It’s been 25 years since Buffy The Vampire Slayer swooped in and changed pop culture—and television—forever. From its revolutionary take on TV storytelling to its LGBTQ+ representation, the Sarah Michelle Gellar-led series changed lives, as attested by its still flourishing fanbase. Over the years, Buffy has been the subject of academic research, podcasts, blogs, and message boards. It introduced terms like “Big Bad” to the lexicon and featured television’s first use of “Google” as a verb. In the cultural landscape of 1997, it was nothing short of a revelation. The show exists outside the bounds of standard genres, but it is not without its limitations.
Writer and podcaster Evan Ross Katz carves out exactly how Buffy The Vampire Slayer has become a beloved, enduring piece of work despite its own shortcomings and humble origins in the new book Into Every Generation A Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts. With detailed interviews from cast members Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anthony Stewart Head, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, Charisma Carpenter, as well as Buffy superfans like Stacey Abrams and Cynthia Erivo, Katz pieces together exactly how the influential show came together in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Into Every Generation is a loving, comprehensive telling of the arc of the series, and well as a study into its glories and failures. Katz spoke to The A.V. Club about the strength of women in the Buffyverse, the whiteness of the series, and the “Joss Whedon of it all.”
The A.V. Club: What part of working on the book did you find most fascinating?
Evan Ross Katz: I would say the stuff about Buffy and race, Buffy and feminism, and Buffy and sexuality, those three themes in particular because I often felt like it was the first time that a lot of the actors specifically were asked about these things directly. There’s a confrontational nature to asking someone that was a part of something, “Why was this so white?” especially when the whiteness is no fault of the actors. And yet, they are part of something that in some senses does not hold up well, so I enjoyed those conversations a lot, and the opportunity to have them reflect on trying to find things that they had not reflected on previously.
AVC: When did the process of putting the book together begin? Because I know there were more allegations against Joss Whedon that kept coming up as you were writing the book.
ERK: I started it in October of 2020. But I had interviewed Charisma Carpenter for my podcast in May of 2020. And mind you the allegations from Kai Cole, Joss’ ex-wife, had been out there at that point for years. Although Charisma’s big statements didn’t come out until March 2021, she said things in the press before. I don’t think I was sidelined when that happened. I was about five months into writing when Charisma came forward, followed by followed by Michelle [Trachtenberg] and Amber [Benson]. I’d already talked to Amber about it in detail. So I already knew about all this stuff from Amber. So five months in, that just changed everything and required a lot of re-interviewing people who suddenly felt that they had more to say than before.
Something that Amber says in the book that I think applies to a lot of people is that people like you and I, we love this show, it holds a certain place in our heart. When you have an opportunity to be a part of something like Buffy, that makes people feel something so strong about it you don’t want to tarnish that feeling, you want them to hold on to those memories. Even if in some instances, it comes at a cost to you, the person involved. So I think there was a lot of just wanting to preserve a memory of the show.
When Charisma so bravely came forward, it allowed others to say “Yeah, I didn’t love this.” And not even others with the same stories as Charisma. They felt a little more inclined to to speak.
AVC: It’s that love that kept these things from coming to the light for so long. How was maneuvering that divide for you?
ERK: I’ve always been comfortable criticizing Buffy. When I think about the high highs of Buffy, I immediately also think that when Buffy is bad, it is so bad. There’s not a preciousness I’ve ever felt about Buffy, the preciousness that I feel is about Sarah [Michelle Gellar]. I’m a Sarah Michelle Gellar historian, not a Buffy historian.
Thinking about Buffy and race for instance, and having the opportunity to chat with K. Todd Freeman, who was the first Black actor to have a multi-episode arc on the show. First of all, I don’t think he gets many phone calls to talk about Buffy in 2022, let alone to have conversations about how he felt about [his character] calling out the “caucasian persuasion” of Sunnydale. I gave him a framework that provided a robust conversation outside of “What was it like to be a part of Buffy?” No, what was like to be one of the few Black actors to ever be on set, and then be playing a character who was acknowledging race but doing nothing? Those were the conversations that were exciting.
AVC: So with the “caucasian persuasion,” what do you walk away with? How do you personally contend with the whiteness of the series?
ERK: I think the overwhelming whiteness of Buffy is a symptom of that late ’90s, early ’00s period, when there was a culture that was less mindful about circumstances like this. We didn’t have places like social media to call things out of this nature. So there wasn’t a culture that would allow a call out of something like that and have it rise to the level where the EPs or the network were like, “Hey, wait a minute, we should do something about this.” Also, they were looking at a television landscape at the time that was also overwhelmingly white. They were not an outlier in any sense. The way I look at it now is I would be hopeful that if Buffy were to happen in 2022, that that would not be the case. I actually take just as much umbrage with the whiteness of the writers’ room as I do with the onscreen whiteness. I’m confident that the culture has moved forward.
AVC: How do you feel about a Buffy reboot?
ERK: My mind can go places sometimes where I’m like, “Okay, if I was in the writers’ room, I could see how we could maybe do something.” But I’m just not hankering for more. On top of that, I do not think the show sustained the high level [of quality] that it had at one point. You know, I look at Sex And The City, I think it stayed good. With Buffy, there was a waning quality in my mind. So I’m not overly eager to pick up the baton.
AVC: You also mentioned earlier the lows of the series. I’m curious about the episodes that you really don’t like, and why?
