'Buffy' at 20: What the Critics Originally Said About the Joss Whedon Favorite

THR travels back in time to 1997 to look at the first-ever reviews of the now cult phenomenon.
Courtesy Everett Collection

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's rise to become a cult hit and critical favorite didn't happen overnight. 

The vampire drama, which on Friday marks 20 years since its series debut, had a rocky road to the screen — with passes at both Fox and NBC — and wasn't universally praised when it launched in 1997 on the former WB Network.

So while your first impressions of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Angel (David Boreanaz), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) or queen bee Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) were memorable, the same can't be said for some critics.

Here's what TV critics originally had to say about the Joss Whedon series back in 1997.

In The Hollywood Reporter's original review, Michael Farkash dubbed the series as, "Clueless meets Dracula with emphasis on the hip angst of high schoolers coupled with vampire danger and apocalyptic prophecies." Adding, "Hip dialogue and humorously self-conscious asides clue us in that the players are aware of how wack the situation is." As for Buffy herself, Farkash wrote, "Gellar proves to be sympathetic as the super heroine who just wants to lead a normal life, hang out with her friends and not have to create more mayhem, for gosh sake." 

Howard Rosenberg at the Los Angeles Times called Buffy "deliciously funny satirical gore," though he did have one bone to pick — not with creator Whedon or the show itself, but with the former WB Network. "Someone also must be sucking brain matter from The WB executives who scheduled this two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Even beyond its considerable violence, its vampires could be terrifying to younger children." 

Variety's Todd Everett was less of a fan. "[Buffy] plays like an uneasy cross between The X-Files and Clueless, with a slightly harder edge than the original, if less outright gore." He noted that the the story "sags a bit in the second half" and said the series had "potential for early-teen viewing, though a second episode viewed was far less amusing" than the pilot. 

People's Tom Gliatto gave Buffy a B+ in his review and said Gellar "played the part with the right degree of put-upon resentment, and the cast — including Anthony Stuart Head as a school librarian — is as smooth an ensemble as you could wish in an hourlong series." He was less than kind to Mark Metcalf's vampire, comparing the character to an "albino rat in a leather bar," before dubbing Buffy "one of the brightest new shows of the season."

Meanwhile, The New York Times didn't mince words in its review. "Nobody is likely to take this oddball camp exercise seriously, though the violence can get decidedly creepy," John J. O'Connor wrote, adding "Buffy drifts reluctantly from one spooky adventure to another."  

What were your first impressions of Buffy? How will you celebrate the show's anniversary on Friday? Sound off in the comments section below and stay tuned to The Live Feed for more Buffy anniversary coverage. 

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