I've been pondering a lot on Buffy, and, specifically, on why I do feel it was such a positive thing for women on TV. It's not because of the attempt at a feminist allegory or anything like that. No, it's more structural, which is something that's difficult to explain.
...well, difficult to explain in words. I can illustrate with a picture, though!
Also, check out the follow up post with redone graphics and male equivalents for comparison!
Consider this a graphical representation of the social web among the female characters of the show. The lines vary in width depending on the intensity of the relationship (which can be positive, negative, or both).
As you can see, it's a mish-mash. Connecting lines everywhere. Women having incredible relationships with each other in a genre show.
This is odd.
For comparison, I felt the need to do the same with the show I grew up on: Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is my show, guys. I was raised on it. I love it. And the equivalent graphic for it looks like this:
But, okay. TNG wasn't a character-driven show, so it's possibly understandable that there wasn't a whole lot of connections there. Let me take another awesome show from my younger days, Babylon 5. I love this show, and it's very character-intensive.
It looks like this:
Disclaimer for both TNG and B5: It's been a while since I've seen either of these shows, so I'm working from memory. I don't doubt I may have missed a character or relationship. I also don't doubt that one missing character/connection wouldn't change the overall emptiness of the graphic.
This is the heart of Buffy's appeal for me. It's one of the core reasons I still see it as a boon for women on TV. Because genre shows don't typically have social webs like that for the female characters.
I read an article a long time ago (Very very long. I don't remember where I read it). It pointed out that having awesome women in shows wasn't enough. We needed to go a step further and allow those women to interact with each other in meaningful ways. In some ways, this distinction is at the heart of the Bechdel Test (which Buffy consistently passes).
And it's, perhaps, a bit depressing that we're still working on this step. But we are, and so Buffy continues to stand apart for me in allowing its female characters to have fascinating, complicated interactions and relationships. It's why I find the series so compelling even when TV, in general, fails to keep my interest.
Just for the record, the other show I have a love affair with is Xena. As you can see by the graphic below, it's quite similar to Buffy in this respect. :)
Edit: jaymi_leaf is awesome and did a graphic for AtS in comments. Go see!