television

Women in Horror Month: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire SlayerFor a few years in my teens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the most important thing in my world. I watched the original movie on TV one night and became obsessed with it, to the point where, when the TV show started, I almost didn’t watch it. I couldn’t imagine Buffy being played by anyone other than Kristy Swanson. But then I succumbed to temptation, and fell in love with Buffy all over again.

Joss Whedon imagined Buffy as the antithesis of the usual horror movie heroine: she wouldn’t be a victim, and she wouldn’t scream and run away from monsters. Instead, she’d actively seek them out – and she’d be the thing they were afraid of. While the movie was camp and fun, the TV show took things far more seriously than the daft-sounding title suggested. Buffy felt like a real person. She had a family, and she had friends, and she fell in love with inappropriate men. She didn’t always know all the answers, she was far from perfect, but she could stand up for herself. Her monsters were my monsters – over the years, she had to fight school bullies, evil boyfriends, awful fast food jobs, and many many feelings of inadequacy and despair – but she always had a clever comeback … and she had superpowers. She was awesome.

Beyond Buffy herself, the show provided a variety of different roles for women. There’s Buffy’s new best friend, the shy and nerdy Willow who, over the show’s seven seasons, would gradually overcome her shyness and develop magical abilities powerful enough to save – or destroy – the world. There’s mean girl Cordelia, who gets slowly drawn into Buffy’s world, learning that there’s more to life than popularity contests and perfect hair, and eventually moving onto the Angel spin-off show to become one of its most rounded and interesting characters (before being abruptly written out, but that’s not relevant right now). There’s bad girl Faith, and snarky ex-demon Anya, and quiet, calm, shy, lovely Tara, and bratty Dawn, and all manner of female villains and tertiary characters. No-one was ever quite what they seemed on this show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show on which women didn’t have to wait for men to rescue them, ever. Usually, it was the other way around.

Lots of films and TV shows give their female characters guns or karate skills, call them “strong female characters”, and think they’ve done something revolutionary. But that’s not what strong female characters really are – ideally, strong female characters are well-written characters, who have flaws and are conflicted and interesting, fully fleshed out human beings. Buffy wasn’t a perfect show, and perhaps no TV show that runs for 140+ episodes can ever be entirely consistent, or get everything right every week, but Buffy certainly had a good go.

Although the show was devised by a man, there were several prominent female writers on staff, most notably Jane Espenson, who’s gone on to work on Battlestar Galactica, Gilmore Girls, and Dollhouse and Marti Noxon, who now works on Mad Men. Noxon also took over from Joss Whedon as show runner for the final two seasons, and many episodes were directed by women. (Although not as many as were directed by men, admittedly.) Buffy wasn’t just a show about a hot girl killing monsters, as fun as that sounds; it was a show with women both in front of and behind the camera, on which a range of female characters got to be heroes and villains and everything in between.

For me, as an awkward teenager, it was a show that told exactly the stories I needed to hear. And I loved it desperately for that.

5 reasons to love Horrible Histories

Horrible Histories

So, entirely deservedly, Horrible Histories won the award for Best Sketch Show at this year’s British Comedy Awards. If you haven’t seen it, that’s probably because it’s on CBBC. But just because something is aimed at children doesn’t mean it’s not utterly wonderful, and Horrible Histories is way too good to have an upper age limit imposed on it. Here’s why you need to check it out:

1. It’s educational
The show is based on Terry Deary’s series of Horrible Histories books, a series designed to get kids interested in history by gleefully focusing on the weird and gory side of events. The show incorporates all sorts of bizarre facts into a series of even more bizarre sketches, and although it’s all very silly, everything is based on actual historical fact.

For instance, did you know Caligula looted Alexander the Great’s tomb and wore his armour? Or that Dr William Buckland, a Victorian palaeontologist, was determined to eat every known animal, and even tasted the mummified heart of King Louis XIV? Well, now you do. (Also: eww.)

2. It’s stuffed to the gills with comedy talent
The cast is seriously awesome. Some of them you’ll probably recognise, others you might not, but they’re all brilliant.

3. It’s endlessly inventive
Kids get bored easily, so Horrible Histories is a rapid-fire affair: there are animated sections as well as the live action sketches, with introductions and explanations from the show’s ‘host’, a puppet rat named Rattus Rattus.

Whether the intended audience recognises all the adult TV shows that Horrible Histories parodies is doubtful, but there’s something deliciously absurd about segments like Historical Wife Swap, Axe Factor, and Ready Steady Feast.  The Horrible Histories take on Cillit Bang’s Barry Scott (here just “Shouty Man”) is particularly well-observed.

4. The songs are fantastic
Every episode features a song or two, and as well as being typically full of interestingly bizarre facts, they’re also seriously catchy. Check out Born 2 Rule by The 4 GeorgesThe Wives of Henry VIII; or Literally – The Viking Song. Earwormtastic, no?

5. It’s just really really really funny, okay?
Oh, just watch it.

www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/horriblehistories/