It is with a heavy heart I write this Joss. A very heavy heart. One that I wished was staked.
All because I have to talk to you about the first season of Angel.
Yes, the dreaded Buffy spin-off that was much anticipated and much reviled. All the dire warnings passed to me by your acolytes turned out to be very very true.
But I still vowed to keep on trekking and drone on about each and every episode, with SPOILERS blaring everywhere, all because I am a completist. Or an idiot. Take your pick.
Let’s begin with our namesake and reason for being, the Vampire hero making amends, Angel.
Angel is just sooo freaking moody all the time. And when he is not moody, he is mopey. Except for a few instances during the season, this one note mentality becomes rather monotonous. I did however buy his being in the emotion dumps when Doyle died, since that made sense and was well played. One other plus side, you did occasionally show Angel is a smartie, not a nitwit, which was a cool and refreshing change of pace. But one huge stupid move of massive stupid moves is destroying that invulnerability gem Buffy sent him. That was very very shortsighted of you Joss. It is also kind of interesting to showcase bits of Angel’s early life, including how he was lazy no good loser drunken roustabout before he got sired. Shows us how far he has come. Finally, one quick question, what happened to his gadgets and utility belt? Did Bruce Wayne sue?
Our next refuge from Buffy who pops up in Angel is everyone’s favourite mouthy young lady, Cordelia. You did the logical thing Joss and have her leaving Sunnydale forever, all with the dream of becoming a famous actress. That all works. But making her terrible at acting, Klinger like in her filing, and always cranky for money, equates Cordelia with nails on a chalkboard. Glimmers of her being useful and helpful and, when the visions are forced upon her almost integral, happens all to infrequently. By the way Joss, her vision acting is better then Doyle’s. Also, how come a couple of episodes in she suddenly has a much richer cashflow? Able to afford a rather swank place? The only good to come from this illogical development is her ghost housemate, which is cool. One mature tone I like Joss is that Cordelia is a sexual being and is open with it, has no shame – which she shouldn’t, and deals with her dating life like adults.
Now for the quasi refuge from Buffy who is jammed into the cast not even halfway through the season, the former watcher and former rogue demon hunter, Wesley. We got two Wesley’s here. The klutzy idiot with low self esteem who is annoying. The adequate fighter of all things supernaturally evil. And the constant jumping back and forth makes me shake my head Joss. But one wrinkle added, which might go to explain Wesley, is the reveal of his childhood abuse, both physically and emotionally, from his father. This endears him somewhat into making us feel sorry for him.
Our first newish character you bring us Joss is Whistler. Sorry, I meant Doyle. So we have this self loathing half human, half demon, guy also trying to put his life together. And he is boring and badly acted and cluelessly hitting on Cordelia even when she makes it clear it is a no and has a mysterious past only marginally interesting. And then he dies. Gotta admit through, I did find it touching that Angel went to the toga lackeys of The Powers That Be to bring his friends back. Much mystery lives on the net as to what really happened Joss, and most think the behind the scenes is far more interesting. And they are probably right.
Another new character who turns into another fine mess is Kate. I know what your intent is here Joss, to put someone official for Angel to work with and to reflect the darkness onto the real world and seeing what happens. But Kate ain’t it. Her arguing nature is not dramatic but annoying and has no logic. Frankly, she’s a bitch. And almost a murderous bitch with Angel. To make her worse, her cop father is a cliched and boring and I am glad he died. Ugh to them both.
So now what worked Joss?
The Oz guest appearance was brilliant and fun and obviously setting up for our favourite teenage werewolf to join the cast and keep him in the Whedonverse.
Faith started her comeback trail to sanity under Angel’s guidance, which lead to a great character work, a wonderful team up with Buffy, and finally some movement in her storyline.
Spike gave us a scary ass showing as well, and I hope he comes back many many times.
Gunn and the fearless teen Vampire hunters are cool and an interesting idea and I really hope they come back many many times as well.
But what do I think of the villains, you wonder Joss? Unlike with Buffy, where the monsters are metaphors for teenage issues, here it seems like the monsters are metaphors for nothing. The stalker with the detactable body parts? Creepy than stupid. Demon bachelor party? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Cops going all Oprah mushy? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Actress wants forever youth? Stake her now. Blind assassin? Never want to see her again. The Powers That Be with their toga minions? At least one of these died by the end of the season. Angel becoming Angelus-lite or something by PCP? WTF. And the absolute worst by a Hellmouth and a half is Cordelia’s pregnancy by demon.
Now before you hand me over to the Alliance Joss, some baddies I did like this first go round. The Scourge with their pureblood demon armies? Darn interesting and scary. Barney the demon who looked kinda Doyle-ish? Very nasty and cool. Serial killer Vampire Angelus trained? Got my attention. Kid psychopath with the flame fixation? Scary even for a demon. Demon fights run by rich jerks? Brutal but real. The Watchers? Complete jerks. And Faith torturing Wesley? Nasty. nasty, nasty.
But your bestest villain this year Joss? The one and only law firm without a soul, Wolfram and Heart. These scumbags are evil and dastardly and manipulative and very very well organized. Love the executive who eventually ends up on Lost, but despise Lindsay who needs to be eaten by a giant snake.
One of the issues the show Angel faces Joss is that for some unknown reason it is quite often written as if only newbies are watching. Constant plot explanations are annoying and feel even worse when the mysteries are lame. Another problem plaguing Angel is the Star Trek Enterprise syndrome where the moral of the story gets all mushy and unclear and blandish.
Plus, to get things rolling, the vision crutch slows everything down, especially in the earlier episodes. I don’t mind flashbacks, but these ones strike me as kinda all over the place. Do the writers have a firm Angel timeline yet Joss, or are they winging it? Also, these portals plot devices can work, but seem slightly out of nowhere. And will the writers finally figure out how to integrate cellphones into the show?
Now while Buffy takes place around a high school concept, Angel tries at first to use the city of Los Angeles as its concept, quickly gives up and just focuses on his Scooby gang. So Buffy, Willow, and Xander become Angel, Cordelia, and Doyle/Wesley. Which means that the absolute best episodes of Angel are the one Buffy guest stars in. For a show trying to muddle through to its own identity, this is troubling.
I plan to keep watching Angel, Joss, because I do believe in the promise Amends offered. I just keep waiting for it to finally happen in some logical way.
…is currently reading Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger
P.S. The money woes Angel Investigations keeps harping on is tiresome, especially when Angel slams all that bribe money around.