"You told me the story of my life, which since I was there, I already knew. Why aren't I kicking you out?"
Television's favorite vampire-detective-with-a-soul blasts into his very own series and Fox has got the moody undead one covered in this box set. So sit back, relax and enjoy Forever Knight, err, Angel.
Facts of the Case
There is a new protector in The City of Angels and he's got a way with the vamps.
People are dying and Doyle's visions lead Angel to a not-so-trendy singles bar looking for the killer.
"In The Dark"
There is a ring that enables a vampire to walk in the daylight while also making the wearer impervious to harm. Angel has it but doesn't want it, which is a situation a chipless Spike is more than willing to fix.
"I Fall To Pieces"
Angel's latest case is a girl who is being stalked by various body parts belonging to an ex-boyfriend. It's probably best if you didn't ask any other questions.
"Rm W/A Vu"
Cordelia has a new apartment and a roommate that doesn't get out much.
"Sense and Sensitivity"
The important lesson of this episode is that everyone needs to get in touch with their feelings. Feelings and that all self-help gurus are in league with demons, but we knew that already didn't we?
"The Bachelor's Party"
Like any good supporting character, Doyle has a few secrets that need to be told. His involve an ex-wife and her name is Harry. Don't ask.
"I Will Remember You"
What if two people shared the perfect day but only one of them was allowed to remember it?
There comes a point where everyone is faced with their defining moment. To that end, Nazi-like demons are on a murderous crusade to maintain purity, hunting out demon half-breeds, and the only people standing in their way are Angel and Doyle.
Quicker than Spock can tell McCoy to "Remember," Cordelia has inherited Doyle's gift and those splitting migraines. Oh, and a rogue demon hunter named Wesley is out prowling on Angel's turf.
A child from Angel's past is hunting on the streets of L.A. and haunting Angel's dreams.
Pretty much the worst episode from Angel's first season finds Cordelia knocked up with demon spawn after a one night stand. I think that happens to her a lot.
Demon hotties from another dimension are being hunted by the men who would keep them docile and obedient. Naturally, Angel tries to help.
"I've Got You Under My Skin"
Angel and Wesley get to play Max von Sydow and Jason Miller to a little boy possessed.
Detective Lockley's father is running with a dangerous crowd as Angel reflects on his own parental issues.
Fight Club meets Angel. Which means the first rule is?
An actress wants to hang on to her youth at any cost, so she does the only logical thing—she gives Angel a moment of absolute bliss. Actors.
"Five By Five"
Guess who is out of a coma and working for Wolfram & Hart?
Faith turns a corner, but Buffy is back to kick her ass into the street. M e o w.
Slaying vampires isn't all glamour and dark clothing. It's a street level battle waged in out of the way places, and one of its strongest warriors is a man named Gunn. Do I smell a new supporting character?
Wolfram & Hart is up to their usual dirty tricks. This time they have hired a blind girl with incredible abilities who is no way related to Ben Affleck, and in the process a choice will have to be made.
"To Shanshu in L.A."
A demon has been called, Cordelia is going mad from her visions, Wesley was in the office when it exploded, the Powers-That-Be have been destroyed, and Angel has a surprise waiting for him in a box.
When last we saw Joss Whedon's brooding vampire-with-a-soul at the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third season, he was disappearing into the smoky ruins of Sunnydale High School, leaving his beloved slayer behind. His exit brought to a close one of the central themes of Buffy's third year—taking stock, growing up, and moving on. With season four, Buffy and Willow headed off to college while Angel took up residence in Los Angeles. This simple move speaks volumes to the simplicity and elegance of the way Joss Whedon works. Where else would a hero named Angel start kicking butt and taking names than in the City of Angels?
Series creators Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt took the opportunity to slightly re-imagine Angel as a character and to open up the show so it played on a scale larger than Buffy. No longer was Angel watching Buffy from the shadows and moving in to help only when he was needed. Now he was taking a more proactive stance in his fight against evil and the dark forces. Much as the slayer patrolled the graveyards and back alleys of Sunnydale, Angel was cruising the mean streets of L.A., looking for trouble in whatever form it chose to take. He was waging a solitary fight that would bring to bear the first season's real arc—the need for companionship and family.
Angel lived underground that first year, his dark coat cracked in the wind like a cape, he used a surprising amount of gadgets, and he had a really cool car. So many overt references are made in the first season of Angel to Batman that it's easy to miss the one that would stick. In the comics, Batman is always described as a loner who battles evil, when in actuality he has more members fighting with him than most team books have heroes—Robin (pick your version), Nightwing, Batgirl, Oracle, Catwoman, Azrael, Huntress, Spoiler, Harold, and Alfred. And those are just off the top of my head. Through he may say otherwise, Batman has attracted a team in spite of all his pronouncements. Angel is much the same way. Right from the first episode, the half-demon Doyle explains to Angel that his solitary fight is going nowhere because, in his post-Buffy world, Angel does not allow himself to become close to anyone. He moves from fight to fight, literally helping and pushing away. So is it any surprise that by season's end, Angel would find himself allied with Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn?
