Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Performance as Authorship: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Buffy Season 6

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Performance as Authorship: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Buffy Season 6

Article excerpt

scholars have approached the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997- 2003) from a variety of angles, including as a progenitor of the era of serialized "quality TV" and as a primary example of the "showrunneras- auteur" model of television production and reception. However, as with much of television (and screen media in general), little scholarly attention has been paid to performance in the series-when, in fact, performance is a vital factor of the show's success. It is my argument that the primary cast of Buffy constitutes a fundamental component of the series' authorship. Specifically, in this article I will argue that Sarah Michelle Gellar's central performance as Buffy Summers does not simply imbue the series with the allure of stardom or provide a focal point of fan attention and scrutiny, but that rather, it authors the role of Buffy in specific ways. This aspect of authorship allows the series' narrative to develop as a dialogue between the writers and performer as coauthors. Thus, the text becomes at once more expansive and more nuanced than any individual author can claim responsibility for.

To demonstrate Gellar's authorial performance, I will focus mainly on the series' divisive sixth season (2001-02) and the episode "Dead Things" (season 6, episode 13) in particular. During this season, the show took a dark, harrowing turn, as most of its main characters dealt with season-long bouts of depression and anger, as well as extreme personal setbacks.1 This did not sit well with many of the show's fans or formerly supportive critics. Season 6 also saw the series jump networks, from The WB to UPN, and brought the departure of Joss Whedon as showrunner. Although it features such highlights and fan favorites as the musical episode "Once More, with Feeling" (S6E7) and the Dark Willow arc, the season is also notable for the virtual disappearance of main character Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), the seemingly random, overdetermined magic-as-drugs metaphor, and fan-despised episodes such as "Doublemeat Palace" (S6E12) and "As You Were" (S6E15). Despite these many problematic components, season 6 retained a viewership comparable to previous, more highly regarded seasons. Furthermore, over time its reputation has benefited from reconsideration, especially in the wake of DVD releases and online streaming that allow viewers to "binge watch" the season. I contend that although there are several elements that work to make the season stronger than initial reaction would indicate, much of the season's success stems from the series-long commitment that Gellar and the rest of the cast made to fashioning characters who transcended their sometimes laughable, sometimes dire environment.

It is not my intention to undermine Joss Whedon's contributions to Buffy, although in making an argument for multiple authorship, I will take up recent challenges to the showrunner- as-auteur model from which Whedon's reputation has benefited. Whedon created both the character and the show, developed its metaphorical structure, wrote and directed several of its most heralded episodes, and by all accounts had some hand in crafting most of its scripts. I also do not wish to diminish the collaborative input of other key authors of Buffy, particularly Marti Noxon, showrunner of seasons 6 and 7. What I do contend, however, is that performance in Buffy is as vital an act of creative authorship as any of its production elements. More specifically, Gellar's performance as Buffy allowed the show to maintain a consistency and a connection with its audience that the writing sometimes seemed willing to abandon, even (or especially) during moments when the narrative took the character to places that Gellar the actor did not always feel comfortable with. Thus, Gellar's performance works in dialogue with production contributions by Whedon, Noxon, and others to exemplify a form of multiple authorship, in which different artistic contributions work in unison toward the creation of a greater whole in the form of an episode, season, or series. …

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