Slayer Lit Review
"MEET THE STARS OF BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER"
by Jan Gabriel
Reviewed by Shiai Mata
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is total must see... the coolest kickin' hour of teen power on TV. Blazing into its third sizzling season, Buffy is the chosen show, funny and scary and heartbreaking and loving and real. It's generation next to the max.
What's their real life deal? Here's the place to find out.
You know you want to know!
Thus were readers tantalized on the back cover MEET THE STARS OF BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, first published in December of 1998, as the show's third season was underway. You may not have come across it, however, as it was published by Scholastic, Inc. which aims its sales at students in schools, not through the usual bookstore circuit.
And you know you're making a cultural impact when an unauthorized biography hits the stands. Of course, whether that impact has any lasting effect (such as BtVS has had) or is just a flash in the pan (HANSON FOREVER: YOUR TAY, ZAK AND IKE KEEPSAKE SCRAPBOOK, also by Jan Gabriel and Scholastic, springs to mind) remains to be seen.
By its third season, BtVS was most definitely making a big impact. It helped its network, the WB, break down the wall to reaching the teenaged female viewer... and drew in other, more adult fans as well. In its second year, the WB moved it from its original Monday night berth to Tuesday, in order to anchor a new night of programming and serve as a powerful lead-in for a freshman series called Dawson's Creek; it was a risky move that paid off handsomely. From the very start, the show was a critical hit, but its ratings were poor during Season 1, often nearing dead last in the rankings (due in part to the fact that it was more or less thrown onto the air with little fanfare. Initially intended to debut in the fall of '96, the cast and creator Joss Whedon were shocked when the WB declined to put the show on the schedule, and announced instead it would be a mid-season replacement. BtVS eventually hit the air in March of 1997, when most of that season's shows were already winding down to their finales). But summer reruns and good word-of-mouth helped stir interest, and by the second year, the show was pulling strong numbers (Gabriel cites more than once the fact that BtVS scored a 217% increase among teen and 'tweener viewers). Buffy was suddenly very, very hot; perhaps the ultimate accolade was having her appear in a "Got Milk?" ad.
MEET THE STARS... is the sort of work that is literally cranked out in a fortnight. Author Gabriel conducted no interviews herself, but instead uses as her sources virtually every interview with the various stars published elsewhere, from ROLLING STONE and SOAP OPERA DIGEST (from Sarah Michelle Gellar's days on ALL MY CHILDREN) to online fan Q&A's which the actors had conducted. The benefit of this is that it spares readers from having to track down past issues of YM and TEENBEAT. Of course, it also means that the source material generally consists of softball questions, and some of the answers quickly become a little too pat.
But to her credit, Gabriel does at least skirt some provocative topics, chief among them Sarah's supposed "attitude problems," at least prior to her work on BtVS. The author airs the rumors about difficulties between Gellar and Susan Lucci, who played her mother, Erica Kane, on AMC, and how reportedly their animosity led to Sarah leaving the show even as she won a Daytime Emmy for her work. And Gabriel pretty much flatly states that Gellar was a real prima donna... which was probably not the precise invective used by some of her co-stars, but let's keep this G-Rated... on the set of the short-lived prime time teen soap SWAN'S CROSSING.
The book is broken into thirteen chapters, the first six of which are devoted entirely to Gellar. Next come features on Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, and Seth Green (sorry, Anthony Stewart Head fans... he was just a bit too far out of the readership demographic to qualify for a chapter of his own). They do a fairly good job of giving the reader a brisk biography of each, peppered with a lot of quotes.
The information runs the gamut from the well-known (Sarah being sued by McDonald's at the age of 5 for having mentioned their chain in a Burger King commercial; Gellar was originally cast as Cordelia, but she asked for permission to re-audition for the part of Buffy, and had to go through 19 different auditions before she was finally hired) to the not-so-known (Sarah insists she was "more like Willow than Buffy" in school... she had few friends and was teased a lot; Nick Brendon conquered his severe stuttering himself, without professional help, by mastering many tongue twisters).
There are also nice touches, like the verbal tour we get of the eclectically-furnished house which Nick bought and lived in with his twin brother, Kelly Donovan, as well as a lot of fun quotes from the actors (such as Seth Green enthusiastically gushing, "I'm one degree from Kevin [Bacon]... which is really exciting!")
If you're a hardcore fan of the series, your're going to know most of the information assembled here. Indeed, if you're well-versed in the lives and careers of the actors, you're probably going to be highly amused by one biographical spotlight in particular. For the most part, the individual information is pretty accurate... but in at least one instance, the subject seems to be trying to paint a rather disingenuous portrait of themselves: Alyson Hannigan insists she's 'just like Willow,' being "unfailingly polite," preferring to stay at home nights playing with her Beanie Baby collection, and with "huggable" fashion tastes that mirror Willow's 'softer side of Sears'! Of course, as most fans now know, Aly Hannigan is a far cry from that shy homebody she tried to pass herself off as in early interviews. Jan Gabriel does seem to suspect that Hannigan isn't being quite truthful, and she hints at the real Alyson we've come to know and love by describing a gift the redhead gave to Gellar: a doll that blows bubbles "out of a part of its anatomy that ACE VENTURA fans would find hysterical." Sarah adds that Aly's gifts to her are always "gross" (i.e. scatological)... but funny.
(And thankfully, the tender sensibilities of Young America were spared the details of Hannigan's rather revelatory PLAYBOY interview, which ran after this book's publication, and thus wasn't grist for Gabriel's mill.)
We get a few quick glimpses of things to come as well. Sarah talks about a new movie she just finished that she hopes will be a hit, VANILLA FOG. It was later renamed SIMPLY IRRESISTABLE and more or less disappeared as a straight-to-video release. And in mentioning some of her personal friends, she talks about what a great guy Freddie Prinze, Jr. is; this was before she and Prinze began dating and eventually married.
As a writer, Gabriel does a good job of building a narrative flow with all of the many quotes, and she has a quick and lively style. Unfortunately, she also often tries to seem hip to her young readers by frequently using the phrase "the Buffster," which doubtless made 12 year olds everywhere cringe.
All in all, this is a fun little read... and a fast one (you'll get through its 165 pages in no time at all). Its got a lot of the usual stock photos, but also a few that aren't so common (like the cast picture from FREE SPIRIT, featuring a 14 year old brunette Hannigan). In the full analysis, it's really little more than chimera. But all the same, there's something to be said for opening it up and, for at least a little while, pretending its 1998 again, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was still on the air, and you just knew there were great and wonderful things in store for the series. You'd already come to love the characters, and now you have the chance to get to know the actors behind them a bit better as well.
BONUS! Here's one of the TRUTH ABOUT THE RUMORS tidbits which Jan Gabriel fearlessly exposes!
RUMOR: Sarah's quitting the show.
TRUTH: No. This rumor was in TV GUIDE, apparently started when someone allegedly overheard Sarah complaining about the disparity between her TV salary and what she could be making in movies. It was further fueled in USA TODAY when she complained, "Buffy's been a lot of pressure. I'm in every scene, and there's a lot riding on me. For the films, I was a member of an ensemble, and that was a lot of fun." Her past history... of seeming to quit ALL MY CHILDREN right after she won the Emmy Award... hasn't helped quell this rumor, either. But this has: It's been a year since the rumor started, and she's still on the show!
Thanks to Gabriel for squelching that rumor. I hope knowing the truth puts you all at ease.