What I learned from podcasting about every single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
For Buffy’s 25th anniversary, Slayerfest 98’s Ian Carlos Crawford deep dives into the show’s unparalleled legacy – and why it has become so much bigger than Joss Whedon
Five years ago, I started a Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewatch podcast called Slayerfest 98 to mark the show’s 20th anniversary. It came about after I had convinced my then-boyfriend to finally watch my favourite show – the culty drama about an ass-kicking, superpowered teenager destined to save a hellish town in California from vampires and demons – and I took the opportunity to live-tweet my 800th viewing of the series. This lead to a ton of interactions with friends online, and after we realised how long our Buffy discussion Twitter threat had gotten – and just how passionate we remained after all these years – two friends and I kicked off the pod. One friend would drop out after the first episode, the other during our coverage of season 5, and eventually I was left standing along as the Chosen One – albeit gayer and way less capable than our beloved Slayer, Buffy Anne Summers. Over the course of the run I brought on board a stellar rotating list of co-hosts and the rest is podcast history.
While I talked and wrote about Buffy a lot, I’d never discussed every episode beat by beat. I also had no clue how to even edit an audio file and so, much like the show I was covering, Slayerfest 98 got better as it went along. I was just so excited to be discussing my favourite thing with out queer folks that I figured I’d learn everything else as I went along.
I learned a lot about the show and its fans. I’d always assumed Angel was the more popular of Buffy’s boyfriends but, as swathes of people on social media made clear, it was Spike. I learned that season 7 seems to be the most universally hated (which I find baffling because there’s no season of the show I hate). I also learned Xander in a speedo in “Go Fish” meant a lot to a lot of young closeted gay boys, not just me. But also in recording with both Amber Benson who played Tara and the season 7 costume designer Matt Van Dyne, I learned that although Benson turned down coming back as Tara for the season 7 episode “Conversations with Dead People,” that Tara was still in the shooting script the costume designer had for the episode. I learned the cute shirt with the glittery devil design on it that Buffy wears in “No Place Like Home” was also worn by Carrie in an episode of Sex and the City. I even learned the cloak Andrew wears during the role-playing game scene in “Chosen” was the same one Buffy wore with her Little Red Riding Hood costume from season 4’s “Fear Itself”. If you happen to own every season of Buffy on DVD and listen to “The Body” or “Hush” with the commentaries on (and are okay hearing Joss Whedon’s voice), you’ll learn a lot about the filmmaking process that went into the show. I’m not going to pretend to be someone who notices every bit of camerawork magic, but the commentaries really show you how the show was a labour of love for all involved.
Buffy didn’t invent pop culture but it sure became a huge influence on it moving forward. If you look up the word “wiggins” on Urban Dictionary, it’ll tell you it’s a word coined by the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also learned there’s a shorthand for how most us Buffy superfans talk that we all understand. The intro email I sent all guests was full of Buffy-isms and not once did anyone ever email me back asking, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Five years after I started the pod, for the show’s 25th Anniversary, we closed out our coverage of Buffy with a nearly 3-hour episode on the series finale full of cameos from folks like Stacey Abrams (the now-iconic politician who helped swing Georgia for Biden in 2020), James Marsters (who played Spike), Tom Lenk (Andrew), comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kali Rocha (Halfrek). Emotions were high and you can hear my voice break, holding back tears, quite a few times. It’s truly my favourite episode of the podcast, which feels fitting.
Growing up watching Buffy was weird. Entertainment Weekly was constantly covering it, there were action figures, there were trading cards, Sarah Michelle Gellar was everywhere – yet the only person I knew who watched the show while it was airing was my mother. In fact, I came to the show late because I was too busy listening to Pop Punk and reading X-Men comics to give a show with that title, especially one that my mom watched, a chance. But one day I walked into the kitchen as my mom was watching Buffy run her beloved former evil ex-boyfriend through with a sword on our small box TV – my mom and Buffy were both crying and I was hooked. I would jump into Buffy during season 3, wherein I would get a huge crush on Seth Green’s Oz and want to be Eliza Dushku’s Faith – but closeted me would tell folks, “I have a crush on Faith and want to be Oz.” Once I got into the show, I did what every young closeted gay boy did in the late 90s and decorated my walls with every possible image I could find of the show’s star, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Buffy Summers constantly taught men, vampires and demons that they should never underestimate her. And she always did it while dressed like a fashion icon and with enough quips to give Spider-Man a run for his money. Buffy solidified her place as a gay icon when she had to come out to her mom as a Slayer, in a scene where her mother responds, “Honey, are you sure you’re a Vampire Slayer? I mean, have you tried not being a Slayer?” The show was like a gay nerd fever dream – and that was before Willow (played by Alyson Hannigan) came out in the show’s 4th season and started dating fellow witch Tara (Amber Benson). Willow and Tara were the first normalized gay couple I ever saw on TV and it may sound trite but they played a huge part in me coming out and in my mom accepting me. The show was queer in subtext before it became queer in the actual text.
