clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Reboot Doomed to Fail?

What the new edition of the iconic show should and shouldn’t do

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

While celebrating the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last year, creator Joss Whedon was asked by The Hollywood Reporter about the prospect of a series reboot. He was apprehensive: “I see a little bit of what I call monkey’s paw in these reboots. You bring something back, and even if it’s exactly as good as it was, the experience can’t be. You’ve already experienced it, and part of what was great was going through it for the first time.”

A year later, however, Buffy is officially being rebooted. Whedon will be developing the new series along with Midnight, Texas cocreator Monica Owusu-Breen, who will also serve as the reboot’s showrunner. Few details about the project are available—Fox 21 TV Studios, which is producing the show, will be pitching it to networks and streaming services later in the summer—but the imperative is an “inclusive” take that will see a black actress assume the role Sarah Michelle Gellar made iconic in the late ’90s.

It is not surprising to see a beloved series getting rebooted in 2018—if you weren’t already apprised, I regret to inform you The Office could be rebooted on NBC—but a Buffy reboot comes with its own set of obstacles. Buffy was special, and its influence is still felt to this day on series as far-ranging as Supernatural, medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, and crime dramas that follow the Case of the Week structure Buffy once implemented with varying monsters. It’s one thing to bring back a show that was beloved in its time (see: the new, Emmy-nominated Will & Grace); it’s another to re-up one of the most essential dramas ever made. So, it’s unsurprising that the early reactions to the Buffy news have been … tepid.

For the new Buffy to succeed in 2018 and avoid the online pitchforks, here’s a dos and don’ts guide for the reboot.

Set the Reboot in the Buffy Universe—but Don’t Make It About Buffy

It is not immediately clear if the Buffy reboot means a newer take on Gellar’s Buffy Summers, or simply tells a new story set in the Buffy universe—though Friday’s announcement seems to hint at the former. Given how intrinsically linked Gellar is to the character—with a multilayered performance tackling adolescence, depression, and sexual desire—it’d be a small miracle for any actress to capably fill her shoes.

Luckily, the producers can just avoid that problem. The Slayer mythology runs very deep, as Buffy Summers is just one person who assumed the mantle of Slayer—a woman chosen by fate to repel and eliminate vampires, demons, and the like from wiping out humanity—that spans millennia. A Buffy reboot could simply use the Buffy name to lure viewers, but tackle an entirely different Slayer. The original series even briefly featured a different Slayer, Kendra Young, who was black.

Given that Slayers have been around for millennia in the Buffy universe, there is also a lot of room for experimentation: The show could be an 18th-century period piece, or something from our not-too-distant future. A show in this universe needn’t solely focus on one character that already had seven seasons—plus a continuing series of comics—devoted to her.

This non-Buffy, new-Slayer direction would also fall in line with the reboot’s mandate to make the next Buffy more inclusive while also creating a new story for a character of color, rather than retelling an existing story with a new lead actress. Buffy had its own successful reboot, Angel, that existed at the same time as Buffy from the perspective of a mopey, atoning vampire. Not all shows have the luxury to mine such a vast mythology, and it would behoove a Buffy-like show to tackle an alternative and more creatively fulfilling story rather than recycle old parts.

TV Is Edgier Now, but Show Some Restraint

The most tonally jarring and unintentionally hilarious footage of last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con came from DC’s live-action series Titans. To establish that this version of the Teen Titans—you know, the same group from that pretty decent Cartoon Network show!—is Gritty AF, Robin says, “Fuck Batman” before beating the shit out of some bad guys and stepping on and possibly crushing a man’s jaw (?!). Titans is an extreme example of a larger trend in television in which, depending on where a show airs/streams, censorship is practically nonexistent (Titans will be part of, no joke, a DC Universe streaming service).

If the Buffy reboot were to land on, say, Amazon Prime, it wouldn’t have the kind of restrictions that the original series had on the WB and UPN. But the best thing certain shows can do is demonstrate restraint—the first Buffy series didn’t need gratuitous violence to accomplish its ends. A Buffy reboot that leaned on gore and full-frontal nudity would be strange, at the very least, if not misplaced. In other words, a Slayer doesn’t need to disembowel a vampire with a stake and say, “Fuck monsters!” to make a point.

Social Metaphors—Harder Than They Seem!

The typical structure for Buffy’s seasons, which included an overarching Big Bad and smaller villains of the week, meant that Buffy and her friends were constantly facing monsters that served as metaphors for the struggles they were facing in their day-to-day lives—from high school up to college and early adulthood. Eventually, the characters battled their own demons, like Willow’s Season 6 heel turn after developing an addiction to magic.

The show wasn’t displaying a lot of subtlety—you’d half expect everyone to turn to the camera and shout “DRUGS ARE BAD” during Willow’s brief run as a villain—but these moments were sufficiently nuanced, and served the characters’ arcs. The original show never felt outwardly preachy, but that is a feat that is even more difficult to perform in 2018.

Consider Paramount TV’s disastrously misguided attempt at a Heathers remake—in which the three Heathers were now biracial, gender-queer, and heavyset—that was so misplaced in its social commentary and understanding of what the Heathers represented that the show was dropped before an episode even aired. Monsters-as-metaphor is an essential part of Buffy’s DNA. However, it will be difficult to repurpose the show’s social messaging without coming off as disingenuous or performative.

There are myriad ways for a Buffy reboot to implode, if only because of the original show’s sterling reputation, fervent fandom, and continued influence on television. We don’t need another Buffy Summers, because the first one—and Sarah Michelle Gellar—was perfect. If a new Slayer-centric show is to succeed, it should recycle as few parts as possible in order to stand a chance of living up to its predecessor. A Buffy reboot shouldn’t be chasing the ghost, even as it’s staking vampires.