Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sink Your Teeth Into This - Why I Love Angel

Lilah (to Wesley): “That’s the funny thing about black and white, you put them together and you get grey. And it doesn’t matter how much white you put back in, you’re still gonna get grey” – Habeas Corpses.

Spin offs can be a dodgy deal. In one they can be seen as a great expansion of an already franchise, another they are also seen as a creator who is spreading himself too thin. Joss Whedon had already shown epic talent within Buffy; surely good lightning can’t strike twice? Except it can it and pretty much.

I won’t lie to you – rating wise Angel did always lag behind Buffy and may not have been as critically acknowledged as it’s sister series but in terms of overall quality and performances, we got five years of mostly TV gold and despite at least four genuinely atrocious episodes in the mix of goodness, David Boreanaz proved that tearing his tortured hero away from Miss Summers would be one of the best things ever done for both shows.

Debuting on the now defunct WB back in October 1999, Angel had left Sunnydale upon the reasoning that his presence was preventing Buffy from growing and mainly decided to head to LA to be literally unrecognisable. Well if that tactic didn’t work for him when he was scowering for a rat meal, it would prove not to work again when the powers that be gave him his own visionary in the form of half-demon Doyle, who despite only making it to nine overall episodes, he had proved him enough of a favourite among viewers.

Together with Doyle and a snarky Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter much better here than she ever was on Buffy), we got Angel Investigations, the coolest vampire ran detective agency on Los Angeles where you can poltergeist attempt to drive you to suicide or your ex-wife’s fiancé determined to eat your brains. Or if you Doyle, you’ll sacrifice your life to save another clan, bestow your visions to Cordelia in the writers (successful) attempts of deepening a previously shallow woman and as Cordelia, you can spend five years experiencing everyone’s else’s pain, doing good but ultimately paying the price by being used as a vessel for evil and being denied to explore a relationship with a man you may or may not love.

And there’s a debate – did Angel and Cordelia really love each other? Over the course of five seasons, they graduated from tolerating each other, being best buddies to genuinely showing love and affection for each other. The very idea of Angel and Cordy in a romantic relationship didn’t sit well with most fans but to be honest I ended becoming more and more invested and intrigued by their relationship than I ever was with Angel and Buffy’s.

Even though she hardly featured on the show, Buffy and the memory of her and Angel’s love was still enough for Joss and company to never really consider officially hooking Angel up with anybody. Nina was more of a sex buddy than an actual girlfriend, Darla the woman who caused Angel his problems as well as the mother of his child and Cordy, the woman Angel may have wanted but would never have.

Cordelia as a love interest wasn’t the only purpose Charisma Carpenter served on the series and it’s a good job too! In the space of the 86 episodes she featured in, Cordy went from being vulnerable, ambitious for stardom, snarky, to being loveable, brave, kind, and surprisingly complex. Who would’ve thought that a ditzy cheerleader would become one of the strongest and most engaging characters on one of the best spin off series? So it’s pretty much a disappointment and a disservice to Charisma how Cordy was written as the all evil in Season Four and killed off in Season Five’s “You’re Welcome” (the show’s 100th episode).

The goodness sidekick wise didn’t end with Cordy though as the former priggish Wesley stumbled into LA mid way through the first season and developed from a pain in the backside to a genuinely troubled and often very sympathetic man, if very misguided. Yes, we’ve seen Wesley go through the hell of constant disparagement from his father (which nearly saw him bump of his dad in a way), being the butt of a few jokes, unenviably having to take Angel’s son away from him when duped by a fake prophecy which resulted in Wesley getting his throat slashed by Justine (The L Word’s Laurel Holloman), nearly suffocated by an almighty pissed off Angel, totally isolated from his friends.

Wesley then sleeps with Lilah, a woman he hates and when he finally gets the girl of his dreams, shy scientist Winifred “Fred” Burkle, she’s killed and transformed into the goddess Illyria. Even a pathetic demon named Cyrus Vail, delivers the final crushing blow to Wesley by killing him in the series finale, “Not Fade Away”. You can definitely say that Wesley suffered … a lot! Alexis Denisof – you rocked!

