Wynonna Earp: The Best Buffy Since Buffy?

Wynonna Earp
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Wynonna Earp is the legit boss. Her ripped jeans, boots and leather jacket with buckles and tassels galore is tailor made for a place in the pop culture lexicon. She’s snarky and she kicks butt. Also, she has a magic gun that kills demons.

If you hadn’t guessed already, Wynonna Earp follows the tragically named descendant of the American West’s most well known law man. Unlike most descendants of famous historical figures though, who probably live normal lives as tax accountants or sales assistants, Wynonna (played with surprising charisma by Melanie Scrofano) has to battle the demonic reincarnations of Wyatt’s outlaw victims. It’s a family curse, apparently, keeping the Earps rooted to the town of Purgatory to stop the bad guys escaping. Purgatory, geddit?


Is it Good?

Here’s the thing about Wynonna Earp. This whole endeavour should be cheap, throwaway trash TV. It’s the sort of thing that should scrape two seasons before its reruns are banished to the Horror Channel to be watched by drunk students at two in the morning for eternity. We’re supposed to cringe at every piece of bad dialogue, baffled actors delivering unreadable lines and visual effects which make 80s Doctor Who episodes look state of the art. There’s only one problem: Wynonna Earp is really good.

Wynonna Earp and Waverly
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Let’s make this clear up front. Wynonna Earp is not Orange is the New Black good. Its 80 minute pilot starts slow and will be considered goofy by anyone who gives it only a passing glance. What it manages to be, though, is the best possible version of its synopsis: badass cowgirl fights demons with magic gun.

The pilot episode (which aired months ago in the US, but only recently appeared on UK television) sees Wynonna return home for her uncle’s funeral, after years of running from her past. On her bus into town we are first introduced to a fellow passenger, who fatally fails to break free of her ‘blonde in a slasher film’ archetype and is quickly dispatched by a demon. It’s a bit of a jarring start, but as we get to know Wynonna it soon becomes apparent what the show is going for.


Who are the people in it?

So who else is important in this show? Well, there’s Wynonna’s younger sister Waverly (it must be part of the curse that all Earp first names begin with W), the plucky but naive smarts behind the operation. She’s been researching the curse and wants her sister to stick around for once to fight the demons. Also, there’s Agent Xavier Dolls, a stiff-as-they-come government agent who specialises in occult activity. Dolls at first comes across as bland and humourless, but as the episode progresses he emerges as the perfect foil for the more carefree Wynonna.

Waverly Earp
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What’s especially slick about Wynonna Earp is how quickly and effectively characters and relationships are set up even as the plot is pushed along. Few opportunities are missed for small character beats or relationship moments. How do Wynonna and the local Sheriff feel about each other? In thirty seconds the show manages to outline their history and animosity in one neat little package.

What’s beautiful as a reviewer of television is that the writers here know exactly what they want their show to be. Aside from the character writing, it is perhaps the dialogue that is the trick up the show’s sleeve. Some critics have questioned this part of the show’s writing, but with a sharp pop culture wit and a cast built on strong chemistry there are moments where it genuinely pops. Few scenes feel wasted, and the show rarely feels like it’s going through the motions. Make no mistake: it takes a master of television writing to make something so well constructed look so easy.


Is it Buffy enough?

Watching Wynonna Earp reminds me of how I felt the first time I watched the pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow. Supernatural dramas with such goofy premises don’t come with high expectations, yet both pilot episodes made up for the silliness with sheer entertainment. Where Sleepy Hollow quickly drew comparisons to the X-Files though, Wynonna Earp‘s DNA can probably trace its badass action girl lineage as far back as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Based on its first episode, Wynonna Earp might also have the potential to be the best version of Buffy since Buffy itself. Of all the badass action girls Buffy Summers had a hand in inspiring (Kara Thrace, Lexa from The 100, Sarah Walker, Charlie Matheson) Wynonna is certainly the one that most consistently draws from her legacy.

Wynonna Earp is not a masterpiece. Its visual effects, while not cringeworthy, are obvious enough to pull you out of the experience too often. The extent to which it leans on the well worn tropes of its genre may also have some viewers tuning out. Is Waverly just Willow Rosenberg for a new generation, even destined to follow a similar romantic path? Haven’t we seen the government agency dealing with supernatural threats one too many times? If you’re looking for something cutting edge, this probably isn’t going to butter your bread for more than half an hour.

On the other hand, Batman V Superman tried so hard to say something deep and profound this year, only to ultimately wind up overlong, incoherent and boring. There’s something to be said for straightforward, and Wynonna Earp knows exactly what that is and how to say it. It’s performances are charming, its mythology understandable, and its writing is tight. Don’t expect this one to change your life. Just expect to have fun with it.

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