My wife and I were big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. Before it was moved to a different channel that DirecTV would pick up with our DirecTiVo, you should have seen the convoluted workflow for me to get an episode and display it on our TV. I learned more about video formats and the underground world of fandom then I have ever wanted to know in my life.
It did not hurt that Buffy was all hotness and ready to kick butt at a moment’s notice, but my true appreciation for the show was its sheer grimness. Stabbing your only true love after his epic moment of redemption to close a Portal to Hell™, well it just does not get better for me. And that was in the early seasons. The dialog was snappy and witty. And people died.
Nothing says “conflict” than a good old-fashioned body count.
Buffy did one more thing for me other then entertain. I realized my tolerance for insipid little mousy-twerp protagonists was low and in Buffy, insipid little mousy-twerp people just died. There is enough conflict in this world to entertain with without reducing people you want to identify with to passive-aggressive dorks. In other words, do you want to read about the victims of bad upbringing or do you want to read about the people with the heroic mettle of the Americans on Flight 93?
Of course, the Action Hero rallying against the System of Passive Sheep is also a contemporary cliché stretching into middle-age. On the other hand, being a literary witness to watching Passive Sheep get what they so richly deserve can be a vicarious thrill.
Which brings me back to Buffy. Buffy’s rally against the Apocalypse(s) might have been a new look at an old idea, but at least the people fighting were more than just caricatures of heroes you would rather see tossed into a wood chipper for their ineptitude and lack of common sense.