Now Is the Best Time to Binge ‘Buffy’

Never before has the Buffyverse been so accessible

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. WB

It’s been 20 years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on the WB and started a cult phenomenon. It’s about 10 weeks since I started my first binge watch of the show.

Four seasons in, and I’ve forgiven an extremely rough first season and began my worship at the altar of Joss Whedon’s greatest accomplishment. Buffy has one of the most fascinating universes to watch reveal itself in the entire pantheon of nerd fiction. And I haven’t even seen the half of it. But I doubt it would be a show I would have been able to get through had I been watching if not for having the entirety of the show on Netflix (NFLX) before me. Buffy’s pacing and structure, and the way Whedon subverts it, are what make Buffy so bingeable.

Each season—with the exception of the shorter premiere season—tells 21 smaller stories, half (give or take) of which contribute directly to the overarching plot of the season and its “Big Bad.” This structure is not uncommon for this era of television. Today, the dramas we consider the best binges play out like 10-hour movies. How ancient the structure of Buffy seemed is what made me initially hesitant but became part of what makes it so watchable on a nightly basis.

The show drip feeds you character and plot. It drops hints for the future while playing out like a game of chess. Putting the pawns into play, always thinking three or four steps ahead of the viewer, so when it needs to move the queen, it will put you in check. You start to learn its tells, knowing that if a new character survives the monster of the week, they are sure to play a bigger role later in the season, but the why and how of that character is always a surprise. You think a character cannot leave the show because they are in the title credits, but there Oz goes, middle of Season 4, and wow, look who he’s replaced by.

In this way Buffy is even comparable to shows structured around the Russian novel like HBO’s premiere dramas. Like The Wire, a Buffy season cannot truly be judged until the smoke has cleared, and we can revisit all the threads that were introduced and tied up, as well as the ones left dangling to speculate on the future.

Joss Whedon was emphatic about the concept of making a show that would stay unpredictable. He was quite lucky to gather such a dedicated fan base, because near the end of any given season, missing one episode could put you at a huge disadvantage moving forward. The showrunner wasn’t afraid to put huge moments in episodes that were not the season finale. When Jenny Calendar is killed by Angel in the 17th episode of Season 2, viewers were shocked. It was an unprecedented move in the late ‘90s to kill off a major character so randomly midseason. Of course, now no one would bat an eye at such a move on Game of Thrones, the only show known more for killing its characters than Buffy.

Buffy was revolutionary in this daring way, but these structural qualities work better in a binge setting than following a season that spanned an entire school year. Remember, just like the Scooby Gang, the release schedule only took off in the summer.

Binging is the best way to fully realize the brilliance of a full season. You don’t have to dwell on the travesty of “Beer Bad” for a week, you can just click next. This can be said for the majority of older shows that make their way to Netflix or Hulu, but Buffy makes it O.K. by simply being good, serialized storytelling. The show is full of bad eggs, but even the worst episodes have a kernel of necessary information to feed your bloodlust for both the soap opera and sci-fi/fantasy lore aspects that are equally compelling. This was perfected by the time the third season rolled around, where every single entry felt important to the overarching plot in some way, as minor as it may be. The only downside to binging is the ever-grating nature of Buffy Speak, but if you love the Slayer enough, you can get use to the talky-wordy thing they do when they speak talky words.

Now is not only the best time to start watching Buffy, but it is an excellent opportunity to look back on the expanded Buffyverse. It’s important to note that while Angel may or may not be worth watching, the accessibility of being able to only stream the episodes important to the plot of Buffy make the sometimes arduous and confusing fourth season much more tolerable.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is departing Netflix on April 1. Hopefully, this is an elaborate April Fools’ joke, but if not, may I kindly recommend binging all seven seasons before that time?

Now Is the Best Time to Binge ‘Buffy’