Granted, it's an odd recipe for family entertainment. But what's most impressive about "Buffy" isn't the way bloodsucking and driver's ed can coexist within the same amusing narrative. Or, as on one episode, cheer leading competition and witchcraft - one contender for the squad even burst into flames!
No, the unexpected thing about "Buffy" is its universal relevance.
"After all, it's based in reality," proposed Sarah Michelle Gellar with impeccable reasoning. "What's more horrific than high school?"
On the series, which is loosely based upon the 1992 feature film, Gellar plays Buffy as someone trying to find her place in SunnyDale High School's often unaccepting world - and strike a balance between duty and self-interest.
Buffy Summers is a teen angel in mini-skirts that have the camera scrambling to maintain decorum. She's an outspoken judge of human condition: "You just don't get it," she tells her mother, "and believe me, you don't want it!" And she's a 5-foot 3-inch banty Xena, kicking vampires while she razzes each hellhound with a crack like, "See what happens when you roughhouse?"
It's a lot to juggle. "Buffy has a life that I can really understand," said Gellar. "You want to go to the prom but, at the same time, you have work obligations. Do you have a date, or do you go sit in the cemetery all night? That's something I think I understand."
Manhattan-born Gellar, who leaves her teens behind with next month's birthday, has presumably logged little time in cemeteries. But having acted professionally since she was a child, she's had work obligations of her own.
Perhaps most notably, she spent a couple of years on the daytime drama All My Children playing Kendall Hart, Susan Lucci's 15-year old daughter whose multiple marriages, seductions, attempted suicide and coma all helped Gellar score a 1995 daytime Emmy Award.
Meanwhile, of course, Gellar was in school.
"High school life was good," she reports. "But junior high was my Buffy experience - I hated it. I was the girl nobody liked, who was weird and quirky. That's another reason I can relate to Buffy."
Also, she preferred acting. In one grade, she said, "I had more absences in the first month than you're supposed to have in an entire year. I was telling them I had back problems and had to go to doctors all the time. Then 'A Woman Named Jackie' aired." Buffy, too, has had her problems staying in school, as viewers found on the series' two-hour premiere last Monday. As she faced her first day at SunnyDale High, the audience learned that poor misunderstood Buffy had been thrown out of several schools before. Clearly, being the world's only living vampire slayer can exact a cost on your image as a good girl - even when you do your best to slay them on the sly.
At SunnyDale High, fortunately, Buffy finds two allies: Xander (Nicholas Brendon), a gangly outsider with a crush on her, and Willow (Alyson Hannigan), a wallflower-computer whiz.
Serving in the mentor-like role of Watcher to Buffy's Slayer is Giles, who also happens to be the school's veddy proper librarian.
This band of four shares heavy secrets. But Anthony Stewart Head, who plays Giles, carries a secret of his own he isn't giving up to anyone, even a fellow cast member.
As "Buffy" viewers will instantly determine, Head is the gentleman suitor on the Taster's Choice "romantic serial" commercials. "He won't tell us what's gonna happen next!" Gellar erupted. "He knows! But he won't tell us!"
She flashes a minx-like Buffy smile. "I think that's very rude."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer,