Bluntly put, this show is why TV Tropes exists.
In 1992, the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, written by Joss Whedon, played with a bog-standard trope: the fragile (and doomed) blonde Damsel in Distress cheerleader attacked by monsters in a dark alley. In a postmodern twist, the blonde cheerleader is the "Slayer," a powerful warrior that the monsters are afraid of meeting in dark alleys. Since Whedon, a mere writer, lacked creative control over his work, he viewed the actual film as a disappointmentnote . He did love the original concept and the film did end up a Cult Classic, so when he was given the opportunity to revisit it as a television series a few years later, he wasted no time saying "yes."
In 1997, the fledgling WB network raised Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the dead with an abbreviated first season. The pilot treats the motion picture as originally scripted (not the film that resulted) as canon: Buffy learns that she is the most recent in a line of warrior women chosen by fate to fight evil, and in a pitched battle sets the school gym on fire to kill the vampires inside. She can't fully explain this to the authorities, making her a social pariah. Hoping to elude her Slayer responsibilities, she and her mother move to Sunnydale, a sleepy town in Southern California. In spite of that, she learns Sunnydale is sitting on top of a Hellmouth, a well of evil that attracts all types of demons. She is assigned a "Watcher" from an Ancient Conspiracy dedicated to finding and training Slayers. Forming a tight-knit group of friends, Buffy battles hellspawn while juggling her double life as a carefree schoolgirl. That last part is easier than it sounds, as Sunnydale's adults are too wrapped up in lawn care (and denial) to acknowledge the evil brewing right under their feet.
Since demons on Buffy are walking metaphors for existing evils — reptilian authority figures, suddenly-soulless boyfriends, and so on — the B-horror trappings take on an entirely new meaning, usually with a sly feminist wink inserted.
The show didn't catch fire in its first season, but did garner enough critical acclaim to attract viewers by year two. However, Buffy (and Angel) were not inexpensive shows to produce, and neither were expected to grow beyond their cult demographic. Although WB attempted to shove Buffy off the air in 2001, it was picked up by UPN in time for Season 6 and 7. The jump was heralded by Buffy's literal death and resurrection, along with a ratings-grabbing ad campaign.
The show pioneered the Half-Arc Season, with a singular villain behind that year's events that helped make each season have a self-contained Story Arc, and signposted a few major plot developments months (and even years) in advance. Perhaps most surprisingly, the central cast grew like kudzu, with even walk-on roles getting a dose of character development much later on... Just in time for Joss to kill them off, alas.
Nobody can deny or ignore the influence of Buffy on the TV shows that followed it, both within and outside the genre. (Russell T. Davies had at least one eye on this show when he revived Doctor Who - and Angel when he created its more adult spin-off, Torchwood.) This series has become one of the most Trope Overdosed and Lampshaded shows in existence — thousands of references to Buffy exist across this entire wiki — partially because TV Tropes began with a specific focus on Buffy (based on a 2004 thread on the fan site Buffistas.org) before branching out to all of TV and eventually all of everything. This show is considered Trope Overdosed and part of the Truly Awesome. With over 9,000 wicks and a runtime of 6,056 minutes, this page (well, this entry and its metapages) now has over one wick per minute.
Has an episode crowner here.
Tie-ins and Possible RebootBuffy remains Joss Whedon's mothership series, with numerous tie-in novels, merchandise, video games, and spinoffs in the offing (see Fray), though plans for a Spike and/or Giles TV show remain in Development Hell. In 2001, Joss even tried shopping around an animated series based on the show, but most networks felt it wasn't suitable for small kids.
In 1999, Joss and co-producer David Greenwalt conceived a spin-off starring Buffy's vampiric love interest, Angel — the He-Man to Buffy's She-Ra, if you will. While Buffy focused on adolescent woe, Angel revolved around stressed-out twenty-somethings in thankless jobs, trying to hold onto their youthful ideals. Angel ended the only way it could have: the gang sold out and become Corporate Sponsored Superheroes, much to the disgust of Buffy and her allies, who disavowed them. Crossovers and cross-references between the two shows persisted even after Buffy ended in 2003.
In 2007 Buffy started up again — in comic form. Produced by Joss Whedon, it encompasses four "Seasons" of TV time, ultimately coming to an end in 2018 due to Dark Horse comics losing the license which in turn finally ended the original continuity of the series. Boom! Studios picks it up later and initiated a full Continuity Reboot to begin in 2019. In 2011, the mainline series branched off into Angel & Faith, which is London-based (in a nod to Excalibur).
There were also a few stand alone comics based on Buffy's high school days, being much Lighter and Softer then the source material, it only got three books and was forced to end due to the aforementioned losing of the licensee by Dark Horse. Bizarrely, the series likewise got an all ages story set in it's own continuity, Buffy: New School Nightmare, in which she once more arrives in a new town and has to contend with vampires, joined along the way by a witch and a werewolf Sarafina and Alvaro and a new, female watcher named Ms. Sparks guiding her. In this version, Buffy is much younger (12) and the vampires are all silly ones from various eras (in fact there isn't any kid vampire at all). While it does mention death and what not (with even Santa Claus being a vampire) it never gets as dark as it's mainstream counterpart and is even more Lighter and Softer then the Stand Alone "High School Years" series. A sequel to this continuity is said to be in the works.
The producers of the original film (the Kuzui couple listed in the credits) retained the rights to Buffy throughout the show's run despite having no creative involvement past the film. Plans have been proposed to revive/remake the film without Joss Whedon's input. No one involved with the series had anything pleasant to say about that idea.
For more information about the franchise, check the Buffyverse.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been indexed to avoid one day breaking the site:
- General Tropes
- Season Specific Tropes