The Batman mythos also influences Angel on a deeper and more subtle level. Bruce Wayne became the Batman because he watched his parents killed in front of him. The spirit of vengeance and the need for justice are the primary forces that lead to the creation of the Dark Knight. It also further explains his subconscious need to surround himself with an extended "family." With Angel, the circumstances are different but no less profound for his character. Liam did not watch someone else kill his family; as the vampire Angelus he killed his own family. Unable to win the acceptance of his father, he chose instead to destroy his life, and in the process created a ghost that drives him to this day. Certainly his years of terrorizing and killing humans impacted the character, but this early deed helps explain his actions since being cursed with a soul. His inability to ever connect with his father or win his approval shaped the man Angel would become. Like so much of the series, it's this ironic, yet poetic, simplicity that gives weight to Angel's character.
If the fleshing out of Angel gave the show its dramatic core, then David Boreanaz was forced to grow as an actor. It's amazing to see how far he has come since that first season of Buffy. Where once was a pretty boy who was a clearly an awkward actor, moving on to Angel Boreanaz grew rather nicely into a leading man. The show is his, and he shows levels of complexity that I did not think he possessed. As an actor he can handle the action stuff with ease while balancing the serious nature of his character with an almost goofy sense of humor.
If Joss Whedon and his team of writers have proven anything over the years, it's an uncanny ability to take characters that would appear to be one note and turn them into living, breathing people. Certainly Charisma Carpenter's Cordelia Chase is one such example. Starting out on Buffy as the superficial über-bitch, Cordelia would grow in unexpected directions all the while staying true to her original concept. I always felt the show walked a tightrope with Cordelia Chase, and frankly I could not imagine her going much further as a character if she had remained on Buffy. So, enter Angel and co-creator David Greenwalt wanting to bring along Carpenter. A new set of circumstances are introduced, and by season's end it's easy to see that Angel is not the only character to have radically evolved. The Cordelia Chase we see by the 22nd episode is someone that nobody could have seen coming. It's all very organic, it plays by the rules of the show, and it makes perfect sense. To Carpenter's credit she is well aware of the initial stereotype of her character and she is able to play with that image and turn it on its ear.
Going back and watching Angel's first season, I was struck by how important a role Glenn Quinn played as Doyle. Doyle is the half-demon sidekick who first tells Angel of his role within the scheme of things. He introduces Angel to The Powers That Be and he is the one who pushes Angel on his way back to humanity. In many ways, Doyle is the key to the success of the show's first season. Quinn was simply wonderful. He had a marvelous sense of humor that balanced the dark nature of the show, and his humanity helped ground those early episodes when everyone else was feeling their way around. When he was suddenly written out of the show, it came as a huge shock and there were stories that his exit was due to drug addiction. Creator Whedon publicly maintained that he had always planned to do away with Doyle, but it always rang a little false to me. With the actor's passing late last year from a drug overdose, these questions were raised all over again. I suppose we will never know the answer, to but it's impossible to look at the show Angel grew into and not see the influence Doyle had on it.
If Quinn's exit rocked the show, then the choice to replace him was also surprising and served as another example as to how far the writers were willing to go in order to explore a character. In Buffy's third season her Watcher, Rupert Giles, was fired by the Watcher's Council and in his place a new watcher, Wesley Wyndam-Price, joined the series. If Giles was steady under fire, Wyndam-Price was a wet noodle. Make that a hysterical wet noodle. Who fell down. A lot. Wesley basically served the show in the same one note way as Cordelia did early in its run. Seeing him again was the last thing I ever expected, which is usually what Team Whedon is so good at doing. Like Carpenter with Cordelia, Alexis Denisof shows quite a bit of growth as Wesley in the time spent on Angel in its freshman season.
Since Angel is a spin-off and at the time was on the same network as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it stands to reason that there would be some crossover action, and sure enough, we see some familiar Sunnydale faces. Sarah Michelle Geller turns up in the first episode, which gave hints as to just how good Angel could be, the bittersweet "I Will Remember You," and once again in "Sanctuary," where the storyline of the second slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku), would be put to rest. James Marsters would blow into L.A. as Spike and Seth Green would follow in his usual deadpan fashion in the episode "In The Dark." These actors forge a nice bridge between the two shows and their appearances never feel like gimmicks or stunt casting.
It's a credit to the writing staff that even with all these well known faces, the show would start to develop its own supporting cast without ever once feeling crowded. Julie Benz is also a Buffy holdover, but in Angel her role as Angel's sire is really explored and her entrance into the series created ripples that are felt in its current season. Law & Order's Elisabeth Rohm would be introduced as Detective Kate Lockley and would remain with the show through its second season. Like any good show feeling its way through, we are never sure what she is meant to be. Love interest for Angel, ally on the police department, or antagonist? The final member of Team Angel introduced in season one was J. August Richards as Charles Gunn. Kind of an urban street level ally for Angel, his character would also see a great deal of growth as the seasons progressed and would become a valued member of the clan.
