Buffy the Vampire Slayer is celebrating its 20-year anniversary tomorrow, and while the story (and the fashions) might technically be dated, the show is somehow more relevant than ever. Creator Joss Whedon tapped into a world where myths and monsters could be used to represent real problems, with a brilliant dash of his signature humor and heart. In celebration of 20 years of Buffy slayage, let’s travel to Sunnydale and celebrate this incredible show together (hopefully before the school blows up again).
Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how incredible an actress she is, and how integral she was to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No one, I repeat, no one else could’ve brought Buffy to life as much as she did. Gellar handled the comedic and action-filled scenes like a pro, but her real strength was in the show’s more dramatic moments. Gellar’s performance was wrought with real, raw emotion. Nobody ever recovers after watching her in “The Body.” Nobody.
Xander first jokingly called the group the Scooby Gang in episode two, and luckily, the name stuck... becoming their adorable team moniker for the entire run of the show. Who doesn’t want to be a Scooby?
All of the Scoobies are amazing in their own right, but special attention needs to be paid to Cordelia (she would demand nothing less). She started out as Buffy’s high-school nemesis, a modern diva who dressed like a soccer mom and cared about nothing beyond her own selfish needs. As the show went on, her character grew into a full-fledged member of the gang. She was still kind of snobby and selfish, but she was 100 percent dedicated to her friends and their mission. Then, when she moved to Angel, she simply blossomed, becoming one of the most fascinating people in the franchise.
Three of the saddest words in Buffy fandom.
I loved how Anya was terrified of bunnies. It was weird and random enough to perfectly fit her eccentric character. Granted, that admiration was ruined a bit after Anya’s bunny-filled backstory was revealed in the season seven episode “Selfless”—come on, guys, we didn’t need a reason for Anya to hate rabbits. In any case, we got to see Anya in a giant bunny costume as it was the most terrifying Halloween costume she could imagine, so it was all worth it.
I don’t care if you’re Team Angel or Team Spike, none of Buffy’s couplings can hold a candle to Willow and Tara. It was the best relationship on the show, period.
Amy Adams isn’t the only famous celebrity who cut their teeth fighting or becoming vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Other rando appearances include Kal Penn, Amber Tamblyn, Shane West. Even Oberyn from Game of Thrones (pictured) stopped by Sunnydale for a visit in the season four episode “The Freshman.” I don’t blame him. It’s a popular spot. They’ve got coffee.
She was cute, she was deadly, and “a little gay.” What’s not to love? Whedon took the fan-favorite character from “The Wish” and brought her into our world for one episode, mostly because she was just too cool to leave dead in Cordelia’s alternate reality. Bonus points for putting her in Willow’s nightmarish pink fuzzy sweater that, inexplicably, you’ll soon be able to buy at Hot Topic.
You can’t single any of them out (except for the aforementioned Willow sweater), they’re all iconically terrible—a perfect storm of late ‘90s and early 2000s fashion mishaps. The full-length denim skirts, the asymmetrical tank tops... the Hawaiian shirts, oh god, any of Xander’s shirts, really. There’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to Buffy’s awful ensembles, and it’s worth poring through for hours.
“Hush” was nominated for a writing Emmy, even though it only has 17 minutes of dialogue. That’s all you need to know to understand how groundbreaking this season four episode was. The Gentlemen, some of the show’s creepiest villains, steal everyone’s voices so they can silently steal some hearts, and the Scoobies struggle to express their feelings to each other in the wake of losing something as integral as human communication. A bold and risky episode of TV, the episode ends up saying so much with so little.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer might’ve been a show where people died left and right, but there were still moments when death became a real and pervasive tragedy. Most notably is Buffy’s mom, who was found dead in her house after succumbing to a tumor. “The Body” was a powerful episode about how people deal with grief, especially against forces beyond their control. It’s the one episode people are genuinely afraid to put on, because it will stay with you for days.
The Master is the quintessential Buffy the Vampire Slayer villain. He’s the first baddie Buffy faced, and the one who first killed our beloved Slayer. But... he had fruit punch mouth. Thank goodness Buffy eventually pointed it out for us, in the season one finale “Prophecy Girl,” because it totally needed to be said.
In the season two episode “Halloween,” devilish trickster Ethan Rayne enchanted all of his costumes to transform their wearers into becoming their outfit... basically turning Buffy into a damsel in distress while a bunch of monster kids attacked strangers. The episode, while pretty inconsequential, ended up having one long-standing benefit: Xander retained a bunch of his knowledge that he acquired while dressed as a soldier, which he used randomly in later episodes to help the Scoobies out of some jams. Xander... taking cosplay to the extreme. Made him 100% cooler in my book.
Buffy may have been surrounded by the Scoobies, but Mr. Pointy was her one true friend. He saw her through thick and thin, and plenty of vampire dustings. Plus, it turned out some of the series’ best jokes... like that infamous stake-miming scene from “Hush.”
This isn’t a nod to season six’s villainous trio as a whole, but rather to each of the characters individually. As a group, they were pretty stupid and useless. By themselves, they were some of the most interesting characters in later seasons of Buffy. Jonathan was a constant presence on the show, growing from a nerdy background character to a key supporting character, with a fanciful pit stop in season five’s “Superstar” (one of my personal favorites). There was Andrew, a spin-off of a previous villain who morphed into a true hero by season seven. Then you’ve got Warren, a genuinely terrible man who challenged the show’s ideas of what it means to be a villain.
Buffy was all about metaphors, it was one of the show’s biggest strengths. This one may have been one of the clunkiest (literally the walls are crumbling around them as they cave into their sexual needs), but it hinted how their relationship was mutually toxic and would only end in destruction. Plus, it was hot as hell.
You heard that right. The first use of “googling” was heard on Buffy the Vampire Slayer by our technie-turned-witchie Willow. Buffy made history, folks.
Nowadays, we might see musical episodes as a staple instead of a gamble, with shows like Supergirl and Once Upon a Time taking them on... but when Whedon first pitched a song-filled episode of Buffy, some of the actors worried it would ruin their careers. Instead, season six’s episode “Once More, With Feeling” ended up becoming one of the show’s most iconic episodes, with songs that defined the characters’ stories and journeys... and featured some talented performances, notably from Anthony Head as Giles.
It especially ended up a real turning point for Buffy herself, who was in the midst of an internal crisis after being brought back from the dead. It’s no surprise that Gellar, who wasn’t a singer, took weeks of lessons because she didn’t want someone else to sing for Buffy.
The Dark Willow storyline is one of the most divisive in Buffy fandom (I personally love it, though I understand why people don’t), but there’s no denying its conclusion was beautiful and inspiring. Xander, the lone Scooby without supernatural abilities, calms and restores Willow using nothing but his unconditional love for her and a story from their childhood involving a yellow crayon. Season six carried themes about the power of humanity, so it made sense that Xander was the only thing who could bring Willow back from the brink.
No list can ever limit the number of things I can love about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are too many to count. Joyce and Giles banging on a car, Glory’s entire gloriousness, Buffy’s beautiful goodbye to Dawn in “The Gift.” It’s an incredible piece of television. I don’t care if The Initiative sucked, or the fact that there was a weird slut-shaming subplot in season two’s “Go Fish.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best shows of the modern generation, and its influence will be felt for years.