[This was commissioned by The Guardian recently but somehow slipped between the cracks and missed its topical peg. So, one kill fee later, it is reproduced here as Aerial Telly has been unable to write a review today as he has been busy preparing his crib for the visit of your girlfriend tonight. Girls’ night out? That’s the fourth this year and it’s only February. What kind of “man” are you?]
As Sarah Michelle Gellar stars in yet another ghostbusting potboiler, Buffy fan James Donaghy follows the careers of the show’s stars and finds out who’s been walking the red carpets and who’s been sweeping them
From the moment Buffy the Vampire Slayer tentatively premiered in 1997 it strode through the horror/fantasy canon staking cliché after cliché with swagger and ‘tude. Its inauspicious origins as a dicey early Nineties teen flick didn’t stop the TV series becoming a critically acclaimed powerhouse and by the time of its final episode in 2003 it had infected the collective consciousness, influencing several new shows and spawning a number of parody porn films – the litmus test of any TV show’s cultural impact.
In the process, it provided several landmark TV moments. The Body, the episode dealing with Buffy mother’s death, was as raw and honest a depiction of bereavement as TV had seen, and Once More With Feeling was a stunning re-imagining of musical theatre with tap dancing demons and show-stopping character arcs. The show was often overlooked on the awards circuit – the gong dispensers apparently unable to deal with the truth that was staring us all in the face: this silly little genre show was the best thing on television.
“Buffy infected the collective consciousness, influencing several new shows and spawning a number of parody porn films – the litmus test of any TV show’s cultural impact.”
But as the show screeched to a halt it left a trail of bereaved fans and a number of worried actors desperately seeking employment. As the latest Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle The Return opens this week, we’re entitled to ask: how have the core four actors who started the series fared in the interim?
“The gong dispensers were unable to deal with the truth that was staring us all in the face: this silly little genre show was the best thing on television.”
Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy Summers)
Joss Whedon needed a character actress in the body of a leading lady to play Buffy and he found it in the quirkily beautiful Sarah Michelle Gellar. The combination of intelligence and vulnerability she brought to the role helped the character emerge as the defining postmodern superhero. Post-Buffy, she’s been chasing ghosts in Scooby Doo II and been chased by ghosts in The Grudge. Nice little earners for Gellar but the feeling persists that she’s punching under her weight. Her artistic ambition seems to have been stunted by her marriage to gurning rom-com gobshite Freddie Prinze Jnr. A career spent screaming in showers seems likely.
“Gellar’s artistic ambition seems to have been stunted by her marriage to gurning rom-com gobshite Freddie Prinze Jnr.”
Nicholas Brendon (Xander Harris)
Real-life jock Nicholas Brendon played Sunnydale geek Xander Harris. Blessed with none of the superpowers of his female counterparts, Xander often assumed traditional feminine roles of counsellor, go-between and one-man pep squad. In the immediate aftermath of the show’s demise he hit the bottle hard enough to make Amy Winehouse look like a lightweight and shares in Budweiser plummeted when he checked himself into rehab in 2004. In 2006, though, he hooked up with his former Buffy on-screen squeeze Charisma Carpenter for ABC’s cutesy family movie Relative Chaos. Little was expected of Brendon and he’s certainly living down to those expectations. But my, how we loved Xander.
“American Pie grossed $235 million worldwide which, coincidentally, just about covers Nicholas Brendon’s bar tab.”
Alyson Hannigan ( Willow Rosenberg)
Willow Rosenberg, the high-school brainiac turned Wiccan lesbian role model, struck a chord with every bright girl at school who the boys ignored. Hannigan has since wowed cinema audiences as good-time geek and vaginal flautist Michelle Flaherty in the American Pie franchise whose first outing grossed $235 million worldwide which, coincidentally, just about covers Nicholas Brendon’s bar tab. Hannigan also has a recurring role as the feisty Trina Echolls in Rob Thomas’s superb teen detective drama Veronica Mars, a show which has featured several Buffy alumni in its three season run. Hannigan’s likeability factor seems likely to keep her in work for the foreseeable future.
“Suitably, Giles has since played an unlikely sex object for Peter Mandelson, sorry, Sebastian in Little Britain.”
Anthony Head (Rupert Giles)
Rupert Giles, the stuffy Watcher with a wild demon-baiting youth, became an unlikely sex object for much of the Buffy fan base. Suitably, he has since played an unlikely sex object for Peter Mandelson, sorry, Sebastian in Little Britain. He’s also turned up in several episodes of Monarch of the Glen and once as an alien headmaster in the revamped Doctor Who. This marks quite a career recovery from the smug torpor of the 80’s Gold Blend adverts that made his name. Go Giles!
“Charisma Carpenter showcased her silicone enhanced rack in Playboy in June 2004, while Michelle Trachtenberg kept her clothes on as she guested in House.”
Best of The Rest
Charisma Carpenter showcased her silicone enhanced rack in Playboy in June 2004, while Michelle Trachtenberg kept her clothes on as she guested in House and Law & Order. David Boreanaz completed the run of his impressive spin-off Angel a year after Buffy bought the farm, where he was joined by James Marsters who went on to sell out a UK solo acoustic tour in 2005. And creator supreme Joss Whedon oversaw the widely lauded but now cancelled “Western in space” Firefly.
So, there is no Diff’rent Strokes style Curse of The Slayer, just the familiar mixture of successes and screw-ups. But the real winner in all of this is Buffy the concept. Like Japanese commandos still fighting the second world war, Buffy fans don’t seem to realise the show is over – online forums, fan-fic and conventions still thrive. And in academia, Buffy has been eagerly dissected by a range of disciplines, as witnessed by the physicists, feminists, philosophers and theologians who have presented studies at The Slayage Conference where academics debate the show and, insiders swear blind, sing songs from the “Once More with Feeling” musical episode.
“The Slayage Conference, where academics debate the show and, insiders swear blind, sing songs from the ‘Once More with Feeling’ musical episode.”
We shouldn’t be surprised. Joss Whedon once said “I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can’t be loved…. I wanted people to internalize it, and make up fantasies where they were in the story, to take it home with them, for it to exist beyond the TV show”.
Mission accomplished? I think so.