Thursday, December 07, 2006

Angel - Season 1 Review

US Airdate on the WB: October 5th 1999 – May 23rd 2000

Leaving both Buffy and Sunnydale behind him, vampire with a soul Angel heads for solitude in the busy city of L.A, only to find a purpose with former friend Cordelia Chase, vision afflicted Doyle and eventual help from ex-watcher Wesley Wyndham Price. The downside of this also include a relentlessly evil law firm called Wolfram And Hart and the resurrection of an old flame.

Bright Lights, Big City, More Demons – As clichéd as the phrase “you can’t run from your problems” is, it’s been constantly proved that there is an element of truth behind that popular saying. Spending three years in Sunnydale has seen Angel do good and terrible deeds in equal measures and after having the sense to finally end his relationship with Buffy, our favourite vampire made the right move to put as much distance between him and the Slayer as humanly possibly but because we knew that Joss Whedon had no intention of Angel just sitting on his ass and chewing up the LA scenery, I found it hard to buy Angel’s protests that he wants to left alone in a city so filled with people and all forms of life.

Then again neither did charming jack the lad half demon Doyle, thus beginning the season premiere “City Of” where the demon with visions of people in distress tried to appeal to the brooding vampire, along with the powers that be, that Angel could really atone for the bad he’s done as Angelus by doing more good in LA. In a way Doyle reminds me of Whistler and he and Angel make an unlikely but interesting duo as they track young women being murdered by vampire millionaire Russell Winters. The premiere is made even better when former Sunnydale resident and aspiring actress Cordelia Chase pops in the City Of Angels and Angel has to rescue her from the nasty Winters.

Then again, Russell is easy to deal with as Angel pops into law firm Wolfram And Hart and throws the vampire out of a window without thinking about it. In the space of one episode Angel has already made a powerful enemy in the evil law firm and their charismatic lawyer Lindsey McDonald, played by the delightful Christian Kane but on the plus side, along with Doyle and Cordelia, Angel also has his own detective agency and with these two as your back-up, you’re in pretty good hands.

Unlike even the first season of Buffy, the great majority of this entire spends more time on personal arcs as opposed to big bad ones. Yes, there are a few episodes where Wolfram And Hart make their presence more than felt but the grand majority of the episode, it’s mainly minor villains or a few people from Angel’s past but for the most part, the first nine episodes go out of their way to establish the relationships between Angel, Cordelia and Doyle and like a good people, I found this to be the season’s biggest and best strength.

Cordelia and Doyle enjoy their fair share of bickering and unrequited lust for each other (well mainly Doyle) in light hearted instalments like “Lonely Hearts” (where a sex demon invades) and “I Fall To Pieces” (where a stalker can disassemble his own body parts) but the inevitable Buffy crossover start with the third instalment “In The Dark” where Oz appears to help and Spike appears to be a pain in Angel’s backside (preparing us for Season Five then).

The light hearted antics also pop up in “Room With A View” as Cordelia deals with a ghost set out to stop from moving into an apartment and “Sense And Sensitivity” where abrasive cop Kate is reduced to a basket case. All these episodes while average at best are important for characterisation as it’s great for Cordelia to call herself out on her previously callous behaviour and even the somewhat annoying Kate is sympathetic enough when her Daddy issues are brought to light. Doyle gets a mediocre episode with his ex-wife and a lame eating ritual in “The Bachelor Party” before the season hits its first standout episode.

Surprisingly as someone who liked Buffy and Angel as a couple but wasn’t devastated when they broke up, the shipper tastic “I Will Remember You” where Angel briefly experienced mortality and a chance to be with the woman he loves even got me nearly at it but the first death of a team member when Doyle bravely sacrificed himself to save a clan of demons in the powerful “Hero” is jaw dropping stuff. With the death of a character that had a direct link to TPTB, was Angel royally screwed in his mission to help the helpless?

Thankfully that would turn out to be “no” on both counts as “Parting Gifts” saw Cordelia inheriting Doyle’s visions (note to self – don’t kiss half-demons) and to keep the terrific trio alive, we got reinforcement with Wesley Wyndham Price, a man who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag and whose general uselessness got him fired from the Watchers Council. Wesley is a little hard to take in initial episodes as he mostly seems to be whaled on (“Somnambulist”, “Expecting”) or taken as bait (“She”) but by episode 14 “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” when issues of his parents, abilities as a former watcher and his established friendship with Angel are challenged, you find yourself liking him more and more and Cordelia’s neat array of sarcastic one liners in regarding to Wesley’s manliness raise a chuckle every now and again. Baddies during these particular range from lowlifes like empathy Barney trying to flog Cordy on the black market, a killer vampire sired by Angel, a disgusting beast who gets men to impregnate women with it’s spawn and a powerful female named Jhiera who wants equality for her female raise along with a possessed and ultimately soulless young boy named Ryan, so yeah, as viewers we’re pretty much kept on our toes.

