The new ‘Buffy’ series: A spinoff would be awesome, a remake would be awful (TV commentary)

Fox 21 announced Friday that a new “Buffy” TV series is in the works, with most media using the term “reboot.” This usually means “remake” or “re-imagining,” and that’s how most fans took it. Ninety percent of comment threads and tweets were therefore negative about the announcement. Some fans took “reboot” to mean “spinoff” or “sequel,” and those people were much more positive about the news.

I fall in with the party line on this issue: There’s no good reason (and plenty of bad ones) to remake something that’s already near-perfect, and that still feels contemporary. “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon himself was outspoken against a theatrical remake when Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kaz Kuzui (the “Buffy” copyright owners, much to fans’ dismay) floated the idea in 2010. (Weirdly, “Buffy: The Animated Series” and a Giles spinoff didn’t gain traction in the Aughts – and “Angel” was flat-out canceled — but the marketplace later shifted.) “Buffy” and “Angel” actors and fans agreed with Whedon’s viewpoint. The people behind the project ultimately took to heart Whedon’s stance plus fans’ opposition, and the movie thankfully stalled.

On the other hand, continuing – not restarting – the Buffyverse saga would be a Snoopy Dance-worthy outcome for me and other longtime fans. In fact, the story has actually been ongoing for quite a while in comics: Whedon launched Season 8 in 2007, with several TV writers from “Buffy” (1997-2003) and “Angel” (1999-2004) chipping in arcs as the storyline progressed through Seasons 9, 10 and 11 and the Scoobies grew into their 30s. Whedon is currently writing Season 12 (as well as a related “Giles” series), which Dark Horse Comics has announced will be the final seasonal “Buffy” title.

This new TV series has Whedon on board as an executive producer, but he’s been uncharacteristically silent about it. I have a bad feeling about the reason. As TV nerds know, there are two kinds of exec producers: showrunners (as Whedon was on “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse”) and those who launch a show but then hand it off (as Whedon did on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). He is the latter on this new “Buffy” series. Monica Owusu-Breen, who has written eight episodes of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and has a middling resume overall, is the showrunner.

Here’s why I think Whedon agreed to be involved. Fox wanted to make a new “Buffy” but knew it had no chance at a warm reception without Whedon’s name attached. So Fox and Whedon agreed to a number. My guess is that Whedon will be as hands-off with the new “Buffy” as he has been with “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” where he only penned the pilot, and that he’ll use the windfall toward other artistic endeavors (recall that he once put a bid in for the “Terminator” franchise). And he’ll hope, like most old-school fans, “Buffy in Name Only” quickly fades away.

That’s if it’s a remake, and not a spinoff/sequel.

Unfortunately, it is probably a remake. The news reports state that a new actress will be cast in the role of Buffy. It would then follow that there would also be a new Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Giles, Angel, etc. Although fans don’t want a remake, that means very little to Hollywood, which tends to be interested in drawing new fans to a property rather than pleasing old fans (it figures it’ll get a good chunk of old fans no matter what).

Examples of this strategy are numerous, but the most painful ones for me are “Star Wars,” which did a soft reboot when Disney purchased it (the movies and “The Clone Wars” stayed in canon, but the books and comics didn’t), and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which did a hard reboot (the film, comic and cartoon lines all restarted) when Nickelodeon purchased it.

Even though the Dark Horse Comics have been the official “Buffy” continuation since 2007, comics always go out the window when TV steps back into the game. Chris Carter started an official comics continuation of “The X-Files” in 2013, co-writing the opening arc. In 2016, television got interested in “The X-Files” again, so then TV’s Season 10-11 transplanted the comics’ Season 10-11 as the canonical continuation.

Even if this new show is a continuation rather than a remake, the same thing will likely happen with “Buffy.” Although Season 12’s storyline could theoretically lead into the spinoff series, that’s not likely to happen because of Hollywood’s desire to draw new fans. The idea of the new series continuing from – or at least being set in the same universe as — a previous TV series might be palatable to executives (and Whedon could maybe use his influence to sell that), but not the idea of it continuing from a comic-book story.

This was what I and other George Lucas-era “Star Wars” fans found out the hard way. Disney’s sequels could have continued from where the books were at in the timeline (the ages of the actors worked out perfectly). But that notion was seen as a detriment rather than a selling point, since the target audience was brand-new fans. Disney didn’t want “Star Wars” to seem too insider-y.

So the new “Buffy” is not likely to incorporate the comics.

However, there is a slim hope it could at least be a spinoff from the original “Buffy” TV series. Reports have said it will “build on the mythology,” a phrase that feels like it’s describing a continuation more so than a remake.

The title is a tricky matter here. If the original title had been “Slayer,” the new series would have a very good chance of being a spinoff with a new Slayer. But since the widely known brand is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the executives want to use that title again. And since it’d be weird to not have someone named Buffy in a show by that name, there will likely be one.

“Star Trek” – which did a fan-pleasing in-universe reboot with its 2009 movie (an example of something called a “reboot” that was actually a sequel rather than a remake) – is a franchise that doesn’t have this problem. If the original series had been titled “Captain Kirk,” we probably would’ve had several remakes since then rather than several spinoffs.

Even with this conundrum, there is a sliver of hope. While reports have said a new actress will play Buffy, none have included Buffy’s last name in that statement. The new Buffy need not be Buffy Summers. It could be a teenager of the next generation who is named Buffy in honor of Buffy Summers (who is perhaps deceased, although that’s not strictly necessary). Maybe this new Buffy is the daughter of someone who knows/knew Buffy Summers, and this girl gets called as a Slayer.

Or maybe even THE Slayer. Just as Willow’s magic spell gave Slayer powers to thousands of girls in the “Buffy” series finale “Chosen,” a new spell (perhaps by the spinoff’s first Big Bad) could reverse that. There’s precedent in the comics: In Whedon’s future-set “Fray,” there is again only one Slayer.

The new “Buffy” is most likely a remake, and our Twitter and comment-thread rants will most likely be justified. Just as I now have to say “I’m a fan of the Lucas ‘Star Wars,’ not the Disney ‘Star Wars,’ ” I’ll have to get used to saying “No, I like the old ‘Buffy,’ not the new stuff.” And I’ll have to accept seeing material about the new “Buffy” on my Facebook feed, just like it’s flooded with Disney “SWINO.” (When the names are the same, the web can’t differentiate between factions of fandom, and the mainstream entertainment media doesn’t try to.)

I’m not going to get my hopes up, like I did after the Disney purchase of “Star Wars,” but there is a smidge of possibility that this new “Buffy” is a spinoff that will tell new stories – and maybe Whedon and original staff writers and cast members will play a part in it. If that’s the case, it might even be good. But most importantly, it will have a creative reason for existing, rather than merely a commercial one.

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