The show's title is often abbreviated simply to Buffy or BtVS.
The series follows the life and trials of Buffy Summers, a teenage girl chosen by fate to battle against vampires, demons, and other supernatural foes, usually with the help of her Watcher and her loyal circle of misfit friends.
Writer Joss Whedon created the show as an intentional departure from the typical horror film formula, and also as a "replacement" (of sorts) for the 1992 film. Traditional horror films included countless scenes of young blonde girls either portrayed as hysterical victims or being rescued by handsome well-armed male heroes. By reversing the cliché of the helpless female victim, Buffy presented an alternative paradigm which has been embraced by popular culture as an emblem of female power - in Whedon's narrative, Buffy's male friend Xander is more likely to need rescuing, while Buffy is more than capable of looking after herself and those around her. However, her personal life is as painful and confusing as any teenage girl's. This combination of empowerment and empathy has earned Buffy a passionate following among fans.
In addition to its critical success and "cult" appeal, the show functions as a contemporary parable, using supernatural elements as metaphors for personal anxieties, particularly those associated with adolescence and young adulthood.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired on March 10, 1997 on The WB network; after five seasons it transferred to the United Paramount Network (UPN) for its final two seasons. The last episode aired on May 20, 2003.
Buffy is credited (alongside the teen drama Dawson's Creek) with playing a key role in the success of the Warner Bros. television network in its early years.
Buffy (portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is "The Slayer", one in a long line of (often short-lived) young girls chosen by fate to battle the forces of darkness. This calling also mystically endows her with dramatically increased physical strength, endurance, agility, intuition, accelerated healing, and a limited degree of clairvoyance, usually in the form of prophetic dreams. Buffy fights under the direction of her "Watcher", Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), who begins the series as the high school's librarian.
She is also assisted by several friends, who later in the series are nicknamed the "Scooby Gang" because of their distant resemblance to the teens in the cartoon Scooby Doo. Most prominent among these are awkward semi-geek Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) and shy computer-nerd Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan).
Other important members of the gang throughout the series include: seemingly vapid "alpha-girl" cheerleader Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter); the ensouled vampire and Buffy's first love Angel (David Boreanaz); the taciturn werewolf and guitar player Oz (Seth Green); eccentric ex-vengeance demon Anya Jenkins (Emma Caulfield); shy witch Tara Maclay (Amber Benson); reluctantly reformed vampire Spike (James Marsters); and Buffy's younger teenage sister, Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg), created by magical means in season five. Buffy also lives with her recently divorced mother Joyce.
The close interpersonal relationships between these characters are at least as important in the series as their ongoing battle against evil.
Coincidentally, Gellar later played one of the actual "Scooby Gang", Daphne Blake, in the movies Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.
Foes and supernatural elements
The most prominent monsters in the Buffy bestiary are vampires, who are presented in the show in a variety of ways, selectively following traditional myths, lore, and literary conventions. Buffy and her companions also fight a wide variety of demons, shape-shifters, ghosts, gods, zombies, witches, and each other. They are so frequently called upon to save the world from annihilation that they quickly find themselves, as the character Riley Finn puts it, "needing to know the plural of apocalypse". The mythology of the show is often inspired by traditional supernatural tales and other cultural, fictional, and religious sources. In its seven-year run, the series also developed an extensive contemporary mythology of its own. The supernatural elements of the show almost always have a clear metaphorical or symbolic aspect (see Metaphorical nature and moral connotations for more on this).
Buffy and her "scooby gang" battle demonic forces using a combination of physical combat, detective work, various forms of magic and sorcery, and the extensive research of ancient and mystical texts. Hand to hand combat is usually undertaken by Buffy, Angel and, later, Spike. Willow eventually becomes an adept witch, and Giles is relied upon for his extensive knowledge of demonology and supernatural lore. Xander, whose primary responsibility originally appears to be getting donuts for the gang, later developing into, as he put it, "the kind of guy you want to have around after a crazed robot attack", is an Everyman character who provides perspective and grounding for the others.
The show is set in the fictional California town of Sunnydale, whose suburban Sunnydale High School rests on the site of a "Hellmouth", a gateway between our world and the realm of demons. The Hellmouth serves as a nexus for a wide variety of evil creatures and supernatural phenomena, and lies directly beneath the school library (later, in a reconstructed school, beneath the Principal's office).
In addition to being an open-ended plot device, Joss Whedon has cited the Hellmouth as one of his primary metaphors in creating the series, suggesting that a large number of contemporary teenagers feel that their own high school is a sinister, threatening place.
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