Angel series review
Series ran 1999 to 2003
Premise: A spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel focuses on Buffy’s former lover, the souled vampire Angel. Angel seeks redemption for the evil he has committed; he now strives to “help the helpless.” He is aided in his efforts by a varied band of demon-hunters, a few of whom actually are demons themselves. But good demons.
Status at time of writing: In Season 5 (the final season). Wednesdays at 10:00 on CKVR and CKPL, and Thursdays at 9:00 on Space.
Season 1 not included.
Season 2 major plot points: Darla returns; Angel fires the group, then has an epiphany; the gang goes to Pylea and meets Fred
Season 3 major plot points: Darla comes back pregnant; Holtz returns from the past to seek revenge on Angel, and gets it through his son
Season 4 major plot points: Cordelia’s increasingly strange behavior is eventually explained by demon possession in the form of Jasmine
Season 5 major plot points: Angel and company take over Wolfram and Hart; Spike returns, initially as a ghostly presence
Season 2 (mid-point)
Whedon, Greenwalt, and company seem to be particularly good at the second season of their shows. Much like Buffy in its sophomore year, Angel is really hitting stride, and reaching to deep, dark places it never quite did in the first season.
Season 2 (end)
2nd favourite show: B-
A more even season overall than Buffy, which meant fewer weak spots, but fewer great episodes as well.
Weaknesses include the ongoing under-development of Gunn’s character, including a lack of plausible explanation why he’d abandon his original crew to help Angel and crew in the first place. Some interesting characters (Kate, Lindsay, though thankfully not The Host) were apparently lost.
Strengths were incredible Angel character development, the addition of Lorne the Host, and some absolutely stunning—or absolutely hilarious—episode finales: Angel locks the lawyers in the cellar, then fires his crew; happy Angel wins back Cordelia with clothing; and, especially, Drusilla’s sudden reappearance, to vamp the newly reformed Darla.
Season 3 (mid-point)
6th favourite show: B+
Cordelia and Fred.
This show is supposed to be about “what it is to be a man.” Ironically, they do the best job of writing the women. (Lilah has been interesting this year, too.) Cordelia has become one of my favourite characters on TV—who would have thought that from her Buffy days. And Fred has managed the skirt the risk of becoming annoying, and instead is rather charming.
All the little scenes that make you go “wow”: Darla staking herself; fake Angel having sex with Lilah; Gunn’s old crew attacking innocent demons; Fred meeting phantom Dennis’ party; Holtz and the ice pick…
Methinks the whole baby plotline was a mistake. I don’t like the baby talk, the fact that they have to worry about the baby all the time, the derailment of the mission, the weird effect it’s had on Angel. They can’t get this baby safely ensconced somewhere off-screen quickly enough for me.
An epiphany and a baby will change a person, but sometimes the characterization is just off. Being a jerk to everyone; refusing to help until he gets paid; becoming a frail old man for a week and not even pondering whether he still wants to become human? Who is this guy, and what has he done with my Angel?
Season 3 (end)
6th favourite show: B+
TV critics are calling this the best season of Angel ever, and Angel the most-improved show.
Whatever. I will agree that Angel has pulled together some really strong episodes this year (though that’s nothing new). In particular, while Buffy was floundering through its mid-season doldrums, Angel was on fire, with hugely compelling storylines that sent baby Connor to a dark dimension, Wesley to hospital, and Angel to despair (with accidental death and attempted murder to his credit).
But, it hasn’t all been good. I like Fred, but her relationship with Gunn is way too schmoopy for me. And what did they do to Cordelia? She disappears for the best three-episode arc of the season, comes back chubby with a bad haircut, and starts acting like some mystical saint (but still with the Cordelia-esque lack of true insight which what’s going on in people’s heads, which actually was pretty cute). And then that weird Ascension in the last episode… Even though that may (we hope) get turned on its head, it made for some bad watching in the mean time. I’m glad I didn’t miss the 24 season finale for that.
Wesley is actually making the show right now. He’s become dark, interesting, kind of sexy, and I really want to know where they’re going with him. What a change from his Buffy days.
Season 4 (mid-point)
6th favourite show
It was critically praised last year, but I personally was never too enamored of the whole “Angel’s baby” plot. Now the kid’s 18, and the focus has shifted back to the team—who aren’t exactly acting as a team these days. Wesley continues to be the most fascinating character, his twisted relationship with Lilah picking up where Spike and Buffy left off last season. Lorne is thankfully back in the fold, and Angel remains intriguing and unpredictable (although, unfortunately, also poofy-faced, much lessening his sex appeal).
Problems remain, however. Gunn still seems a hard character for the writers to get a handle on, and his coupling with Fred is only slightly more interesting in its unravelling than it was in its blossoming. But the biggie, of course, is Cordy. What on earth are they doing this poor character? I’m holding out hope that is some reason for the destruction of what used to be the show’s best character, that she is on some big arc that will play out the season, making the last few months make sense. But at this point, we’ve had to sit through Cordy becoming boringly saintly last year, then having that strange ascension, then barely appearing in the first three episodes, then getting an amnesia (!) plot (though teenage Cordy was a welcome return), and finally, with the lamest of excuses, turning from love of Angel to have Freudian pity sex with his son. Ugh.
Season 4 (end)
2nd favourite show
Angel quickly addressed my biggest complaint with the first half of the season: yes, Cordelia was on a big story arc, and yes, that’s why she was acting so out of character. She was all Jasmine-infected. Fairly cool how they tied it all back to past events, from Angel’s quest to save Darla’s life to getting Billy away from Skip to the wacky ascension. (Especially since we now know it wasn’t all planned in advance.)
Nevertheless, I think that Angel’s long, long story arcs have hurt it. Almost a full season (end of last, beginning of this) of thinking they’re writing Cordelia badly is too long. So the promised shift to shorter story arcs and the new paradigm (the corrupting influence of having power) bode well for next year. (Even though the Connor mind-wipe was a cop-out, for both writers and Angel himself, that I hope does get addressed at some point.)
Season 5 (mid-point)
2nd favourite series
There were some shaky moments this season, the shakiest being the werewolf episode—probably one of the worst of the series. Also somewhat alarming what the feeling that they were taking the idea of “no more long arcs” way too seriously, and going for an awful lot of stand-alone episodes. While I agreed that their plot arcs had become too long, I don’t think that abandoning them completely was the best approach. They had pretty much established in Season 1 that they were much better at arcs than episodes. That’s what makes the Buffy/Angel series great TV.
Fortunately, the ongoing mystery of Spike’s reappearance and subsequent re-incorporealization, hints at the effect last season’s memory wipe, and the surprise ending of Lindsay’s return all point to the happy return of the plot arc—albeit one that will probably wind up at the end of this season (since a sixth season is far from assured).
And speaking of Spike, he really has brought a lot of vim to the series. As usual, he sparks with everyone, and it’s just been delicious to hear acted out the Angel vs. Spike fan debates that have raged ever since Spike started down his long road to redemption. It’s too bad they really haven’t found anything for Lorne to do, though, save one episode. And also too bad that they didn’t hire a better actress to play Eve.
Stars David Boreanez as Angel
Co-stars Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase (S1–S4); Glenn Quinn as Doyle (S1); Alexis Denisof as Wesley; August Richards as Charles Gunn (S2–S5); Amy Acker as Fred Burkle (S3–S5); Vincent Kartheiser as Connor (S4); Andy Hallett as Lorne (S4–S5); and James Marsters as Spike (S5)
Also see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer series review