dog I mentioned at the top of this article? She’s a Black Lab mix, we rescued. She was found down south, on the side of the road, with a litter of five newborn puppies.
After coming to our state, the puppies quickly found forever homes, but the already house-trained mama was stuck in foster care. When our family adopted her, we knew she needed a name which reflected her strength of character. Yep. We called her Buffy.
Happy 20th Anniversary, Buffy the Vampire Slayer! You didn’t just change TV (and the internet), you also changed my life and I’ll be forever grateful. I love you.
What do you think? Are you a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show? What are your favorite seasons, storylines, and episodes? Can you believe it has been 20 years since it premiered? Let us know, below.