Along with establishing Wesley in the group without ultimately erasing Doyle’s existence, another person we focus on in the latter half is policewoman Kate. Initially, you’re dreading a romance between her and Angel but by the time she discovers he’s a vampire and can’t get past that, and then you can breathe a sigh of relief. No romance here, in fact, Kate and Angel can barely stand one another after that bombshell and the fact that vampires kill her disapproving father in the excellent showcase “The Prodigal”. This episode excels for Elisabeth Rohm’s performance but mainly for the first appearance of Julie Benz’s lethal Darla in flashback as Angelus is sired and slaughters his own family with complete and utter glee.

The next two episodes, while not short on eventful stuff aren’t quite as good. “The Ring” may reintroduce Wolfram And Hart and debut Stephanie Romanov’s ruthless Lilah Morgan (a character who gets more interesting in later seasons) but the central premise of demons fighting it out for survival just plain suck and even the drugged return of Angelus in “Eternity” isn’t as interesting, although Cordy and Wesley’s own feelings on their boss returning to his former certainly is.

The season hits an all time with the mind blowing two parter “Five By Five” and “Sanctuary” as fresh from body jacking in Sunnydale, Faith’s two episode stay in LA is unmissable. Allying herself with Lindsey and Lilah at W&H, Faith wastes no time in trying to kill Angel, kidnapping and torturing Wesley but the saga takes a reversal when Faith decides she wants to redeem herself and Angel and company, including a royally pissed off Buffy and the ever insufferable Watcher Council think otherwise. Powerful, raw, packed with flashbacks and cementing Wesley’s likeability, these are two episodes you could watch on a loop. Similarly we get a wonderful introduction to Season Two regular, vigilante vampire hunter Charles Gunn in the interesting “War Zone” and Lindsey gets to show he’s capable of having a conscience in “Blind Date”.

Season finale “To Shanshu In LA” ends the season on one hell of a strong note with both Cordelia and Wesley attacked by Vocah, the Oracles who’ve recurred throughout the season are slain, the office blows up to bits, Lindsey loses a hand, a prophecy reveals the possibility of Angel becoming human and Wolfram And Hart who have designs on Angel gets their own little victory when their plot to raise Darla from the dead is a complete success but not without it’s own surprises. For those you who have recently been thriving on Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, you need to see this series. Angel does what Torchwood is doing but somehow better. This debut season may run primarily on standalone format with the occasional arc but I guarantee you won’t be bored.

DVD EXTRAS: Disappointingly the first two seasons of Angel are the most lightest with the goods but there are good and these include two pretty enthusiastic commentaries for “City Of” (Joss Whedon/David Greenwalt) and “Room With A View” (Jane Espenson) on the first two discs. Disc 3 has a “Season One Feature” as well as standard trailer for the first season on VHS, Cast biographies and a neat Art gallery. Disc Five has reasonably hard to navigate scripts for the excellent “Five By Five” and “Sanctuary”, while the final disc has more satisfying features like “Introducing Angel”, “I’m Cordelia” and “The Demons” where cast and crew discuss various people and the making of the series.


1x01: City Of = 9/10, 1x02: Lonely Hearts = 7/10,
1x03: In The Dark = 6/10, 1x04: I Fall To Pieces = 5/10,
1x05: Room With A View = 7/10, 1x06: Sense And Sensitivity = 6/10,
1x07: The Bachelor Party = 6/10, 1x08: I Will Remember You = 10/10,
1x09: Hero = 9/10, 1x10: Parting Gifts = 7/10,
1x11: Somnambulist = 9/10, 1x12: Expecting = 7/10,
1x13: She = 8/10, 1x14: I’ve Got You Under My Skin = 7/10,
1x15: The Prodigal = 9/10, 1x16: The Ring =6/10,
1x17: Eternity = 7/10, 1x18: Five By Five = 10/10,
1x19: Sanctuary =9/10, 1x20: War Zone = 7/10,
1x21: Blind Date = 8/10, 1x22: To Shanshu In LA = 9/10.

Season One is currently available on both VHS and DVD.

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