Still, the greatest creation the writers came up with was less one person than an entity. The law firm of Wolfram & Hart would serve as de facto antagonist for the series and it introduced attorneys Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane) and Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov) into the mix. For all those people who think lawyers are devil spawn, Angel proves that you are not that far off the mark. Like the best of Whedon creations, there is nothing standard about these characters. Over time they would make the same kind of difficult decisions as our heroes and would prove to be both interesting as villains and allies.
I'll be the first person to admit that not every episode of this first season was perfect, but there are no real clunkers in the lot. Granted, the creators had the advantage of knowing their main characters going in, but overall the first season of Angel ended up being a stronger effort than Buffy the Vampire Slayer enjoyed in its first season. It may not be a fair comparison, but there you have it.
Another advantage Angel had over Buffy in its first year was money. Buffy started out being shot on 16mm, and as my reviews of the first two seasons can attest to, things looked pretty poor. Angel jumped right out of the gate being produced on 35mm and the higher quality is easy to spot. The overall picture is strong with excellent detail. Colors appear natural, blacks are deep and rich with only a minor lack of shadow detail. There is also the occasion shimmer in the transfer, but these instances are nothing worth crying about. What needs to be noted, however, is when viewing disc one on a larger size display, there are some problems visible. A slight smearing of the image occurs in certain spots and there are instances of image flutter. Oddly enough, these are only apparent in the first disc of the set.
If there was one great surprise on the tech end of things, it's how strong a 2.0 Dolby Surround mix Angel throws out. This mix has more bass and directional effects than I've heard on some so-called 5.1 tracks, and in many spots might even be called aggressive. Everything is well integrated and the mix has a great sense of space and depth. Dialogue, sound effects, and the atmospheric music of the series all exist beautifully. The show has always had a more cinematic feel and scope than Buffy, and it's really evident with the audio. Hats off for a job well done.
I wish I had more to say about the extra features on this set, but there isn't a whole lot here. The highlight of any Mutant Enemy box set is going to be a commentary with Joss Whedon, and that is certainly the case. Sitting down with Whedon is series co-creator David Greenwalt and together they take us through the first hour of Angel. It's a funny, breezy, and informative track up to a point. Touching on almost every facet of the production except one, this is just a solid commentary. The second track is by Jane Espenson for the episode "Rm W/A Vu," and while it's not as good as the Whedon/Greenwalt commentary, it's a whole lot better than her effort found on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season three set.
From a serious fan point of view, that is pretty much it. There are a few short featurettes that include a season one overview, introductions to Angel and Cordelia, and a look at the monsters seen on the show's first year. Round that out with some production stills, some blueprints, a couple of scripts, and cast bios, and you've got it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Taking everything into account, this is a pretty good DVD set of a really good season of television, but there are flaws. First off, where is the widescreen love? Angel first hit the airwaves in 1999, so I'm reasonably certain the show was shot for eventual broadcast in High Def as mandated by the FCC, and Joss Whedon has maintained that he sees the show as a widescreen series. Who am I to argue with Joss Whedon? Everything about this show screams for that widescreen feel, so why no letterbox? It wasn't until its third year that the WB actually broadcast the series in widescreen format, but let's hope DVD viewers get that pleasure with the season two box.
I found the set a little lacking in the extras as well. It's always great to hear Whedon sit down for a commentary track, and Jane Espenson's is a whole lot better than the one she recorded for Buffy season three, but after that, well, there isn't much else. Sure, there are a few brief featurettes, but it's pretty slim pickings at best and to top it all off, there is barely a mention made of Glenn Quinn as Doyle. I was truly saddened to read of his recent death and I have no wish for anyone to speak ill of the deceased, but it's obvious something happened. To my mind, the whole point of commentaries is to relay what goes one behind the scenes, and Doyle being written out is the biggest behind the scenes story from Angel's first season. I guess at some point there will be an E! True Hollywood Story: The Life and Death of Glenn Quinn, but I would think Whedon and Company would want a chance to set the record straight on their own before something more exploitive does it for them.
Angel has the distinct advantage of being able to exist on its own without depending on a viewer's intimate knowledge of what happened previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even with the crossover episodes, the show is able to stake out its own claim and to stand very much on its own feet. Certainly, having the entire backstory adds to the viewing pleasure, but if you have never seen an episode of Buffy, don't worry, Angel explains everything you need to know.
I have to admit I've always felt Angel was a wildly inconsistent show, especially in comparison to Buffy, so I was surprised to find myself enjoying the first season as much as I did. The writing and acting is generally stronger throughout than I remembered, and in many ways I miss the simpler tone the series took in its beginning days. Overall, this set gets a strong recommendation, and since it's commonly found in stores for under $50.00, it's a pretty good deal as well.
Cleared of all charges, Angel is free the prowl the handy tunnels of L.A. fighting evil wherever it may lurk.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on City Of by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt
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