Today (March 10) marks twenty years since the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer first hit our screens. That’s right; Buffy Summers’ apocalypse-averting adventures began on 10 March, 1997, when Ally McBeal and Friends ruled the airwaves, and “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls was riding high on the Billboard Hot 100.
It was girl power indeed, with the Scooby Gang of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), geeky Willow (Alyson Hannigan), hopelessly uncool Xander (Nicholas Brendon), effortlessly cool Oz (Seth Green), former demon Anya (Emma Caulfield), and vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz) giving us all #squadgoals.
Buffy wasn’t just a moment in time, however. It also represented a shift in our expectations for TV. Along with critically acclaimed series like The X-Files and Twin Peaks, it came before The Sopranos and the beginning of the so-called “Golden Age of Television,” but its season-long story arcs and innovations such as the “Big Bad” helped pave the way for shows like The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.
In fact the show’s influence can be felt on nearly every show on the air nowadays. Rather than list every show that’s come out since the Buffy finale in 2003, however, we thought we’d focus on the following 10, each of which points to a specific way in which Buffy has influenced television.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Buffy creator Joss Whedon has a style that’s so distinctive it’s earned him an epithet of his own. The so-called “Whedonverse” started with Buffy, expanded to Sunnydale spin-off Angel and the short-lived space western Firefly, before finally graduating to film in the form of the Avengers movies. 2009’s Dollhouse received mixed reviews, but in 2014 Whedon returned triumphant to the small screen with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., blending the mundane with the superhuman once again in a series about a peacekeeping and spy agency in a world of superheroes.
Now, wait — hear us out. Obviously our trusty Timelord predates Buffy by a number of decades, let alone years, but its current revival began in 2005, just two years after the Scooby Gang faded from our screens. Showrunner Russell T. Davies even told The A.V. Club in 2009 that he had Buffy in mind as a blueprint, while Anthony Stewart Head, a Buffy series regular and Doctor Who guest star, told the Radio Times Buffy’s influence ensured the DW revival was more emotionally complex. And if you squint, there’s something distinctly Buffy-like to Rose in this early trailer:
Buffy writer Marti Noxon has gone on to do some great things since the show ended, including work on Glee, Mad Men, and Prison Break — but her greatest accomplishment beyond the Whedonverse is UnREAL. The fictional behind-the-scenes look at a Bachelor-type reality dating show is easily the greatest guilty pleasure on television, and it’s all thanks to Buffy.
Buffy was famous for its smart, rapid-fire “slanguage” and frequent pop culture references — so famous, in fact, it was named “Buffyspeak” — something shows like Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars picked up and ran with. This influence reached across the pond too, specifically into the mind of Simon Pegg, a big Buffy fan who went to be one of the creators and writers of Spaced. As we all know, the cult hit comedy sparked a slew of films famous for being laden with references to pop cultural icons, such as this moment in season one:
Buffy wasn’t the first show to attempt a musical episode, but season six’s “Once More With Feeling” set a new standard for quality. Since then shows like How I Met Your Mother, Community, and Scrubs have all attempted it, until in 2009 Glee made an all-singing, all-dancing cast central to its themes. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend goes one step further, however, with apparently shiny, carefree show tunes covering heady topics such as mental illness, misogyny, and, uh, big boobs. The show follows Rebecca Bunch (played by actor and creator Rachel Bloom) as she moves across the country to follow her childhood love, Josh Chang. Its crazy premise might be far removed from that of Buffy, but trust us — its sharp wit and pop culture references have a lot to thank Ms Summers for. And the clincher? In a recent interview with Yahoo TV, Buffy creator Joss Whedon said he was a fan.
Believe it or not, but Toby Whithouse, creator of this British cult hit about a vampire, ghost and a werewolf living together in a flatshare in Bristol, England, claims never to have watched an episode of Buffy or Angel. The parallels are nevertheless there, especially in the relationships between main characters Mitchell (Aidan Turner), Annie (Lenora Crichlow) and George (Russell Tovey). In particular, vampire Mitchell’s quest to be more human has something in common with Angel and Spike, whose romances with Buffy proved inter-species relationships can be both entertaining and moving (hello, True Blood and Twilight).
Orange is the New Black
One of the most distinctive things about Buffy was its mixture of tones, or the recognition that humor creeps into some of our darkest moments. Orphan Black has it, Dexter has it too, but the rollercoaster of emotional life is nowhere more clearly seen than in comedy-drama Orange is the New Black, about the women living in a minimum security federal prison and doing all they can to survive.
Any show from the last 20 years with a complex, kick-ass female lead owes its life to Buffy. In the case of this sci-fi drama, that should be “leads,” as the Emmy Award-winning Tatiana Maslany plays multiple characters, all clones of her original character Sarah. Like Buffy, the show is also willing to mix up the tone, jumping from lighter moments between Sarah and her foster brother Felix (the excellent Jordan Gavaris), to serious debates about the ethics of cloning and nurture vs. nature. There’s even a Giles-esque mentor figure in the shape of Sarah and Felix’s compassionate but tough foster mother, Mrs S, a woman with a shadowy past and more secrets than she lets on.
Before Buffy, superhero shows were more camp than character-driven. Witness the 1960s Batman show, or even 1990s reboot Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. All that changed with Buffy. She may not have been a superhero per se, but she had a superhuman skill, and the show proved that audiences will tune in, week after week, to follow long-running comic book-style plots as they play out on television. Having used so many superhero conventions during its seven-season run, Buffy in turn inspired a whole generation of superhero TV shows, such as The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl.
Originating in the U.K. and now on Netflix, Crazyhead follows Amy (Downton Abbey‘s Cara Theobold) and Raquel (Chewing Gum‘s Susan Wokoma), a pair of mismatched demon hunters who fight adversaries no-one else can see. Think Buffy mixed with Misfits — Howard Overman, the creator of that show, also created this one.