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Twenty Years of Buffy

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Today is the twentieth anniversary of the start of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It is not the twentieth anniversary of me watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I was a wimpy eight year old at the time, and when my parents watched the show, I would run through the living room with my hands clamped over my ears in case I heard anything too scary. My time with Buffy started with the launch of Season 6 in the UK, and I only started watching then because it aired at the same time as the new season of Friends, and my parents insisted that the family TV would show Buffy first, and Friends later. Two hours of sulky Buffy watching later, and I was in love.

I haven’t watched Buffy in years, and I’m almost scared to rewatch it now, because it meant so much to me as a teenager, and I don’t know how well it would hold up. A lot of things that felt progressive at the time feel outdated now, and I’m sure I could fill this site with musings on how terrible all the romances are, cringing at my past self’s shipping choices.

But it feels unfair to tear apart a favorite from 20 years ago without considering the hugely positive impact that it once had. I don’t know much about the TV landscape that Buffy launched into, because I was too young at the time, and, after FriendsBuffy was the first “grown up” TV show I watched. And fell in love with. And obsessed over.

But it was a genre show that put a powerful female character front and center. Thirteen-year-old me didn’t even realise how revolutionary that was, because Buffy just handed it to me. It gave me a protagonist who was a leader and a fighter, but who also felt like a real person, with a bunch of female friends who had different and complex relationships with one another, who had different strengths and powers, and who worked together to save the world.

I’m almost 100% sure I didn’t always get it. But in those years, the Scooby Gang were my greatest inspiration and comfort. They let me grow up in a TV landscape where female genre protagonists felt normal. Where magic and adventure and fighting bad guys and saving the world belonged to girls first, in my understanding of the fictional world. Of course, I eventually realised that wasn’t generally true, but the strength and the wit of these characters created a fictional “normal” for me that had a huge influence on me as a person and as a writer.

I rewatched it constantly. I bought the magazines. I had the script books. I read the junky companion novels and played the not-so-quality video games and went to the Buffy conventions, like the full-on nerd that I am. It taught me things about narrative and compelling storytelling, but it also taught me to love genre fiction, as my first obsession that was actually about female characters. Not Harry Potter, not Pokemon, not Lord of the Rings. Even if I wasn’t familiar with all the tropes that Buffy subverted, that subversion still provided me with a world to get lost in and a choice of capable and powerful female characters to look up to.

If it launched now, I’m sure I’d have lots to say about Buffy’s “faux feminism.” I’d be in fits of rage about how Charisma Carpenter was treated on Angel. The series doesn’t feel that progressive any more. But it did, and it was, at least to a 13 year old looking for a story to connect to. And Buffy is, in many ways, the impetus behind its own outdatedness. It inspired other female-led teen genre shows, a certain blend of wit and serious drama seen in series like Veronica Mars and the more recent iZombie. So many creators grew up on or were seriously influenced by Buffy. Writers and networks saw that female genre protagonists can lead successful series, that genre shows can be serious and thought-provoking, that the concerns of female teen viewers are worth exploring. The landscape has progressed over the past twenty years, becoming more progressive and more inclusive (although, obviously, still with many missteps), and that’s because of the work that Buffy started twenty years ago. It may not appear to be the revolutionary show that people promise to anyone stumbling across it now, but it has always been important to television, and it’s always been important to me.

Of course, now I’ve written this, I’m itching to rewatch and dig into the good, the bad, and the ugly of the show. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But whatever I decide, I think it’s important to remember not just what Buffy is now, but what it was then. And that is a groundbreaking, inspiring, and influential series of female strength.

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Unlikeable Rory Gilmore

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When I was a teen, I loved Rory Gilmore. She was one of my biggest fictional role models, along with Hermione Granger and Veronica Mars, a smart, driven, ambitious bookworm who wanted to learn everything there was to learn and then go out and change the world.

So it’s weird to rewatch the show’s later seasons as a 28 year old and wonder: how did Rory become to unlikeable to me?

At least, why did she become temporarily unlikeable. I made some notes for this post while watching Season 4, and I was so irritated by Rory that I almost quit the rewatch. Now I’m in late Season 6, and my feelings about Rory have changed again, back to far more positive ones, despite her privileged behavior.

