A demon driver’s ed teacher, a shrunken Buffy, and a pre-teen Dawn.
No, these aren’t Buffy Season 8 comic stories, but rather ideas for the much-discussed but never actually made Buffy: The Animated Series. In development hell since the days when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still on the air, the show would have featured episodes written by faves like Jane Espenson, Steve DeKnight, Drew Greenberg and Doug Petrie, as well as creator Joss Whedon himself.
After the idea was conceived by Whedon and Jeff Loeb in 2001, a four-minute presentation (which you can now watch here) was written and drawn in 2004 with voice work completed by principle cast including Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendan, and Anthony Head (but not Sarah Michelle Gellar, who turned down the chance to return). But by 2005, Whedon declared the show to be dead. So what happened?
It wouldn’t have been a straight spin-off or sequel, but rather it would have taken place during the parent series’ first season – specifically after episode seven, Angel. This would presumably allow the show to take place at a time when the Scoobies know about Angel’s little vampirism problem, allowing him to be more than the creepy guy who brings Buffy missions.
Another interesting wrinkle is that Dawn would be a character which, as those familiar with the original show know, didn’t become the case until season five. This retroactive insertion of Buffy’s kid sister (Dawn would have been just 11 or 12 during the first season) would certainly have been an interesting way of generating fresh stories and not being handcuffed to canon.
But as we know, the idea never came to fruition, and it seems that it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Despite the initial plan for the show to air on Fox Kids, it was left homeless after the channel’s closure. From there, Whedon and Loeb had an uphill battle to sell it somewhere else.
In 2003, Whedon told The Hollywood Reporter: “We just couldn’t find a home for [it]. We had a great animation director, great visuals, six or seven hilarious scripts from our own staff – and nobody wanted it. I was completely baffled. I felt like I was sitting there with bags of money and nobody would take them from me.”
Of course, the animated show wasn’t the only Buffyverse spin-off that was abandoned before it ever reached our screens. The most famous was Ripper, a Giles-centric show that would follow the character on ghostly adventures in England, and there was also a potential sequel series following the newly-awakened potential slayers, a much-hyped Faith-centric show from seasoned Angel writer Tim Minear, and even a movie about Spike (the script for which was eventually released as comic Spike: Into the Light).
Like the Spike project, the animated series also found its way to the page in After These Messages… We’ll Be Right Back, which saw Buffy ponder how life might have been simpler when she was back in high school. In tribute to the bygone series, the pages were drawn in the same animation style.
It’s tempting to think that an animated show would be a cheaper option than some of the other spin-offs that were being pitched, but the aspiration was always for the series to be high-quality from top to bottom.
“It was a question of people either not wanting it or not being able to put up the money because it was not a cheap show,” Whedon said. “One thing I was very hard-line about was I didn’t want people to see it if it looked like crap. I wanted it to be on a level with Animaniacs or Batman: The Animated Series. And that’s a little pricier…But I just don’t think it’s worth doing unless it’s beautiful to look at as well as fun.”
As various pitches for reboots and remakes have proven, many fans would be trepidatious about any show tied to this universe without the involvement of either Whedon or the original cast, but a ray of hope was offered during the 2017 anniversary reunion when the cast (this time including Gellar) entertained the idea of returning for voice work (thus bypassing the issue of real human ageing for actors portraying immortal characters).
Even before this though, during a podcast released in 2008, Brendon said: “I know that there’s been talk about Buffy: The Animated Series. Which we did, gosh, like, three years ago. You know, to be quite honest with you, I don’t know why it didn’t go further, but I know that there’s been a lot of hullabaloo on the old YouTube there, and I checked it out and I almost got a little teary.
“I hadn’t seen Xander in a while, and it was kind of neat to kind of go back into that life. I’ll go on the record saying I would love to do an animated series. That being said, I might be the only one. I haven’t had a chance to talk to anybody about it.”
The same year, Loeb echoed others’ sentiments by pointing out the growth in appetite for adult animation in the years since the series was first conceived.
“Everything still exists – the designs, the scripts. It’s such a ‘no-duh’ project, so why the hell not?” he said. “All you need is to draw it. Eight years ago, there was no fascination with Family Guy or Robot Chicken, but there’s an audience now that could drive to it. You can’t stand in the way of pop culture.”
With live-action productions facing increased hurdles with social distancing and other safety measures, we might soon see a boom in animated shows that have been made during the pandemic. What better time to revive a promising project that’s never been given its due? Providing the cast are on board, it could be a slam dunk at a time when viewers are hungrier than ever for nostalgia-adjacent content.