Our other Angel recruiters are interesting too as we have a renegade vampire killer named Charles Gunn, who evolves from nice looking muscle to Mister hot shot lawyer while briefly dating Fred, turning his back on his own gang (for good reason), staking his sister and taking the virginity of a mutant but as one of the most underused Angel characters, Gunn at least had something to do and J. August Richards looked hot in his lawyer suits during Season Five. Hey, I’m allowed to be a little a shallow!

Then there’s Lorne who played to perfection by Andy Hallett was a green skinned and benevolent Pylean with a passion for singing, sea breezes and a snarky comment even when the situation didn’t call for it. How I loved that character. He was a fantastic breath of fresh air and I enjoyed his little flirting with Angel from time to time (Lorne was like, so totally gay). It was a pity that in Season Five he didn’t get more to do and that his killing of Lindsey had diminished that perky spirit of his which I loved so much.

Aside from Cordelia, our only other regular female was Winifred “Fred” Burkle. A great find in Amy Acker, Fred was discovered in Pylea (Lorne’s home place – where humans are slaves and music doesn’t exist) and taken back where she became a regular fix from Season Three onwards. In her three years, she dated both Wesley and Gunn, made kooky contraption, said “Kyrumption” a good few times, almost killed the professor who sent her to Pylea and got taken over by a goddess named Illyria. Yes, Joss loved to ensure a “no happy” coupling on his show but although the Illyria plot worked a treat, I would’ve preferred had Fred not been bumped off so quickly after Cordelia.

Assistants, Angel also had to deal with biological family when a one stand from Darla resulted in a boy named Connor, who upon returning from a hell dimension, pretty much out of his way to oppose Angel in every way possible, whether it was burying down the bottom of the sea, sleeping with Cordelia or holding a store full of people hostage, Connor was one seriously traumatised kid. Upon first watching his antics in Season Four, I hated the guy but repeated viewing and Vincent Kartheiser’s has made me feel sympathetic for the poor lad. Angel gave Connor the ultimate peace by erasing his memories of the hell he had been subjected to. When Connor regained said memories, he finally saw that Angel loved him all along. Am I glad that Connor’s mom was Darla and not Buffy though.

Final main player who would ironically be a major role in Season Five was Spike. Unlike most people, I actually wasn’t looking forward to the addition of James Marsters to the series and it’s not because I harbour a hatred for Spike – I love the guy and his history with Angel but two years onwards, I still don’t understand why he was added to the show. History aside, I found most of Spike’s scenes pretty forced and many of his contributions to the series, unnecessary. You also have to bear in mind that Spike and Angel’s history with each other and Buffy gave the writers the idea of scripting the horrendously shit “The Girl In Question” (Worst! Episode! Ever!) and also both Gunn and Lorne relegated to the sidelines.

Just like Buffy, Angel’s main set of baddies were more triumphs than disasters. Wolfram and Hart proved to be an excellent foe for five straight up, even when the Angel crew collaborated with them, they still caused trouble. We got excellent and charismatic lawyers like Holland Manners, Lindsey McDonald, Marcus Hamilton and Lilah Morgan, who more than made up for useless non-entities like Linwood, Gavin and Eve. Both Darla and Drusilla caused all kinds of havoc in Seasons Two and Three and Holtz (an ancient vampire hunter/old foe of Angelus) made it his personal mission to destroy Angel and very nearly succeeded. There’s also The Beast, Angelus and Jasmine from Season Four and the last minute Circle of Black Thorn in Season Five all of whom made Angel and company’s life hell for five years.

Angel made have been prematurely axed and Season Five may not have ended the series in a ideal manner (blame the WB, not Joss Whedon) but it still made for absorbing, delicious and often very grey area television. Seriously if the upcoming Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood is anywhere as good as Angel was, then it will the second best TV spin-off I’ve encountered in years.

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