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December 22 2009

Pop Matters Talks Buffy: When TV Became Art. Robert Moore ponders how Buffy changed genre, narrative, and the role of women.

Yes. Season-long arcs. Fluidity of genre. Female heroes take center stage. Long-term character development that matters. Sophisticated language and wordplay. Not being afraid to kill off main characters, even the title character - "ratcheting up of danger on TV."

These are the reasons I love Buffy. This.

And I think the argument that Buffy influenced television is made and solidified by the fact that TV producers and creators continually cite Buffy as an influence. I didn't know that LOST had their writers actually watching Buffy for a sense of how to do seasonal arcs, but that's nifty.
I could not have put it better myself. Though "Firefly" was my gateway drug to fandom, "Buffy" was the first show I really 'felt' for, the first one to drag me in so deep and spur me to ongoing reverie. I was going through school as Buffy was (though I was a few years younger), and it is true that before "Buffy" rarely did a series NOT talk down to teens. "My So-Called Life" was good at avoiding this condescension, and in fact, when Joss Whedon was trying to sell "Buffy" to networks he suggested it was similar to a cross between "X-Files" and "My So-Called Life". Thanks for posting the article, Zeitgeist.
While I do believe that any discussion of television as art includes a discussion of Buffy, just looking through each of the individual points (arcs, charecter development, genre-blending) it strikes me that the writer seems to minimize the series that came before it rather than elevate Buffy.

It also makes the confusing point that certain series didn't "influence" others, which is an odd claim seeing that in many cases the series that were originating many of the elements that BtVS would later combine were occurring two to three years prior to Buffy.

I guess what I'm saying is I'd love the argument that Buffy was the most successful and influential blend of elements. I just find it rather irksome that instead this is phrased as "nothing was art before Buffy."

That said, its a very cogent argument on why Buffy was great.

[ edited by azzers on 2009-12-23 06:38 ]
Yeah, azzers, I gather that "Hill Street Blues" was extremely influential, and this author kind of dismisses the revolutionary idea of episode-to-episode carry-overs because the carry-overs weren't long enough for him. Also "The Prisoner" (the original, of course) is indisputably art for many of the reasons the author states, and that was in the 1960s. It was really the first miniseries, of course, but its effect was also very wide-ranging, especially on genre stories.

Still, I have to admit he's right that "Babylon 5," my first love, didn't have a lot of influence outside genre work -- probably the only other TV show it influenced was "Deep Space Nine" in the latter's later seasons.

And BtVS clearly pulled things together in unprecedented ways. It's like the art of Michelangelo and Leonardo. Everyone forgets the guys who really broke ground before them, like Donatello. Compare Michelangelo's David with Donatello's: clearly superior work. But compare Donatello with anything in the previous two thousand years and you'll see how much of an improvement it was.

The Prisoner and Hill Street Blues and a couple others (possibly including the original Star Trek) really paved the way. But Buffy was and remains a masterwork unparalleled. TV's Sistine Chapel.
It also fudges The X-Files a bit. One of the issues I always took with that show was that, at least in the earlier seasons, the mythology and stand alone stories were mostly ring fenced away from each other; only now and then did they bleed into one another and actually when they did it was more to do with needs of production (usually casting) than some narrative imperative.

It would be an interesting experiment to watch the show with the mythology related episodes removed and see how well it held together.
I don't think he gets enough credit for inventing the close up and fire.
Great article. Wasn't aware of just how influential the show was on other show creators/writers. It's a shame that so many people still won't give Buffy the time of day despite it being such a major landmark in TV.
Yeah, emmy, but the show's getting more and more recognition, and the DVD phenomenon really helps. I'd bet the show has more die-hard fans now than it ever did when it was on the air.
Great read. It argues pretty much the same response I had to the original article it cites, that the 90s was the birth place of the great "artistic" television we have had this decade.

One thing I did find a bit odd in this article was were it said Xena was more iconic than Scully. I'm not sure whether this is just a difference between the UK and America, but Xena was pretty much a marginal show over here and the names Mulder and Scully were universally known. Although her name was mostly connected to Mulder (as his was to hers,) I would say Scully was most definitely an icon.

I think the X-Files would hold up fantastically, but that is mainly because I personally found the main arc episodes to be poor in comparison to the stand alone ones, on the whole. Bar the first 2 or 3 seasons, most of the mythology episodes became too convoluted and it was clear that the main story was being made up as they went along.

Also, the first season has quite a lot of character development across the episodes and each episode is far less independent than the later seasons. Although the characters do grow later on, such as Scully becoming less sceptical and Mulder finding evidence that suggests everything he previously believed was false, the first season does explore the characters much more, particularly Scully who goes through events such as the death of her father, her own loneliness and questioning her religious beliefs. So, I wouldn't agree that all the episodes were fenced off from each other, although that did become truer later in its run.

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