Joss Whedon created a television series version Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997 and March 10 marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere episode's first airing in WB Network. Whedon made sure that the series will be different from the 1992 film of the same title but Sarah Michelle Gellar's portrayal of Buffy did not only veer away from film Buffy but became one of the most iconic female leads in television.
The series also built up its mythology and the cast of characters had their own complex issues to overcome, but while the WB series earned a lot of love from its fans as the series progressed and is considered a game-changer in television, the show was actually criticized in its early days.
Criticisms Based On The Series Premiere
Below are some of the criticisms the series received in its early days, 20 years ago.
Michael Farkash, The Hollywood Reporter
Farkash described the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Clueless meets Dracula. The review itself does not go deep into the series so there was hope that it could be something good.
"In tone, it's sort of Clueless meets Dracula, with emphasis on the hip angst of high schoolers coupled with vampire danger and apocalyptic prophecies [...] Hip dialogue and humorously self-conscious asides clue us in that the players are aware of how wacko the situation is," Farkash said.
Todd Everett, Variety
Everett relied mostly on how the television series connected to the 1992 film and seemed to have less hope or interest for the series.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays like an uneasy cross between The X-Files and Clueless, with a slightly harder edge than the original, if less outright gore [...] Series has potential for early-teen viewing, though a second episode viewed was far less amusing than show's original seg," Everett wrote.
John J. O'Connor, The New York Times
Perhaps O'Connor finally regrets writing his harsh criticism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997 after it survived seven seasons and is praised by fans and critics alike.
"With the cult suicides in California, these aren't the best of times for television entertainments to be peddling supernatural fantasies [...] What then to make of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, [...] Nobody is likely to take this oddball camp exercise seriously," O'Connor said.
Two Decades Later
Twenty years later, two THR critics looked back at how Buffy the Vampire Slayer was received and the huge impact it actually made after seven seasons.
Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter
Goodman was still young when Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired, but he did remember being amazed at the new show despite its weird title. He also noted that he was really happy it wasn't like anything that was already on television at that time.
"I [...] marveled at how the comedy mixed with the horror and allowed room for actual, believable drama [...] as the show got better and better, it was important to get louder and louder about it. Not everybody listened, though," Goodman recalls.
Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter
Fienberg said that the idea of a Buffy series seemed ridiculous because nobody seemed to care about the 1992 movie, but that he realized the series has huge potential when he watched it that he even wrote a piece in the school paper to recommend it.
"[...] Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show seemed like a questionable idea. But I was in college and I was able to tell within 10 minutes of the pilot that there was something better there," Fienberg said.
He added that Buffy's legacy was how it reshaped female characters.
"Buffy [...] played a crucial role in the reshaping of kick-ass female lead characters and in beginning the process of educating viewers that quality TV, TV worth obsessing over and worth celebrating," he said.
Yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a not-so-engaging title and takes off from an unsatisfactory 90s film, but it became more than just a teen show based on a movie with its excellent storytelling, themes, and characterization. It was never Dracula — despite using the vampire lore — because it had always been something more.