Review for Angel - Complete Season 1-5
Having just watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s seven seasons, I’m not quite ready to give up on the Buffy universe just yet, which makes it fortuitous that I have the Angel Complete Collection box-set just waiting to be reviewed. You’d almost think that it wasn’t a coincidence. After three years on Buffy, the relationship between Angel and the eponymous slayer had run its course, which necessitated the departure from Sunnydale of the charismatic vampire with a soul. But you don’t just waste a character like that. Angel proved to be popular enough to carry a series of his own, and he decamped to the city of Los Angeles to save as many innocents as he could, without risking that perfect moment that would trigger the curse and turn him evil again. I watched both shows when they were broadcast, and while I enjoyed them both, for some reason I found the spin-off to be not quite as satisfying as the original, although I never could figure out why. Maybe now that I’m watching them again in close order, I’ll be able to understand my first impressions. Technically, I should have watched these episodes back to back with the Buffy episodes from Season 4 onwards, as they do cross over on occasion, but there are only so many hours in a day.
Five seasons of Angel spread across 30 discs are presented in this complete collection. As with the Buffy review, the episode listings are in the extras section.
Los Angeles is a city with a lot of darkness, a lot of evil to prey on the vulnerable, so it would be a good place for a vampire with a soul to set up shop and atone for his soulless past. The problem is that Angel is trying to save people without getting involved, and that is playing to his darker side. And then a half demon named Doyle shows up. He’s got a direct, if one-way line to the Powers That Be, and he gets advance warning of people in need of help. He’s also got something to atone for, and he’ll give Angel a heads up, if Angel finds a way to connect with humanity again. That happens pretty quick, when the first person he saves is Cordelia Chase, former Sunnydale resident and aspiring actress currently being ground down by Hollywood. Pretty soon, the three set up as Angel Investigations, bringing hope to those that need it. But it isn’t long before things start to change, not least with the arrival of a former Watcher turned rogue demon hunter.
There’s a new champion in town. Angel has moved to Los Angeles from Sunnydale, and finds that there is a whole lot more in the way of demonic activity around Tinseltown than you might expect. Setting up with Cordelia Chase and the half-demon Doyle, Angel Investigations is later joined by disgraced former Watcher Wesley Wyndham-Price. The more they start to make difference, helping those without hope, the more they make an impression on Wolfram & Hart, a law firm with ties to the demonic realm, and whose clients are most affected by the activities of a heroic champion. With Angel ‘playing the game’, Wolfram & Hart will do whatever it takes to win.
The street smart vampire hunter Charles Gunn may be part of the team now, but Angel has moved up into the big leagues, and ruffled the wrong feathers at Wolfram & Hart. They’ve made him part of their plans for the next apocalypse, and the first thing that they’ve done is resurrected Angelus’ sire, Darla. They’re messing with his head big time, and have him so twisted that he’s alienating his friends, and turning dark. The trouble is that it’s not the kind of dark that the evil lawyers were hoping for. Now Angel has something else to atone for. Not that he has much of an opportunity before a portal opens up, and Cordelia gets sucked into a hell dimension. Not to worry, as a demon named Lorne who runs a karaoke bar can be their guide.
Back from Pylea, Winifred “Fred” Burkle has a whole lot of rehab to go through before she can fit back into LA society, but once she does come out her shell, she catches the eye of both Wesley and Gunn. Speaking of love triangles, Angel and Cordelia are finally starting to notice one another, with some delicate nudging from their friends, which is when Cordelia’s Prince Charming, the Groosalugg shows up from Pylea, having been deposed by the locals. And when it comes to exes, Darla returns as well, and against all common sense, this vampire is pregnant. Angel’s going to be a father! That’s if a time travelling vampire hunter named Holtz doesn’t show up in the modern day with the aid of an incorporeal demon, and a prophecy causes Wesley to betray his friends, and Holtz kidnaps baby Connor and takes him to a hell dimension where time flows at a different rate, and then a teenage Connor comes back to LA having been raised by the vampire hunter to seek revenge on his true father Angel. But what are the chances of that happening?
