Reflections on Angel, Seasons 1-3

6 Aug

“Oh, I love that flick. When Trinity’s all, “Dodge this!” and the agent just crumbles to . . .  and I’m not really instilling any awe anymore, am I?”

So I know that Angel didn’t say that, but I couldn’t find any good pictures of Skip, so there you go.  I also acknowledge the wretchedness of the play on words in this post’s title.

Anyway; It’s been a pretty fun few weeks here, catching up with this show.  Back a few years ago, I decided that I was going to use my downtime going through all of the seasons of all of the shows that I knew were great but had never had time to watch.  So, I rocked through your Buffys and Veronicas, watched Swedgin get the San Francisco cocksucker, dealt with some Freaks, some Geeks, a Firefly-class starship, and got to experience a super-compressed complete history of Rome.  But the one show that I didn’t get through that, in retrospect, I really should have, was Angel, Joss Whedon and Tim Minear’s vampire coming-of-age opus.  I initially watched a few DVD’s worth of episodes from season one, but got bored and stopped watching, right before they killed Doyle.  Thanks to Hulu, I fired it up where I left off, and am glad I did – once they added Wesley to the mix, things really picked up.  Lorne, Fred and Gunn?  More, funnier, better.

I’m getting ready to get going with season four, but I thought it’d be a good idea to enter some thoughts about seasons one through three before doing so.  Yes, I am aware the approximately 20% of the entire internet is devoted to analysis of Buffy and Angel. I should also warn that, for some reason, I have the inability to think of Angel’s quality in terms of anything but Buffy’s quality, so this is basically a comparison of the two shows.

I knew going into Buffy that right after season three, the show took a quality nose-dive, but somehow knowing beforehand made the in-retrospect-painfully-bad episodes and borderline-character-assassinations more bearable (hell, I enjoyed myself!).  I had no such foreknowledge going into Angel, and so far, I actually think that from a technical standpoint, the show is, on average, much stronger than Buffy episodes from the same time period (seasons 4-7).  Maybe it was the extra energy provided to Joss and Tim by tackling a new show with new characters, but each season so far has seemed tightly written, focused, true to each character (for the most part), and boasting a level of continuity and past-episode callbacks that Buffy never even got close to.

However, I’m far from calling it the “better” whedonverse show.  Season three began to take the same on the same evolutionary voyage that took over Buffy in season two – namely, the monsters of the week fall by the wayside in favor of more season-long dramatic conflict between the leads. After revisiting some early Buffy episodes, also on Hulu, it’s clear to me that when this starts to happen, I’m never having as much fun with the show – oh, how I missed the fun Season 1 scooby gang by the time Season 7 of Buffy rolled around!  Who WERE these haggard people who barely seemed to even LIKE one another?!

In Angel’s case, though, the shift from MotW to a-plot conflict has, to my mind, revealed the show’s weakness, especially when compared to Buffy – the characters on Angel, while all fun enough in their own right, don’t hit me nearly as hard as Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy do – Cordy is cool, but Charisma Carpenter is starting to have a bit much to cary, dramatically, and can’t quite match chops to SMG.  And Boreanaz was never really some master thespian; he never fails to crack me up when he riffs on his own broodiness, but the second he has to get all serious about how much he loves his son, I sort of tune out.  It’s certainly nothing close to the melodramatic, wrenching emotional heights of Buffy season two.

So, that’s sort of my take on the show, at the moment.  I find Angel to be a slicker, more tightly-written show than Buffy, and on that surface level, it really works for me.  The fighting is also more fun to watch, and I also always thought that Cordelia was the hottest member of the Scooby Gang, so that’s also a plus.  It’s when it gets into the “I love my Son!  Hoooollltzzz!” place, or when Cordy starts telling Angel all about the meaning of life or whatever that I sort of tune out in a way that I never did during Buffy seasons two or three.

Buuuut… maybe that perception will change over the last two seasons.  I’ve heard good things about season five.  Only time will tell…

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