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A slayer’s legacy: 10 pop cultural follow-ups to Buffy

Buffy on your left, Veronica on your right
Buffy on your left, Veronica on your right

A show as genre-bending and generation-defining as Buffy The Vampire Slayer was bound to have some long-lasting implications. Creator Joss Whedon quickly moved on to new series like Firefly and Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and brought his wisecrack to movies like The Avengers. Angel tried to pick up the slayer mantle by recreating Buffy’s ex as a kind of supernatural private eye, helpfully including Cordelia and Wesley from the previous series. Alyson Hannigan went to the world of sitcoms, Danny Strong to the world of screenwriting, and Sarah Michelle Gellar settled down with Freddie Prinze Jr. and their family while awaiting her perfect comeback role. Meanwhile, these creations continued what Buffy started, upholding her tradition of kickass young women, intrepid Scooby teams, mythical monsters, and high-school angst.

1. X-Men: Evolution (2000-03)

There’s a bit of inspirational overlap between Buffy and X-Men: Evolution, which pits Cyclops, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, et al. in a very Sunnydale-looking high school. Joss Whedon is said to be a big X-Men fan, giving Buffy the last name of that team’s leader, Summers. But Evolution creator Boyd Kirkland clearly took inspiration from the vampire slayer: Even the credits are similar. In Evolution, Shadowcat is the novice Buffy stand-in, a mutant whose powers suddenly appear at puberty. She then joins forces with the X-Men as she tries to navigate high school while saving the world in her infrequent downtime. Like Buffy, Evolution offered up frequent battles against villains and monsters as an apt metaphor for the little wars teenagers wage every day. Buffy’s and Shadowcat’s are on a literal larger scale, but every adolescent navigates a few “world-ending” crises in their time. [Gwen Ihnat]

2-3. Veronica Mars (2004-07) and iZombie (2015-present)

Top: Rob Thomas with Kristen Bell in 2006 (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images) Bottom: Rose McIver in iZombie (Photo: Kharen Hill/The CW)

A year and a half after the Hellmouth collapsed (taking Sunnydale with it), UPN brought forth another fair-haired female badass who protected a not-so-golden Golden State community between classes. Superficially, Veronica Mars’ teenage sleuth (Kristen Bell) has more in common with Nancy Drew, but the wit, social conscious, and season-long arcs of Rob Thomas’ much-loved, little-watched neo-noir have Buffy written all over it—minus the externalized demons. Thomas and Joss Whedon were never shy about expressing mutual appreciation for one another’s work, leading to Whedon’s cameo appearance as a bilingual rental-car clerk who gets worked by Veronica in season two’s “Rat Saw God.” That season also brought Charisma Carpenter to Neptune, California, her ill-fated trophy wife, Kendall Casablancas, following in the footsteps of Trina Echolls, a troubled child of celebrity played by Alyson Hannigan in seasons one and two.

Throughout Veronica Mars’ run, critics were quick to draw comparisons between the two shows, but Thomas contends that his most recent “whodunit” is the closer link. The heroine with superhuman abilities and the brooding antihero with the platinum ’do would agree with him, and The CW had slayer on the brain when it first brought Vertigo’s iZombie to Thomas and longtime collaborator Diane Ruggiero-Wright. “CW needs another great female lead on the network,” Thomas recalled network brass telling him in 2014. “They need another Buffy; they need another Veronica.” The cheekily named Liv Moore (Rose McIver) fits the bill, shielding her secret identity while spending most of her time with corpses and accessing their memories in order to solve murders. iZombie even picked up its own Initiative-esque paramilitary plot for its upcoming third season. Two severed fingers crossed that it leads to something better than Adam. [Erik Adams]

4. The revived Doctor Who (2005-present)

Though Doctor Who predated Buffy by more than three decades, when it came time to revive it for its more modern incarnation—and reinvent it in a way that would make it feel new again—producer Russell T. Davies told The A.V. Club that he had Joss Whedon’s show in mind as a blueprint. In a 2015 interview with Radio Times, beloved Doctor Who guest star (and Giles himself) Anthony Stewart Head elaborated on that influence. “Russell T. Davies said that he used Buffy as a model for when he was rebranding Doctor Who,” he said, “because Joss Whedon was the first person to actually say you can have genuine comedy and life-changing events happening on the turn of a dime. You could laugh in one moment and be terrified the next moment, and the two emotions actually complement each other.” That essential dichotomy—as well as Buffy’s emphasis on ensuring “every event had a repercussion,” Head said—informed the darker, more emotionally complex Doctor Who revival, which also adopted Buffy’s season-long “Big Bad” story arcs alongside a slew of other, far more granular similarities. Doctor Who would have continued to exist as a franchise with or without Buffy, though it’s hard to say if its most recent regeneration would have been as enthusiastically embraced. [Sean O’Neal]

