Channel: The WB
Recurring Cast: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof
TV spin-offs are very hard to get right. There is something very desperate about them, as if the writers are trying to get as much money and material out of a single idea as possible. They need to find their own identity as a show in order to justify their existence, yet they need to keep enough of the original charm to keep the fans of the parent show interested. Angel, lasting five seasons, even managing to outlive Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was obviously doing something right.
It helps that Angel kicked off, when Joss Whedon finally had the concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked out. He had figured out the tone and how to balance the episodic fun with the over-arching story arcs to keep us interested in the bigger picture. Angel breezes along with the casual charm of someone who has refined his technique to a fine art. The Whedon sarcasm is delivered coolly and confidently by Buffy veterans, Boreanaz and Carpenter. The universe finds its own two feet, forced to look at the demonic population outside of Sunnydale. Angel is a very smooth-running show and this helps it become an instant hit, even with those tuning in without any prior knowledge to the Buffy universe. Whedon even gives Angel its own format. Seeking inspiration from the old 70s cop shows and a couple of Noir pulp novels, Angel becomes a LA private investigator, who focuses on paranormal crimes. Paired with a demon who has psychic connections with the Powers That Be and Cordelia, who has handled her fair share of vampires and monsters, Angel’s team becomes something akin to a small-time Ghostbusters. It is a good idea and helps Angel succeed as a show even better.
David Boreanaz even feels liberated, escaping his part as a supporting star, rather than the lead. Angel is a tough character to get right, broody easily coming across as dull and lifeless, if kept unchecked. Boreanaz works better as the show’s leading man, however, being given time to develop and explore his character. When we strip away the day-to-day adventures, Angel is pretty much a character piece of a vampire with a soul looking for redemption. Every time Angel seems like he is about to get lost in his own misery, Whedon and Boreanaz will come up with the perfect gag to make him a balanced character again. One quick scene where Angel pictures himself dancing at a party is the funniest moment in the entire season. A blood-sucking spawn of Satan has never been so… adorable. The supporting stars hold their own as well. Charisma Carpenter is much better outside of Buffy too; her character was always painfully one-dimensional as the Queen Bee of Sunnydale High, whereas here, the character is forced to embrace a stronger role. The same goes for Wesley, one of the more forgettable guest stars of the show being given a more prominent standing. He quickly turns into a fan favourite. However, Glenn Quinn is given the job of standing against the guys who have already had time to assimilate to Whedon’s world. His easy Irish charm does the job very well, despite the actor being given a limited time to make an impression.
Angel doesn’t quite break away from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is always at its best, when it is referencing the other show. Even when someone isn’t popping up for a guest appearance, you are kind of left hoping that a recognisable face is just around the corner. I understand the temptation. When you have a fantastic villain like James Marsters’ Spike at hand, it makes sense to use him. Angel’s greatest story at this point in the series is his relationship with Buffy, meaning that there is a high demand for Sarah Michelle Gellar to show her face every so often. However, it does mean that Angel hasn’t quite stopped holding Buffy’s hand; this show is still using stabilisers.
Final Verdict: A comfortable start, however comfortable looks pretty weak when compared to Buffy’s roaring success. Still, this is hardly an awful watch. Rather entertaining as it happens.