I'd like to preface my review with a comment about the changing nature of academic writing about television. Until very recently -- probably the 1990s, certainly no earlier than the 1980s -- virtually all academic writing about television concerned the medium rather than individual series and shows. To the extent that individual shows were written about, academics seemed more concerned about their reception and their audiences rather than the narrative and thematic content. One might see essay after essay on the fandom of STAR TREK, but no analyses of the actual content of the show. Some exceptions to this could be found in the 1980s, but it was only in the 1990s that those involved in TV Studies began writing about the actual content of the shows. I suspect that TWIN PEAKS was the turning point. It was the first series that brought a new level of intelligence to television, instilling cinematic qualities to a previously "lowest common denominator" medium. The nineties saw an increasing number of shows that assumed that its viewers were more intelligent, that assumed that TV could transcend its "idiot box" characterization. I believe that the kind of textual analysis of TV that is so common today resulted from the increasingly intelligent series that emerged in the nineties.
Still, though a few individual shows attracted the attention of TV scholars -- TWIN PEAKS, ALLY MCBEAL, THE X-FILES -- none of them produced anything even remotely resembling the reaction to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Though other series have also inspired scholars (LOST and especially BATTLESTAR GALACTICA are two recent examples), none compare to BUFFY. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there were more pages written on BUFFY and ANGEL than the next 3 or 4 series combined. Why this fascination about the adventures of a blonde California cheerleader who suddenly discovers that she is The Chosen One, the one girl in the world to fight the vampires and demons and powers of darkness? Joss Whedon has said of watching his creation, "Bring your own subtext." More than any series that I can think of (with the possible exception of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which interestingly is Joss Whedon's favorite television series), BUFFY and its spin off ANGEL is a show that demands the exploration of subtexts. BUFFY is not about any one or two or even three things. In any given episode or arc, multiple themes coexist. Contrast this with, say LOST, a show I dearly love, but which almost resists subtexts. BUFFY is, therefore, a treasure trove of themes and narratives that can be teased and brought to the surface. Although on the surface it is pure popular entertainment, beneath the surface it is one of the densest, richest shows in television history.
Although BUFFY has inspired a surprising number of academic essays, books, and anthologies, this is easily one of the best that I have read. Even the essays that I found least helpful were written on a very high level. The book is broken roughly into two parts. The first part engages in something more akin to old school TV writing, in that the "text" of BUFFY is passed over in favor of media criticism. For instance, there are articles about Sarah Michelle Gellar and the nature of crossover stardom and various issues arising in Great Britain from the scheduling of BUFFY and ANGEL on broadcast and cable channels. The second part deals with analyses of BUFFY from the standpoint of gender studies. I generally don't care for gender studies analyses of TV shows. I'm interested in BUFFY and in what BUFFY has to say about gender, but far less interested in a metanarrative that is imposed upon the show. I'm especially uninterested in Queer Studies, which I think is an academic fad that will soon pass, much like Derrida (and for the record, unlike Foucault -- and I am aware of the irony of thinking that Foucault is someone whose work has deep merit and will not fade away as Derrida is in the process of doing, given that Foucault is one of the inspirations for practitioners of Queer Theory). Yet, even the essay from that standpoint was several cuts above most that I've read.
My major complaint with the collection is that very few essays really delve into the show itself. There is little of the in depth textual analysis that represents the best of TV Studies of the past twenty years. I am currently rewatching all of BUFFY and ANGEL and I find that almost nothing in this collection has helped me understand the show in greater depth. The essays are more self-referential than BUFFY-referential. They take you into themselves instead of into BUFFY. Still, I nonetheless enjoyed every essay in the collection.
One last comment. This book apparently took years to see the light of day. I believe it is the same collection that I saw advertised around the end of BUFFY's seven year run edited by Lisa Parks (one of the co-editors of the current collection) and to be published by Duke University Press. I even added the book to my shopping cart. The book then disappeared from my shopping cart. Then a couple of years later this collection was published by Duke. Many of the essays refer BUFFY as something that had only recently ended. So, for some reason, this collection seems to have taken about five years to see the light of day. I can only add that I'm glad that it did.