And I think the difference is all about perspective. When her grievances seem legitimate (at least, for her age) and her efforts seem genuine, it’s easy to root for her. At Chilton, Rory was the outsider studying hard to achieve her dream. But the moment she steps into Yale, she loses that outsider status. She moves into a privileged position and yet acts like the things that were handed to her still aren’t enough, and it’s this, rather than the ambition and privilege itself, that makes her suddenly hard to like.

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Crazy Ex Girlfriend, the Non-Romantic Comedy

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Crazy Ex Girlfriend is not here for your Rom Com nonsense.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how Crazy Ex Girlfriend is the best show you’re not watching, but to fully get into why, we have to dig deeper into spoiler territory. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is hilarious, heartbreaking and groundbreakingly feminist because of its attitude towards romance tropes and RomCom narratives — mainly, that they’re complete harmful BS, and need subverting as often as possible.

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You Need To Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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I thought I was super late to the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend party, but turns out the ratings say otherwise, and since the finale of season two just aired and it’s all available to watch on Netflix…

Oh my god, you need to watch Crazy Ex Girlfriend.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is laugh out loud funny, with great characters and heaps of diversity and originality. The colors are bright, the songs are catchy, and somehow, underneath that, it’s a serious treatment of mental illness with far better representation than you usually ever see.

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Dean for Gilmore Girls is (Not Quite) The Worst

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Since I maligned Jess a couple of weeks ago, it seems only fair to turn my attention to Rory’s other high school boyfriend, Dean.

And god, I hate to say it, because I’ve always hated Dean, but… I think he may be a better boyfriend and person in general than Jess. I know. That’s more of a statement of how awful Jess is than anything in praise of Dean, but it still feels wrong to say.

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Jess from Gilmore Girls is the Worst

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It’s true. When I watched Gilmore Girls as a teenager, I loved Jess. I just wanted him and Rory to live happily ever after. I guess he was cute, and he read a lot, and he could talk really passionately about books, and that was all I needed. Even when watching the Netflix revival, my inner teen squeed when Jess finally appeared on screen.

But I’ve just finished rewatching Season Three for the first time in years and years, and it’s official. Jess is the worst. Like, the actual, literal worst. What was teen!me thinking? How does he have such an important place in so many viewers’ hearts?

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Why I Got Bored of Westworld

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I’ve actually been sitting on this blog post for a while. Originally, it was a discussion of why I was finding it hard to engage with Westworld longterm, but I wanted to watch the latest episode and tweak things to match before sharing it with the world. Well, the rest of Westworld’s first season later, I haven’t been able to motivate myself to catch up. Even putting “WATCH WESTWORLD” on my to-do list didn’t work. So now, this is more of a “why I quit Westworld” post.

Westworld deliberately challenges the idea of relating to and rooting for fictional characters, and although that’s philosophically interesting, it doesn’t make for the most engaging television. At least, not if you’re a viewer who watches precisely for that character connection.

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Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

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Gilmore Girls revival! Gilmore Girls revival!!

There was part of me — a super naive part, I admit — that thought that Gilmore Girls would give me the comforting warm fuzzy feelings I needed this month. A return to Stars Hollow, all that fast talking and cultural references, that general “hug and a hot chocolate” feeling that watching the show always gives me… perfect.

But of course, Gilmore Girls has never actually been sunshine and rainbows, and the revival was no exception. After I finished watching it, I felt raw. I felt like it ripped through me, emotionally. I cried so hard. Super ugly crying. (Thanks, phone call in Fall). If the goal of a story is to make me emotionally connected to the characters, then the revival was a huge success.

It wasn’t perfect. Some episodes felt a little long and lacked a focussed plot, like the entire thing was a sprawling six-hour story rather than four 90 minute episodes. And maybe not every episode needed an off-topic set piece like a Movie By Kirk or a Stars Hollow musical. But as an overall experience, I thought it was excellent.

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Westworld

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The first I heard of HBO’s new show Westworld was a not-very-positive review (that I now can’t find again), which said the show was like the ‘new Game of Thrones’, in more ways than one. I wasn’t exactly eager to get pulled into another mess of misogyny with characters just compelling enough that you can’t stop watching, so I ignored it for a while, until people I trust started raving about it and I got overly curious, and ended up marathoning all three aired episodes back-to-back.

Westworld is one of those rare shows that makes me reach for a notebook to scribble down thoughts within about two minutes of starting it. There’s so much to discuss. Does that make it a good show? Was that initial review wrong? Well. I’m not sure yet.

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