Angel and Cordy were on their way to a happily ever after, but Angel’s ungrateful son stuck him in a box and sent him to the bottom of the ocean, while Cordelia got summoned to be a higher power. You don’t come back from something like that, at least not without change, and while Angel has a new perspective on his son, Cordelia, when she returns has to deal first with amnesia, then with a vision of the apocalypse, and the fact that she’s evil, and pregnant with the apocalypty one. And for some reason, the good guys think the way to deal with this is to bring Angel’s evil alter ego Angelus back. And when the ultimate end of the world evil, Jasmine arrives, she’s anything but. The world becomes peaceful, people are nice to each other, and everyone worships her.
Angel and his team won... or did they? They’ve been given the keys to the law firm of Wolfram & Hart, the source of most evil in Los Angeles, and told they can use its resources to do whatever they want, to do good. But it’s less a golden goose than it a poison chalice as they need to keep the law firm in profit to have resources to use, and keeping it in profit means dealing with most of their evil clients. Angel may have just sold his soul for power. Speaking of souls, Spike is back from the dead, having died saving the world from the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, only now he’s a ghost haunting Angel. There’s also the ancient goddess Illyria, looking for a way back into the world, and she’s set her sights on a human body to possess, Fred’s body...
Angel Season 1 gets a 4:3 regular transfer, while Seasons 2-5 all get 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers. It’s just as you’d expect from turn of the millennium US television, broadcast in NTSC SD, and given a conversion to PAL for the UK market. The image is softer than native PAL, but is clear enough to watch. Detail levels are fair, while the special effects tend to get better with each passing season, although there is a greater consistency here than there was with Buffy.
It differs with each season, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English audio and English subtitles are constants across all five. Season 1 also has French audio and French and Dutch subtitles, Seasons 3, 4 & 5 have French audio and subtitles in French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. Popular music doesn’t play as big a part in Angel as it did in Buffy, and the episode scores tend to the more orchestral, but they work well enough with the story. The action is presented well, while the all important dialogue comes across clearly for the most part.
Each season gets an Amaray case to itself, two discs on either side of a centrally hinged panel, two discs overlapping on the front inner pane, and two on the rear. The five Amaray cases are all held in a thin card slipcase, which has a full form thin card cover.
The discs present their content with static menus with animated transitions, and plenty of copyright warnings. Depending on the season, you might find the extras listed with the episode, or on a separate listing on the main menu screen.
Click here for a listing of episodes and extra features.
I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I loved its story, and I love what the creators did with the characters over seven years. Now I really do enjoy Angel, it has the same quality of writing, and it’s a gripping fantasy horror show, but I like it despite the way the story develops, and despite what it does with its characters. It may have lasted five years, but for most of those five years, I was usually aghast at the choices the creators made, the direction the stories took. It’s as if Joss Whedon watched the final episode of Blake’s Seven before starting with Angel and was inspired. But I still enjoy watching Angel because I have the love for this narrative world that was created with Buffy, I appreciate the writing, and I do love the characters, even if what the writers did with them annoyed me on a regular basis (poor Cordelia).
Angel had to deal with a problem that Buffy didn’t have, a diminished context. Buffy was a parable for teenage years, with teenage problems maxed out in this fantasy world of monsters and magic. But you had this fantasy world in parallel with the real world of high school students and PTA meetings and the like. One minute characters were concerned about saving the world from demons, the next they were worried about who they would go to the prom with. With Angel the contrast was no longer there. Certainly it moved the characters issues to young adulthood, but with Angel Investigations a detective agency that dealt with the supernatural, and the stories all revolving around such, there was no longer a real world to parallel those stories. The first season tried it with the character of Kate Lochley, a policewoman whose cases would often intersect with Angel’s, but it never felt like Angel being drawn into the real world, only a matter of Kate being pulled into the paranormal. The irony of this all is that while Angel had the bigger scope, set in the big city, and often dealing with villains intent on ending the world in one way or another, it always felt like a smaller show than Buffy, set in small town California.