The way Sarah Michelle Gellar never once phoned in her portrayal of Buffy is truly an astonishing achievement. She would commit no matter what the plot of the episode – be it one where Buffy is extra quippy, extra depressed, fighting her hardest battle ever, fucking a house down with her vampire boyfriend, or hell even turning into a drunk caveperson. But the whole cats was stacked. Even the villains were interesting, with the likes of Anya and Spike starting out as villains who quickly became loveable parts of the Scooby gang.
The show still inspires heated arguments from the fandom to this day. Any time Spike or Angel (Buffy’s two undead love interests) comes up on Slayerfest 98‘s social, no doubt someone with 25 followers and the word “Spuffy” in their handle will come into my mentions to tell me I watched the show wrong. I love seeing all the different opinions and hot takes. I groan every time someone starts arguing about Buffy’s boyfriends because to me, that is a subject that is so far from the point of the show. If I so much as Tweet a screenshot with Willow’s second girlfriend, Kennedy (Iyari Limon), I will get a number of replies saying how much said person hates her. I find myself defending Kennedy constantly only because the hate is unearned for the finale seasons’ most capable potential Slayer an for Willow’s hot rebound fuck at the end of the world. Of the regular cast, Dawn and Xander seem to be equally hated – and while I’m hard-pressed to find much to defend about Xander, I will defend Dawn to the death. I’d also be a bratty, whiny teen if I found out I wasn’t real the same year both my mother and sister died! But the Buffy fanbase is a devoted one that, certain folks aside, tends to be very non-toxic. It’s so nice to experience in an age where fans get angry over something like a woman, gay person, or POC simply existing in their fandom.
It’s no coincidence the show was written by a big nerd like Joss Whedon. But what is surprising is that he ended up being the type of man Buffy would’ve smashed into a steering wheel. Most superfans of the show were not so surprised when things started coming out abut his shitty, toxic behaviour on set. When Charisma Carpenter got pregnant in real life and her iconic character, Cordelia Chase, suddenly turned evil and was written out of the Buffy spin-off Angel – fans knew something was up. If you listen to Slayerfest 98, or most any Buffy podcast you’ll know just how beloved Cordelia is (many listeners would even jokingly refer to the podcast as a Cordelia Stan-cast). Her character arc across both shows is incredible… ’til the of Angel season 4 that is. When both Carpenter and Justice League‘s Ray Fisher released their statements on Whedon’s awful behaviour, I put the podcast on hold. A few months later, we would restart our Buffy coverage but not before doing a recording with all the cohosts on board discussing why the show did not belong to Whedon anymore, but to the fans. We love a show about women fighting against the type of man Whedon is. We love the show for empowering women, not treating them like garbage.
My interview with Carpenter was easily a favourite. She went on a long, beautiful tangent about how much the character Cordelia helped shape who she has become as a person. It was such a wonderful moment that I had to mute my mic so she couldn’t hear my sniffles because it made me emotional hearing her speak so lovingly about a character that I also loved. This was a year before she released a full statement about the horrendous conditions Joss Whedon created for her on set – and the fact that she came out and openly discussed the harassment she endured on the set of the show and yet still celebrated her character shows how proud she is of her work. I can’t imagine what goes on in her head but I can only aspire to be that brave and that strong.
I still don’t tire of discussing the show even after turning it into work and that’s a sign of true love. And I’m not the only one – devoted Buffy fan nor Buffy podcast. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of talking Buffy with some real great folks like Trixie Mattel, Pulitzer Price winner Emily Nussbaum, Evan Ross Katz, Cameron Esposito, and not to mention stars from the show. When someone loves Buffy they really love Buffy.
Buffy started as an inspiring show about a reluctant young Vampire Slayer who is lowkey a total badass and ended as an inspiring show about a confident badass Vampire Slayer who shared her power with a legion of young women. The show inspired a generation and continues to.
It makes me proud as a devoted fan, writer, and a podcaster that people still want to listen to me talk about my favourite thing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When my ex-boyfriend passed away, I watched the season 5 episode “The Body” (wherein Buffy fins her mother dead in their house – one of the most powerful portrayals of grief in TV history). And when I went through one of my worst breakups that forced me to move back in with my parents, I watched the two-part season 2 finale “Becoming” (the aforementioned Buffy-kills-Angel ep). When I need an empowered pick-me-up, I’ll watch the series finale “Chosen”. Buffy has been with me, and many other fans, through a lot of the ups and downs in my life. It’s why I started Slayerfest 98 and, even though we wrapped out coverage of all 7 seasons, I don’t plan on ending the podcast.
Buffy Summers will always be my hero.
Original article at GQ Magazine
This article has been reproduced for archive purposes. All rights remain with the originating website.