Does The Buffy The Vampire Slayer Pilot Hold Up Over 20 Years Later?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This iconic series rocked the television landscape following its debut on March 10, 1997, and though it wasn’t a huge award contender, Sarah Michelle Gellar did receive a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama. The premise of the series is simple, Buffy is known as a vampire slayer, and though the teenager wants a normal life, she has to embrace her destiny as the chosen one. The Joss Whedon series will forever live in the hearts of fans who watched all seven seasons. However, the culture has changed since the series finale aired on May 20, 2003, does the pilot still hold some weight in modern times?

The pilot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer is…dated. And naturally, it would be since it came out in 1997. However, I’m not talking about the make-up or wonky action sequences, but mainly the story. Now, I can easily watch the season again and again as Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an important part of television culture growing up for me. However, I can’t deny that if this came out in 2022 then I wouldn’t care enough to watch the second episode. The story isn’t bad at all. In fact, the premise is really good! Buffy actually stars off extremely well. It appears something strange is going down with Darla and her beau; however, it turns out that she’s a vampire. That’s a great attention grabber and for 1997, the make-up doesn’t look too bad. However, the show meanders between typical CW teenage melodrama and a supernatural series.  To be clear, nothing in the pilot is bad. However, it would’ve been great to get more exploration into what happened in Buffy’s previous school.

Granted, we didn’t particularly need to see the events that occurred, but the mystery regarding the central character isn’t played up to full effect. The show tells us about Buffy’s past, but it could’ve dedicated the episode to someone trying to undercover the truth about the mysterious new girl. Everyone just accepts Buffy as a vampire slayer without much question. Do vampires typically exist in this world? When I ask that question, I mean do normal, everyday students like Willow or Alexander see these creatures daily? It would explain why they never show shock over seeing a couple of weird creatures who want to suck their blood. Alexander finds Buffy’s wooden stake, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much. Neither did him overhearing a conversation between Buffy and her Watcher. The pilot focuses on the teenage school stuff more, which often drags down the episode. Does it help establish the characters and Buffy’s world? Yes, but in the least compelling manner. The supernatural elements feel odd because it doesn’t come across as a supernatural world.

Buffy is out here fighting vampires, but this isn’t the normal for this world. At least to everyone who’s not Buffy or the Watcher. The show is a bit cheesy, and it’s supposed to be, but it’s an odd juxtaposition to the series events that take place earlier. Why not give the story of Darla luring teenage boys into her trap more focus? She’s clearly one of the big villains in the series and with an attention grabbing opener, it’s surprising that her villain character is given more of a focus. Look, I understand that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a classic that helped redefine television, but in the modern era where there’s hundreds of television shows that drop every month (or at least it seems like it), it just wouldn’t standout in a good way. The acting is solid and Sarah Michelle Gellar is an engaging presence, but the show would’ve been better off trying to truly balance her chosen one status with normal life. Instead of telling us that she’s a vampire slayer, why not show a scene where she sniffs out two vampires and must vanquish them and she’s juggling the school dance? In fact, the school dance scene should’ve been presented earlier in the episode minus Darla and the master vampire scene that’s turned into a cliffhanger. That way, it would’ve given more emphasis on her struggles dealing with normal and vampire life, connect Darla and their crew of vampires to the story better, and allowed that to be better explored throughout the first episode.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has left its mark on pop culture and deservedly so. However, in modern culture, the show feels too simplistic and outdated. If you’re already a fan then you’re likely to watch regardless, but new watchers would probably not care what happens following the cliffhanger.

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