5. Brian K. Vaughan’s comics (2007-11)

Comics writer Brian K. Vaughan has long been vocal about his Buffy fandom, saying it was “a real obsession, true, unplug-the-phone appointment television” whose deep understanding of comics conventions and savvy way with cliffhangers influenced his approach to his own titles like Y: The Last Man and Saga. That appreciation quickly turned mutual: Joss Whedon invited Vaughan, then a writer on Lost, to come pitch ideas for one of several direct-to-DVD movies set in the Buffyverse. While that never came to fruition, Vaughan and Whedon would cross paths many more times, with Whedon, a similarly vocal fan of Vaughn’s Runaways series, taking over the Marvel comic after Vaughan left, and Vaughan writing a Faith-centric storyline for Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire: Season Eight. Not coincidentally, Vaughan’s work—a lot of which revolves around dysfunctional families of smart-mouthed young people, often led by women, grappling with the supernatural and the apocalyptic—also has plenty in common with Buffy thematically. And now that connection is set to come full circle with Hulu’s upcoming Runaways series, which will feature none other than James “Spike” Marsters. [Sean O’Neal]

6. Glee (2009-15)

Joss Whedon certainly wasn’t the first person to attempt a musical episode of a TV series, but “Once More With Feeling” set a new standard for quality. The episode’s—and, frankly, all of Buffy’s—DNA was certainly visible when Ryan Murphy’s Glee hit the air in 2009. Murphy, who cut his teeth on the high school satire Popular, also embraced teenage outcasts, only he made sure they all had killer sets of pipes rather than slaying skills. William McKinley High School wasn’t on a Hellmouth, but it did have its own resident demon in Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester, who terrorized the New Directions. Whedon ended up directing a first-season episode of Glee, which Murphy at the time called “a great, if unexpected, fit.” But to viewers, it wasn’t really that unexpected, as Glee owed a huge debt to its predecessor. [Esther Zuckerman]

7. Lost Girl (2010-16)

While it never attained the same level of cult success as Buffy, the Canadian supernatural series Lost Girl mined similar territory in more than a few ways. It tells the story of Bo, a girl who grew up unaware she was anything other than an ordinary girl until she hit puberty, and then—much like Buffy Summers—discovered she had powers others didn’t. Specifically, she was a succubus, descended from a world of beings known as the Fae. She uses her abilities to help human and Fae alike (even borrowing a page from Angel by opening a detective agency), while the show is more upfront about sexuality than its WB/CW antecedent, including not shying away from Bo’s bisexuality. Series creator Michelle Lovretta recognizes the Buffy comparisons, saying the shows’ heroes share the “sense of both loss and wonder when she realizes she’s not the ‘normal girl’ she thought she was.” It’s a series whose debt to Joss Whedon is obvious, even as it stakes out a new television landscape of its own. [Alex McLevy]

8. Grimm (2011-present)

A series about a person who suddenly discovers they’re from an ancient line of protectors tasked with keeping the peace between humanity and a world of mythological creatures? The Buffy connection here seems obvious, but let’s make it even more explicit anyway: Grimm, which follows a homicide detective who works cases and hunts bad guys from the supernatural realm, was created by David Greenwalt, Joss Whedon’s producing partner on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Greenwalt clearly took the lessons of Buffy to heart, following similar structure and story beats, and even bringing on the occasional actor from the Buffyverse to do a guest spot (Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker). If it never quite achieves the highs of Buffy, it’s not for lack of following the template. [Alex McLevy]

9. Sweet/Vicious (2016-present)

MTV’s latest show about vigilante college students taking justice into their own hands after legal means fail them isn’t just an addictive and pleasurable thrill, it’s also indebted to a certain enemy of the undead. As even the show’s lead tough girl has said, Buffy is an inspiration for the idea of empowered women making a difference in the world with their fighting abilities. The show’s hot-button depiction of rape culture and its devastating consequences is tackled boldly and unapologetically, in ways never so forcefully addressed on Joss Whedon’s show, but the tough young women fighting bad guys (and girls) can trace the origins of its heady mix of frothy fun, serious themes, and soapy relationships back to the vampire slayer. [Alex McLevy]

10. Crazyhead (2016)

Crazyhead is one of several shows with kickass female leads that can lay claim to some Buffy DNA. This six-part series popped up on Netflix mid-December, like an early Christmas gift. Dry, self-aware, and raunchy, Crazyhead follows Amy and Raquel, a pair of demon hunters (or, in Raquel’s preferred parlance, Hell Bitches). At first they’re armed only with their wits and smartphones, but they eventually develop supernatural powers to aid them in the battle of good versus Callum (Tony Curran), a demon with a master plan. Raquel and Amy make up a group as insular as the Scoobies, with occasional help from family and friends. In addition to these familiar beats, Howard Overman’s horror comedy also branches out into social concerns, like sexism and mental health. And just like Buffy before it (for the most part), it does so with a light touch. [Danette Chavez]