Monday, October 13, 2003

DVD Review: Angel (Season 1 & 2)

One of the few TV series on local television that I look forward to week after week is “Angel” which airs locally on Thursdays at 11:10pm on TV2. This series that is now in its fifth season in the States is a spin-off from another popular television series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, that was also shown on local TV sometime back. It was on that show that I first learn about the titular character of Angel who was a 200 year old vampire who happened to have a soul and continue to roam the Earth seeking redemption for all the things that he had done before. While the character initially appeared on and off in the Buffy series, it would soon be one of the fan favorites from the series and in time would merit a spin-off series of his own. The self-titled spin-off series takes Angel out of Sunnydale into the city of Los Angeles where he continues to seek redemption by championing the cause of humanity against a multitude of evil entities. The television series has, to date, been collected into 2 DVD boxes set that covers all episodes in season 1 and 2 respectively. I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite episodes from the show recently after purchasing the latest instalment of the “Angel” DVD boxed set.

At the end of Season 1 of the series, Angel has finally accepted his new role of humanity’s champion against the prophesied darkness that was steadily descending on the world. As we come back to them in the beginning of Season 2, we find Angel (David Boreanaz) embracing his occupation in full force with the help of his friends Wesley (Alexis Denisof) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) who helps him run Angel Investigations Agency. They are soon joined by Gunn (J. August Richards) who Angel first befriended in the previous season. While initially things seemed to be happening smoothly for Angel, his mortal enemies who happened to be lawyers at the firm of Wolfram and Hart had set their plan in motion to convert Angel to the dark side and to convince him to work for their benefit. The plan that they initiated involved Angel’s long time vampire paramour, Darla (Julie Benz) who was resurrected after being killed by Angel.

Unaware of the plans laid against him, Angel finds himself increasingly isolated from his friends and becomes more obsessed with Darla who has returned to him as a mortal. This isolation continues to escalate when Darla loses her new found soul and was turned into a vampire in order to save her life again for the second time. Feeling the burden of guilt for not being able to save Darla from her fate and the fear that he would have to kill his old lover again for the second time finally pushes Angel to sever ties with the others in an attempt to spare them his pain. This betrayal and mistrust did not sit well with the others how vow to continue his work without him. While Angel continued to find a way to atone for his guilt, the rest of his crew struggled to find their way in the world with some limited success. After several events unfolded to show Angel the errors of his ways, he goes through an epiphany that his place is with his friends in their fight to save humanity from the evil that he could not eradicate alone. While it was awkward in the beginning, Angel successfully regained their trust and was accepted back into their fold.

As implied in the above season synopsis, the producers of this series had rightly steered the series away from the monster of the week format that made the majority of the episodes from the first season of the series. In Season 2, we find more multi-part episodes that build the character arc of Angel. In this season, we learned more about his past as a an evil vampire who terrorized 18th and 19th century Europe with Darla at his side until the day that he was cursed with a soul that reflected back at him all the hurt and terror that he has visited on other. The inclusion of this mythic arc allowed the viewers to become more involved and vested into the main character of the series. The multi-part format allowed the audience to slowly digest the significance of each episode as it contributes to the bigger story that was being told. In season 2, episodes like “Dear Boy”, “Darla” and “The Trial” were essential to set up Angel’s fall into the dark side before he has to face his paramour again in her evil guise in the wonderful two-parter of “Reunion” and “Redefinition”. The story arc was later admirable concluded in another two-parter of “Reprise” and “Epiphany” which finds Darla realizing that she would never be able to turn Angel to her side.

While Angel was facing his trials with Darla in season 2, the other members of his group were also facing their own trials. The character of Gunn who comes in initially as a leader of his own pack of vampire hunters finds himself increasingly drawn away from his own crew while he worked on cases for Angel. This absence led to some tragic events to the members of his original gang which caused him to reevaluate his position with his previous associations. While Gunn faced this decision, Wesley was slowly finding himself in the position of the leader of their investigation agency as Angel began to isolate himself more and more from the others. This was a decision that scared the character as he has always been comfortable being the position of the follower. Since he was thrust into the limelight of a leadership position, Wesley had no choice but to fit himself into the role and hope that he does not screw things up this time.

Season 2 also saw the introduction of the Host, a green-skinned, red horned demon who can read another person’s future when the person sings, played wonderfully by Andy Hallet. The introduction of this new character not only takes the series to a new wonderful direction but also increases the streak of humor inherent in this series. As a series, “Angel” has always had a humorous side to it, a streak that is much more apparent in this series than from Buffy, which was further enhanced by the running gag that Angel was a terrible singer and would have to embarrass himself to get guidance from the Host. The introduction of this karaoke bar proprietary who happened to be green also gave the opportunity for the cast to show their previously unknown talent for singing as part of a storyline. I have to say that if it were not for the inclusion of this character, I would have never guessed that Christian Kane who plays Lindsey, one of the evil lawyers from Wolfram and Hart, had a really beautiful singing voice which he shared with the audience in a scene from “Dead End”.

Unfortunately Season 2 of Angel ends on a bit of a down note in terms of the story arch. A few interesting storylines were set aside at the end on the season as the characters were transported into the Host’s home dimension in an attempt to rescue Cordelia who was accidentally sucked through. There the crew finds a world where humans are slaves to demons and Cordelia was crowned as a princess slated for sacrifice. In saving her, the group managed to free the enslaved population and found a new addition into their group in the form a long lost Los Angeles resident, Winifred Burke (Amy Ackers) who would play a greater role in Season 3. While the final 3 episode of Season 2 are admirable in themselves, they felt thematically off from the other episodes of the season which may frustrated some viewers. Fortunately the dropped storylines were picked up again in Season 3 which make that DVD set a must for fans of the series.

All in all, Season 2 of “Angel” was when the series really came into its own and we now see that it can stand separate from Buffy which it was spun off from. Wonderful planning of the character arch in multipart episodes by the producers of the series made watching Angel enjoyable and addictive as the audience wants to know what happens next week after week. Even the episodes that were not directly linked to the mythology arch had something to offer to the viewers whether it be a throwaway line that expands the arch idea or just another example of the hilarious with and humor inherent in the series. Many fans of Angel agree that Season 2 was one of the best seasons for the whole series and this DVD set does it great justice. The 6 DVD set beautifully presented the season in widescreen version of exceptional picture and audio quality. I was sufficiently happy with the quality of the set enough to ignore the paltry offerings that were included as special features in the DVD set. As a fan of the series, this wonderful collection of one of the best episodes of the whole series was a welcomed addition to my collection. I just can’t wait for the next set to come out and continue the journey of “Angel”.

Season Rating: 4/5 stars
DVD package set rating: 4/5 stars

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