On Jan. 12, 1998, I experienced a ’90s TV obsessive’s worst nightmare: I came home from a forced family outing to discover my VCR hadn’t recorded the latest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
For those born after 1990, the sheer horror of this moment is likely lost on you. But in the internet’s predawn years, if you missed an episode of television, it was absolutely soul-crushing because there was genuinely no way to see it. No DVRs, no On Demand, no torrent sites (not that I condone that), and no hope. Your only possible salvation was a rerun months later (which wasn’t a guarantee) or — even more tragically — the VHS box set that was sometimes released long after the season had wrapped.
Basically, it was 44 minutes of essential information potentially gone from your TV knowledge forever — and in the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (aka my favorite show of all time), it was more than missing plot points: It was brilliant writing, pitch-perfect performances, and the best hour of my week.
Outside of Buffy, there wasn’t a lot that made me happy in 1998. I was painfully shy, uncomfortably overweight, and my mother’s death five years earlier had sent me into a deep depression that, frankly, I never quite came out of. But all of that pain and sadness faded away the instant “Into every generation a slayer is born…” blared through my television speakers.
“It represented the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world: a best friend.”
Joss Whedon hadn’t just created an amazing television show in my eyes; he presented a world where the heroic underdogs were united by their love for one another. Buffy, Xander, and Willow were the original #SquadGoals — Willow literally brought Buffy back from the dead, Xander literally brought Willow back from the brink, and Buffy literally saved the world with their help.
To me, Buffy was more than a show; it also represented the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world: a best friend.
Yes, I had friends; this is not some story about a sad kid who spent every single Friday night at home binge-eating pepperoni pizza and watching three Blockbuster rentals. Just most Friday nights.
But I longed for the kind of friendship I saw on Buffy; the ride-or-die best-friend-ness that made you stand shoulder to shoulder against the apocalypse — or at least the kind of friend who liked all the same things I liked and would split a large M&M-laced bag of popcorn with me at the movies. I wanted someone to share high school with, but I had accepted that not everyone is destined for that kind of necklace-splitting friendship.
Which brings me back to the nightmare of Jan. 12, 1998. In the cold suburban New Jersey light of the next morning, I headed to school more deflated and depressed than normal. I lumbered from the bus to my locker, consumed with thoughts about what I could have possibly missed on Buffy the night before: Did Angel and Buffy kiss? Was there a Xander quip I needed to be quoting all day? How amazing was the monster of the week?
Then, in third-period photography class, a girl asked me what was wrong. “My VCR didn’t record Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night,” I calmly told her. “And my life is fucking over.” She then said 14 words that changed my life forever: “That girl Jody in our history class loves Buffy too — maybe she recorded it.”
The possibility coursed through my veins like a drug. I felt like an addict knowing my seemingly impossible fix could possibly be less than 100 feet away, baking flan in home economics (if you didn’t know why a VCR was so important, you should also know home ec was basically cooking and sewing class). When the bell rang, I literally sprinted to Jody’s locker — and at this juncture in my life, I only ran when chased.
As she rounded the corner, my heart was racing — in part due to the aforementioned sprinting and in part because this person quite possibly held the key to my future happiness. I tried to sound as even-keeled (read: normal) as possible when Jody finally reached me. Instead, the words rushed out of my mouth and it’s quite possible I screamed them, because I have this vague memory of her recoiling at first. “Hi, you don’t know me but I love Buffy and I hear you love Buffy and my stupid VCR didn’t record last night’s episode and I know it’s such a weird thing to do, but is there any chance in the world that you happened to record it and would maybe be open to giving it to me so I can watch it?”
It felt like hours passed as I waited for her answer — understandable given that she probably needed a minute to recover from a sweaty, fat 16-year-old screaming in her face about a TV show. Then, she smiled and said the best thing I’ve ever heard, to this day: “Of course! I record every episode!”
If I were a religious person, this would be the moment a choir would begin to sing as the heavens parted and cast warming light upon my soul. Not only had Jody saved the day, but I’d also found a kindred spirit who recorded every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the sign of a true TV obsessive who wanted to be able to rewatch and relish in discovering new details within their favorite moments.
