In March this year, the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunited for a round of photoshoots and interviews to mark the 20th Anniversary of the show first gracing our TV screens. If you haven’t seen any of the clips from this happy reunion (where have you been?!), head on over to YouTube to look them up. Apart from the slightly sickening fact that none of the cast appears to have aged AT ALL in the intervening years, there is something really lovely about seeing them all back together in one place, talking about their time on the show.
Buffy really was ground-breaking in a number of different areas. The term “ground-breaking” may be somewhat overused these days, but in Buffy’s case, it really does hold up. For instance, the way that the series was structured, interweaving standalone stories with an ongoing seasonal arch leading up to a confrontation with the “Big Bad” at each season’s finale, may seem like a no-brainer these days, was not always so. Buffy may not have been the first series to go for this structure, but it is certainly one of the most memorable and influential and, due to the show’s popularity, it is a structure that has been more widely adopted since. Incidentally, writer/producer Russell T Davies, who headed up the re-launch of Doctor Who in 2005, cites Buffy has being partly responsible for the new Doctor Who series using a similar format.
Possibly more particular to Buffy was its season 6 musical episode Once More With Feeling. It was a complete departure from anything that the show had ever done, and yet at the same time it managed to feel like a natural phenomenon. Of course the residents of Sunnydale will spontaneously burst into song (and subsequently into flames, some of them). They live on a Hellmouth after all. Since this episode aired in 2001, it seems that other shows have had the courage to do the same. Again, a few shows had attempted musical episodes before Once More With Feeling, but there has been a definite increase since with shows such as Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, Fringe, and Sanctuary all seeing their characters stretch (but not strain) their vocal chords in recent years.
On top of the technical leaps and bounds made, Buffy was also incredibly powerful in terms of the themes it explored. At its centre was a group of teenagers navigating their way through High School (and beyond into adulthood) while also battling the Vampires, Demons, and whatever else the forces of evil decided to throw at them. It doesn’t take a big leap of imagination to notice the metaphorical implications between the social and personal issues faced by teenagers and the supernatural elements that Buffy employed to explore them.
As you may have gathered, I was (and still am) a massive fan! It is one of my all-time favourite TV shows. Xander/Nicholas Brendon was my first celebrity crush, followed sharply (no pun intended) by Spike/James Marsters. I know every song from Once More With Feeling. I have lost count of the number of times the show has made me cry.
It is a show that, in my house, warrants a re-watch at least every other year (if not more) and I find myself at times, not only quoting the lines, but channelling the characters without consciously meaning to do so.
Happy Anniversary, Buffy!
May your influence continue to be felt for many years to come.
But for all the hype that has been around Buffy for the last couple of months, something else occurred to me.
There was another TV show that also started in 1997 and that had a similar (if not greater) impact on my teenage self. Any guesses what that show could be?
Stargate SG-1 hit TV screens in July 1997 (just four months after Buffy) and between the two of them, I was so completely hooked. There really was no hope for my social life (bear in mind this was before the days of “Geek Chic”, and the internet had not yet brought fandoms together in the manner you would find today).
I, for one, am hoping that there will be as much hype in July for Stargate’s 20th Anniversary as there has been for Buffy’s. But as far as I can tell, SG-1 is not as widely acclaimed as Buffy, in that it remained a cult favourite, rather than breaking into mainstream popularity in the way that Buffy did. If I am wrong on that count, please do let me know. In the meantime, here’s my own bit of hype for SG-1’s 20th year.
Stargate SG-1 premiered on 27th July 1997 with its pilot episode Children of the Gods. It re-introduced audiences to the 22-foot-high, ancient, metal ring that, through the creation of a sub-space wormhole, transports people instantaneously to other planets across the galaxy.
The pilot episode picked up where the 1994 movie left off, with Dr Daniel Jackson living with the people of Abydos, and Colonel Jack O’Neill (two L’s this time, and that is important) moving on with his life. Both are called back into action when Earth’s seemingly dormant Stargate springs into life and a US Air Force Officer is taken captive by a new enemy, Apophis.
O’Neill and Jackson are then teamed up with Captain Samantha Carter, a brilliant and beautiful Astrophysicist and Air Force pilot in her own right, and Teal’c, an alien (Jaffa) formerly in the service of Apophis who defects to Earth in the hopes of freeing his people from the tyrannical rule of the Goa’uld.
Together, they are Earth’s first line of defence against the Goa’uld threat as they journey through the Stargate, exploring new worlds and discovering new cultures each week.
I mean, really, what’s not to love right there?!
SG-1 ran for ten full seasons (214 episodes in total), launched two spin-off series, and concluded with two TV movies. The show still inspires a following of loyal and fervent fans, many of whom are actively campaigning for a re-boot in some shape or form.
As with many Sci-Fi shows, the possibilities open for exploration were practically limitless; and in the seventeen collective seasons (ten for SG-1, five for Atlantis, and two for Universe) the writers were able to etch out an entire mythology for the franchise that encompassed existing Earth mythology (namely Egyptian, Norse, and, in the later seasons, Arthurian legend) whilst also adding its own myths and species into the mix. At the centre of SG-1 (and the subsequent spin-offs) was a constant debate between the respective virtues of Scientific exploration and the Military needs of Earth to defend itself against an alien incursion.
In the first few episodes alone, this dual mission is addressed and taken on board as Stargate Command’s Standing Orders, Stargate’s equivalent of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. In contrast to Star Trek, however, Stargate did not operate with the philosophical restraint of not interfering with the natural development of other cultures and societies. SG-1 and the other SG teams were more than happy to interfere when needed (or not), whether that was offering medical or technological advancements, or even military troops and weapons. Having said this, Daniel Jackson did serve as the show’s moral compass and frequently went toe-to-toe with O’Neill and other military characters if it looked like they were about to go too far.
On top of all of that, Stargate, as a Sci-Fi series, managed to utilise just about every trick and trope in the book to explore the overriding theme; that is: “What does it mean to be human?” I have mentioned in a previous post that the Science Fiction genre encompasses a vast array of story types in its discussion of this theme. If you want to make comparison with my previous list, click here to read that particular post.
Of note, Stargate taps into:
- Alien Invasion
- Genetic Mutation/Manipulation
- The use of/reliance on Technology
- Time Travel
- Alternate Realities
- Artificial Intelligence
Not to mention Inter-Galactic Politics!
There really was no stone left unturned. And yet, there is still room for more. While SG-1 was allowed to run its course (and then some), and end on its own terms, its spin-off series were not so fortunate. It seemed that Atlantis was gathering momentum when it was cancelled in 2009 after five seasons; and Universe was cut very short in 2011 after just two seasons. Universe may not be a favourite among fans (I for one have not yet seen its second season), but I am sure that if it had been allowed to develop, it could have provided quite a few surprises of its own.
I really could go on for days about Stargate. And no doubt there will be more posts on here about it, but for now, let me just say:
Happy 20th Anniversary, Stargate.
Come back to our screens soon!