It may be hard to believe, but there are still people out there — people with Netflix accounts, even — who’ve never seen an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A lot of these people are younger and missed its first run because they were in bed by 8pm when the series initially aired on the WB; others were put off by the vampires but later drawn to Joss Whedon via Firefly, The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing (yes, really), or simply Whedon’s reputation as one of TV’s most beloved auteurs. Premiering two years before The Sopranos, Buffy pioneered many of the features of today’s prestige dramas: intense serialization; ambitious multi-year storylines (hi, Dawn!); self-contained, season-long mysteries; the now-common practice of having the season climax occur in the penultimate episode (see Buffy Season 4); and its own highly idiosyncratic vernacular. Despite its influence — and Buffy‘s status as one of my favorite shows ever — I find it increasingly difficult to recommend the show to friends. Whedon’s mediocre Agents of SHIELD doesn’t help, but the main reason is that each season contains so much filler, and each episode is structured so formulaically. Buffy‘s greatest strengths are the steady accrual of tension over a 22-episode arc and the wonderfully leisurely development of the teen characters (i.e., watching Buffy, Willow, Xander, even Anya and Faith grow up from children to adults). But the bigger pictures that make the show so wonderful are hardly visible in most episodes.