TV Review – Angel Season 1

This is out of left field considering what I normally cover here, but I took some time and checked out season 1 of Angel on Hulu. While I’ve seen pretty much every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer there is, I missed most of Angel and had been wanting to catch up for a while. So after all this time I got around to doing it. I don’t know if I’m going to go through all five seasons in any kind of timely fashion, but if I do and feel they warrant some pontificating I’ll do that here. But for now it’s all about season one. Season one began at the same time as season four of Buffy, and was on immediately after it when both shows were on the air. Along with David Boreanaz in the title role a couple of alums from Buffy came along for the ride: Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia and Alexis Denisof’s Wesley Wyndham Pryce, who came on about 10 episodes in.

For the uninitiated (thank you Bane) Angel is about the continuing exploits of Angel, a vampire who was terrorizing all in his way until being cursed by a band of gypsies restoring his soul on the condition he cannot experience a moment of true happiness without being transformed back into Angelus, the vampire he became after being bitten and turned by a vampire named Darla. Yes, it’s really convoluted. They basically needed some kind of constraints to add drama to he and Buffy’s relationship and a basis to turn him heel at some point, which happened in Buffy season two, so there you go. For the 90 percent of the show where it wasn’t used as a plot device it was really no big deal but whenever it came back up you were quickly reminded just how weird the whole setup was.

Despite being a spinoff with some already known characters, Angel was really a different show altogether. Whereas Buffy was about navigating the teen and young adult years of life while being the Chosen One, the early days of Angel revolve primarily around redemption. All of the main characters – Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, and Doyle (written out after the first nine episodes, and played by the late Glenn Quinn) – were all trying to overcome and atone for some past transgressions or failures, and a lot of the people they would meet along the way had similar stories. Through his Angel investigations detective agency our hero sought to both rescue people in distress and help lost souls find their way. And taking place in Los Angeles as opposed to the fictional town of Sunnydale allowed them to explore a different side of the superficial nature of people. Instead of teenagers trying to be cool, fit, etc there were adults trying to make it in the city of dreams as actors, models, you name it.

We also got an answer to the question of what would it look like if there were people in high places that knew about the existence of demons, vampires, etc in the form of the law firm Wolfram & Heart. If you ever wondered what kind of people would harbor and clean things up for demons, vampires, and other monsters Wolfram & Heart was the place to look. As the show often went through monsters of the week these guys and gals served as the looming, overarching big bad for the series. Whether it was throgh scenes with dark humor or downright evil actions and intentions, Wolfram & Heart made for a perfect foil to a man perpetually seeking redemption for himself and others. They were the opposite, not concerned with redemption but with helping those who’d embraced their evil nature live with it and go unpunished.

So enough of all that, what did I think?

LIKES

The first thing you worry about with a spinoff is how much it’s going to rely on the series that launched it. While you do want to see some crossovers and cameos (that’s part of the fun, after all) too much will have you wondering just what the point was. They handled that just about right here. Faith (Eliza Dukshu), the corrupted slayer from Buffy season three, did show up for a few episodes as did sidekick Oz (Seth Green) and Buffy’s vampire nemesis Spike (James Marsters). But even with the two episodes where Buffy herself came through you had only a handful of episodes that relied on the old show and it’s remaining characters. For the show’s own health it’s characters had to prove their independence from their previous lives in Sunnydale and they did that pretty well here. While they did refer to events that had gone on there it was clear throughout that they were all trying to move on and not stay the same people.

The relationship between Angel and Buffy got a major upgrade, mainly because it was over. Yeah, it looked pretty cool if you were a teenager or young adult at the time but it looks more than a little yucky at when you watch it again at 44 years old. The eight year age difference between Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz, which looked a lot more pronounced during the first three seasons of Buffy, wasn’t as obvious here. Buffy no longer being a high school student took away a major layer of creepiness between the two, as she came off a lot more like an adult during her cameos here even as she was a college freshman on her own show. The exchanges between the two were a lot less painful than they could get on the original show, largely because they were no longer doing the whole angsty teenager thing.

They really did hit the ground running here and did not seem to go through the first season clunkiness that a lot of new shows have to overcome. It helps having cast members, characters, and writers who all knew each other but even so they had to juggle writing a major player out 10 episodes in and they managed to do that pretty damn well. While Buffy was simultaneously figuring out what kind of stories to tell now that the gang was out of high school, Angel seemed to know exactly what it was from jump. While every episode was not awesome (because they never are for any show running a 22 episode season) I found them all watchable and entertaining. Not one ‘who wrote this crap?’ week in the bunch. And some of the hardest hitting episodes in the run of both series came in season one here. That’s a pretty big accomplishment.

The main character portrayals were well done; each one from Angel to Wesley to Cordelia and even guests like Faith and of course Buffy got you to feel exactly what was intended. Joss Whedon and co (David Greenwalt, Marti Noxon and a few others) are really good and making you feel stuff about their characters and what they go through. Angel and Buffy’s love and anger towards each other felt real to me, as did Faith’s guilt and self loathing, Cordelia’s simultaneous delusions of grandeur and hope about future success, and Wesley’s yearning to prove himself. The lawyers at Wolfram & Heart conveyed their sliminess and self serving nature to a T. Great perfomances all around from jump.

DISLIKES

The whole curse thing is, as I mentioned before, just convoluted. You curse a vampire by restoring his soul so he can feel all the guilt and shame for what he’s done, which is fine, but the whole thing about achieving a moment of happiness leading to his soul going away again very quickly became a plot device that got overused. I get that you want vampire guy to be Brooding Man and all but the guilt over what he’s done and the eternal need to atone for it is plenty enough to brood over. Plus, the happiness thing was almost always connected to sex. What if he got truly happy over saving lives? Is sex the only thing that makes someone truly happy? Not really so the whole premise is super shaky from jump.

Another couple of things were more personal quibbles than stuff I see as serious issues. There are a lot of scenes throughout where Angel is indoors but the sun is clearly shining outside. Now for a while I was thinking that just were just shooting stuff when they could and didn’t have time to worry about it. They did explain at one point that in this world that vampires do move around during the day and are only vulnerable to direct sunlight, but it still seemed kinda wack to me. The other thing was that Angel’s power set was pretty inconsistent throughout. There were plenty of times where he got his head handed to him but others when he smacked around bad guys with ease, and the former usually was for dramatic effect or to get a bad guy over more than fitting in with the normal scheme of things. But that’s par for the course for these kind of shows and movies.

OVERALL VERDICT

Great first season that I would put up against anything. Outside the fight choreography being a bit pedestrian compared to what we get now everything held up pretty well to me. You could recreate this stuff today without changing a whole lot and it would work just fine to me. The two part episode centered around Faith coming from Sunnydale to L.A. was the best that character had been depicted up to that point. Angel and Cordelia had great chemistry together, even better than he and Buffy did in my opinion. And Wesley’s transition from joke of a character on Buffy to a serious man trying to make up for previous failures was some legit character development. And you could watch this without having to go through the three seasons of Buffy that preceded it. If you’re into this kind of stuff and wanted to give it a run I highly recommend it.

Must see episodes: City of (episode 1), I Will Remember You (8), Hero (9), Five by Five (18), Sanctuary (19), Blind Date (21), To Shansu in LA (Season 1 finale)

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