“For the first time in my life, I was comfortable enough to bare my soul to someone.”
The next morning, for the first time since…well, ever, I couldn’t wait to go to school. I probably even woke up before my alarm. I met up with Jody right after sixth-period English class. She opened her bag, and much like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, a gorgeous, golden light* erupted from betwixt the zippers of her JanSport (*it is possible I imagined the light). As she reached inside and pulled out a VHS tape with names of Buffy episodes etched onto the label, I wanted to scream and cry and erect a monument in her honor. Future generations would stop by the statue in the middle of Randolph High School’s parking lot and read the plaque beneath: In Honor of All the Women With Working VCRs Who Provided Men With Backup Recordings. Families would come from all corners to take pictures in front of it.
I thanked her — with what I’m pretty sure was our first hug — and I put the tape inside my backpack. For the rest of the day, I could hear it calling to me. Finally, after three of the longest classes of all time, I headed home.
I ran off the bus, threw open my front door, flew up the stairs, and all-but-dove toward the VCR. I slipped the tape inside, took the deepest of breaths, and pressed play. That’s when I discovered that I had missed one of the worst Buffy episodes ever. But “Bad Eggs” also brought something great into my life: a best friend.
Jody spent almost as much time at the movies as I did, and loved talking about pop culture for hours upon hours on the phone. But our friendship went far beyond entertainment — she became part of my family and I became part of hers; I spent Christmas Eves at her house and she endured Passover seders at mine; I went with her family to Ocean City and she came with mine to Long Beach Island; she was the only girl my dad allowed in my bedroom with the door closed (LOL in retrospect), we dressed as Buffy and Xander for Halloween (poorly), we spent hours driving around listening to Alanis Morissette, and we talked. We really talked.
We talked about dumb things over pizza bites every week during Buffy commercial breaks (though that also transferred over to our next TV obsession: Charmed), and we talked about deeply personal things the other 166 hours a week — our fears, our insecurities, our loves, our triumphs, and our first kisses. For the first time in my life, I was comfortable enough to bare my soul to someone and was rewarded with unwavering love and understanding and support in return. I had the ride-or-die best friend I would run full speed toward an apocalypse for.
And in opening up to Jody, I felt comfortable enough to let the world back in. I stopped being so angry, I stopped feeling so sad, and I stopped thinking I was unworthy of love. My teeth unclenched, my shoulders dropped, and the tense way I walked through the world eased a bit. I began to accept myself, I began to love myself, and people began to notice. I made more friends, I opened up to more people, and slowly but surely, I was spending fewer and fewer Friday nights alone.
“That’s the thing about a best friend: You don’t have to be together to share a brain.”
The same year Buffy, Willow, and Xander graduated high school, so did Jody and I (blessedly our graduation didn’t involve the Box of Gavrok). And as Buffy bunked up with Kathy (ugh, Kathy), Jody and I headed to different colleges. But even though we were hundreds of miles apart — Jody at Towson in Maryland and me at Syracuse in upstate New York — Jody and I did the impossible: We stayed friends through college. And every summer when we reunited in Randolph, it was as if we hadn’t missed a beat. We spent hours debating the Buffy episodes we watched separately over a plate of Totino’s (we eventually threw in martinis) and found that even though we weren’t sitting side by side, discussing every beat during commercial breaks, our opinions still lined up perfectly.
We both thought Riley was trash, took a long time to warm up to Dawn, bought the “Once More With Feeling” CD (see millennials, a CD is… You know what? I don’t have the energy to explain this one if you don’t know), were so excited to have Faith back for the final season, and loved, loved, loved the series finale. Because that’s the thing about a best friend: You don’t have to be together to share a brain.
Jody and I are still friends to this day (in fact, I just texted her to fact-check something because it’s been 20 damn years since Buffy first aired); I danced at her wedding in 2015, and she came to visit me last April. Even now, when we reunite, we fall right back into sync.
And that’s all thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer — and an unreliable VCR.