This book marks my own personal first disappointment with the BFI (British Film Institute), one of the leading publishers, along side Wallflower Press, of film and television related books in the UK. I have always regarded the BFI as a publisher who offer particularly interesting and critical work, and for me, this book seemed to arrive at just the right time, as I was about to begin writing a paper that centred on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS). However, I feel that it is a mistake to advertise this book as 'A Critical Reading of the Series' when that is far from what it actually is.
The author, Anne Billson, takes, not a critical standpoint, but one of a fan. In most of the book she makes simple observations about the programme which any regular viewer would notice, such as, 'the vampires and demons and monsters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are often adolescent fears made 'real'' (page 43) and other points which most cult television fans would already know, for example, 'alternative universes invariably paint a darker picture, as opposed to a world in which all the imperfections have been ironed out' (73). It is rare that Billson makes a particularly interesting observation however, when she does, they are generally important points. One example of this is the fact that even though Buffy is struck by poverty in Season Six and has to find a job, she never appears to wear the same outfit twice.
Billson positions herself as a fan of the show, talking about how she 'discovered Buffy' and is not shy to show her dislike of certain characters like Buffy's Season Four boyfriend Riley and sister Dawn. Billson doesn't comment on other important points about the series such as the criticism it received in Seasons One and Two for its lack of black characters, especially as the vampire is often seen as a metaphor for minorities. She defends BtVS's loss of audience in Seasons Six and Seven, attributing it to the complexity of the series and not that series creator Joss Whedon's input had decreased due to other projects - even after Billson points this fact out.
The introductory chapters of the book are the best in which both the history of the television female role model and the vampire in are outlined. Subsequent chapters take the same pattern, outlining what happens in each season (something any fan would know already) and following this by 'analysing' each season and its characters. Taking many of her quotes from DVD commentaries, Billson draws on primary material throughout the book but rarely makes anything more than obvious points about the series. Billson's knowledge of television is impressive and the comparisons between BtVS and other television programmes is one of the best things about the book. My main disappointment with this book is that it is not critical but a book of observations by a fan, who brings nothing new to the already extensive amount of literature on the programme.