The show certainly benefitted from bring across characters from Buffy, with Angel, Cordelia and later Wesley becoming regulars, as well as guest appearances from characters like Buffy, Faith, Willow and so on, but it also had some great characters of its own, the short-lived Doyle, Gunn, Fred, Connor and Lorne. Initially the show was more of a monster of the week deal, but right from the off, the Wolfram & Hart law firm became this behemoth villainous entity that the heroes would have to constantly deal with. As time went on, it began to dominate the series more and more, until in the final series, the law firm took centre stage.
For me, the first season of Angel was the most interesting. Wolfram & Hart was just a distant menace, and the members of Angel Investigations were really concerned with the small stuff, helping the helpless and dealing with small scale demon menaces. It also still had that little connection to the real world, with the Kate Lochley character, the ‘guy’ on the inside of the police that Angel would on occasion collaborate with. But as she learned more and more of the paranormal world, she grew more jaded and disillusioned with this vampiric saviour. Speaking of which, vampires still played a major part in the series at this time, making for a stronger connection with the Buffy series that it had spun off from.
Come the second season, the show started to take on more and more of an arc based style, with this one devoted to the resurrection of Darla (the vampire that sired Angel) in human form courtesy of the evil law firm, and the effect it has on the characters. There is a long game being played when it comes to story, with prophecies of the apocalypse and redemption motivating the characters. The end of season 2 really marked the point where I lost my devotion to the series, as all of a sudden we’re jumping dimensions into a fantasy world where we meet Fred. By this point I was also regularly questioning the direction the story took with the characters; Cordelia had already been pregnant once with a demon baby, and it wouldn’t be the last time. Doyle was an interesting character in season 1 who had to exit for story reasons, and worse was to come.
Angel became a daddy in Season 3, and the pawn in yet another prophecy that resulted in character choices that made me raise an eyebrow. I know good storytelling thrives on character conflict, but there has to be a limit. There comes a point where people have to forgive the unforgiveable to get the story back on track, and for me Angel had one or two moments with characters that tested my suspension of disbelief. And then there is Angel’s son, Connor, who grew up in a couple of episodes thanks to a hell dimension. I certainly didn’t appreciate the character the first time around, mostly down to a rather icky love-triangle between him, Cordelia and Angel, but I’ve mellowed on the character since.
I haven’t mellowed on Season 4 though, which still feels like a train wreck of a season. Talk about out of character! There’s plenty of WTF to go around with the way the story develops in Angel, but this season, I was asking what was going on with Cordelia on a weekly basis. I’m sure actors love to be challenged in the roles they play but Cordelia’s journey still feels like a stab in the gut after all this time. This is all in service of bringing into this world a demon that offers perfect happiness and peace, for a price. The storyline regarding Jasmine might have been interesting if it had been played on a wider scale, but it all seemed to take place in a small area, and we were left to infer that scope from background dialogue and the like, and for me that didn’t really work.
The season was also really one long story, not something you could dip in and out of as in the first season, or to a lesser extent subsequent seasons, and it turns out that the studios felt that too. For the fifth season, they mandated episodic storytelling once more, with ongoing character and story arcs happening in the background. I certainly appreciated that, yet the shift to Angel et al being the enemy, instead of fighting the enemy might have been an interesting direction to take, but was in my opinion too drastic a shift from the original premise, although the addition of Spike to the mix gave season 5 a whole new kind of energy. But in the end, Angel was cancelled prematurely, and the ending of the series seems hastily contrived and somewhat tacked on as a result, and of course there are plenty of plot threads begun earlier in the series that were left hanging. I had one final ‘WTF did you just do to Cordelia?’ before asking that question about Fred as well.
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and would be hard pressed to fault any episode in its seven year run. But when it comes to Angel, the spin-off, I certainly do enjoy it, and will always find the time to watch the show, but looking back over its five years, I can pick and choose the episodes which I enjoy (some of which I have to admit were even better than the best of Buffy), and there are episodes which just don’t work. There is an unevenness and a waywardness to Angel that harms it if you look at the five years as a whole, but as a serialised, and occasionally episodic story, it’s certainly very watchable.