ERK: It’s not episode-specific, but I just think the middle chunk of season six is so hard to watch. I introduced my boyfriend to Buffy for the first time as I was writing the book, and we had such a hard time getting through season six in general. That middle chunk where it’s just so doom and gloom: Xander and Anya are moving towards their unhappy wedding day, Willow is trying to recover from her magic addiction, Dawn is out to sea, Buffy is depressed, and Giles is gone. It’s shocking to me that like they let the show get that dark and for so long. Oh my god. Both the show and the character of Buffy in season six drive me crazy. Crazy.
AVC: The book’s chapter on feminism ends on a note of “Buffy was ahead of the curve in some ways, but behind in others.” Can you speak to that?
ERK: I think inherently it’s in its frame. There’s just really great depictions of many multilayered women throughout the show. Obviously, going back to the conversation about race, there’s an overwhelming amount of white feminism within the show. There are ways in which the show came up short. It had this mostly white male writers room with the exception of a few women, it was a perspective on feminism through the prism largely of men, and I think that’s always going to taint conversations around feminism.
I do think of as a feminist masterpiece in so many ways. I just think we need to explore the fact that this particular masterpiece is not without its flaws. With the character of Buffy, it’s so complicated, but I love the idea that she wasn’t just this pillar of strength. I think the idea that she could cry about a boy or sometimes be in a battle and get hurt—there’s just a dynamism about the character that holds up. Then, yes—Willow, Cordelia, Miss Calendar, Joyce—I mean, hello. I can do a whole thing on Joyce.
AVC: Another big pillar of the book that might warrant an asterisk is the “Joss Whedon of it all.” You can’t really think about Buffy without thinking about Joss, or without his influence being felt and seen in every episode. How do you think people can grapple with that?
ERK: I think everyone sort of has their own worldview that they bring into conversations like this around whether or not they can. I think that in the case of Buffy, it’s complicated in that you actually can’t take [Whedon] out of the equation. When I was interviewing Jane Espenson and I was talking about the episode “Earshot,” I was like, “Oh, my god, I love the dialogue here.” And Jane was like, “Oh, that was a Joss rewrite.” More often than not, Joss did architect that moment behind the scenes. And I think that just goes to show that he has a footprint on this show that, try as some might, cannot be denied.
The allegations are all out there. For me, personally, it does tarnish the show, without question. It makes it something that I find less joy in loving. It’s just not the fun thing that it was before all this came to light. Because, again, there’s going to be this asterisk affiliated with the show. But at the same time, the show influenced me in such a way and I can’t undo that. I can’t take that away. So I really think it’s to each their own. If you can’t watch it anymore as a result, I get it. I think it’s just at the end of the day, it’s so sad. It really is just so sad. Both for the actors, and for the fans.
AVC: I want to talk about the women of the Buffyverse and how they brought the show and also this book to life.
ERK: These actresses, they go to the comic cons and the fan conventions, and they meet with the superfans. They’ve had those moments before, but I didn’t necessarily feel like they got the proper celebration outside of like the superfans. Like with Amber Benson, for instance, just getting to talk about the influence that she had on a generation of queer people. I still feel like Tara’s sexuality is up for interpretation, but I still don’t feel like there are depictions as nuanced or relationships as nuanced as Willow and Tara’s, and so I enjoyed getting to celebrate them.
AVC: You’re a Sarah Michelle Gellar historian and she has come up only a few times in this interview. What’s the big takeaway you want people to get from Sarah Michelle Gellar and her relationship with Buffy?
ERK: I just think it must be so weird to be to have a role that is this indelible. It blows my mind that people refer to her as Buffy. Like that’s going to be with her forever. Luckily, she’s got other iconic works—Cruel Intentions, Scooby-Doo, I Know What You Did Last Summer, etc., where it’s not her only thing, but it’s always gonna be the thing.
I think what I wanted people to take away from it was just to put some respect on her name. I think so often people think about Buffy and they give Joss the respect. I do think in the case of Buffy, Joss earned that respect. But I wanted people to understand more about sort of who [Gellar] is, the rigors of the role—both the acting the physicality of the role. Obviously she had a stunt double, but she was doing a lot of her own stunts. I just want people to recognize and appreciate this person who I, my whole life, have recognized and appreciated.
People will LOL when I compare Sarah Michelle Gellar to Meryl Streep, but I am not joking, I really do feel that she is one of the most talented actresses of all time, who was given this great opportunity in the case of Buffy and who I think if given other opportunities with roles as juicy as Buffy would absolutely slay them—for lack of a better word. Her acting is not an aspect of the show that really gets talked about. We talk about the writing, we talk about the musical, we talk about the fights and the stuff, all this all these things, but not a lot of people unpack that performance. I know she got a Golden Globe nomination, but that’s not enough.
AVC: If you were describing the show to someone who had never seen it or never even heard of it in 2022, how would you describe it?
ERK: I would say Buffy is a story that still remains untold. I just don’t think you get a show like Buffy, that’s about being an outcast, but finding your tribe and not really existing in the world of being an outcast. There’s something about these these outsiders who, while their contemporaries are off at football practice or cheerleading or whatnot, are in the library plotting to save the world that is both such a funny premise, but done with such conviction. There’s a sort of matter of factness about it. Tonally, some people call it a dramedy. I don’t subscribe to that. Buffy is very genre-ambivalent in the sense that it really is able to capture so much. It’s able to be a million things, some weird, some funny, some poignant, some relatable, some not at all relatable. I think about the fact that it’s about vampires and demons and forces of darkness, and yet it’s ultimately really just about the shit that so many of us go through.