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A Bloody Good Vampire Series
Angel - Season 1 (DVD)
Member Name: SmoothCriminal
Angel - Season 1 (DVD)
Advantages: Dark, engaging, well-acted, well-written, witty and highly original.
Disadvantages: Lack of continued story-arc between episodes.
Vampires, vampires, vampires. We're all sick to the teeth of them (no pun intended). It seems that with the rise of the Twilight phenomenon and countless new blood-sucker-based television shows sprouting up, that this aspect of the fantasy genre is beginning to wear a little thin. However, before this new hit-and-miss set of new franchises, there were two incredible fang-focused television series - Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The latter, a spin-off which begun in 1999 in order to expand the title character's role and to explore darker, grittier storylines.
The premise of the series is that it follows the life (or lack thereof!) of Angel (played by the devilishly handsome David Boreanaz) - an unspeakably evil vampire who was cursed with a soul and in order to relieve his guilt, works to "help the helpless", making amends for his past. Setting up a private detective agency to investigate supernatural events in LA, he is aided by Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) who while trying to make it as an actress, becomes Angel's secretary. Meanwhile, the pair are accompanied by half-demon, Doyle (Glenn Quinn), who receives visions from the Powers That Be - fragmented distress calls from those in need.
In the first season, the writers do well to establish the settings and key players in the show fairly immediately - a flaw I often find in other shows. Perhaps it was because I already some of the leads from their stints in Buffy, but for me, what was so attractive was that the show felt viable from the beginning. What I mean by this vague statement is that from episode one, the programme never felt like it was a mere cash-in or was dependent on riding Buffy's coattails. While there were numerous crossover episodes and guest appearances from the stars of the sister show, I never felt any of the guest spots were overdone or unnecessary.
Simply based on the visual aspect of the show, one can quickly see that there is a completely different tone to that of Buffy. With a large number of scenes set at night time; back alleys, abandoned buildings and sewers are the platforms on which the storylines play out. As Buffy became increasingly lighter, the writers of Angel were able to hone in on the gothic elements of the genre while combining them with the grit of city life.
The show feels aimed at adults, and this is apparent from the second episode - 'Lonely Hearts' - where a demon is preying on those at a singles bar, killing them during sex and moving from body to body each night. It's dark. However, what stops the programme from being merely a collection of shock tactics or your run of the mill drama, is that each storyline is an extended metaphor. So for example, the episode which I described is a commentary on the culture of one-night-stands and the human need to make a connection and feel special. The writers have frequently explained that the monsters of the programme, on one level are supernatural beings - but also are representative of the real life demons we confront on a daily basis.
Admittedly, the cast is very small in season one - with the number only ever peaking at three regulars. I would argue that the show doesn't full hit its stride until season three, where there is twice this figure. However, the casting is so impeccable that a real sense of intimacy is created between not only the characters on screen - but also with the viewer. Such a bond is rare to find in television, and the testimony to the power of the writing of this show is that in episode nine, 'Hero', as a main character dies, I have tears streaming down my face no matter how many times I've seen the scene before.
Aside from this episode, another emotionally-charged offering is 'I Will Remember You' - an episode voted by fans as the best in the entire five-year run of Angel. The character is made human, and is given a perfect day with his ex-girlfriend, Buffy. Their blissful contentment is short-lived, culminating in the final minutes of the episode seeing their happiness unravelling. This truly broke my heart. Their forbidden love has yet to be paralleled by anything I have seen on or off-screen, and the final scene between Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz is utterly devastating.
More generally speaking though, Charisma Carpenter, who plays Cordelia, is the breakout star. Her sharp tongue and deadpan delivery of her character's one-liners are hilarious. The character, is beginning to mature from her Buffy days, but is still as forward and honest as ever. She provides an injection of humour to the show, and without her, I believe the dark storylines would be simply too intoxicating and make for depressing viewing. Episodes such as 'Rm w/a Vu', show her character buying her first apartment - only to find it is haunted. The mixture of horror and comedy make this episode television at its best, and is packed with so many great quips from Cordy. Her unfailing resistance to give up her home spawns hilarious comments such as the dismissive: "meh... little Old Lady ghost, probably hanging around 'cause she thinks she left the iron on."
The problem with this series though is that there is no real continuous story arc, unlike in future seasons. Obviously, this was understandable as a series of stand-alone episodes gave the writers far greater freedom to explore a diverse range of storylines and to establish viewers who weren't put off by the commitment of watching every week. However, on DVD, where there isn't the pressure of maintaining high ratings, you can't help but crave the presence of a long-running adversary or problem. Perhaps it's just me, but in other television shows in the genre, I know that if a character comes up against a serious adversary they are in genuine jeopardy, but when I'm consciously aware that they are facing a "monster-of-the-week", any sense of peril is removed.
In terms of special effects, they are satisfying. Angel didn't have an enormous budget, like 24 or LOST, but there are plenty of elaborate fight scenes and the occasional explosion. However, the make-up is second to none. The prosthetics and costumes for some of the demons is genuinely terrifying, and there is seldom a moment when you see a villain who doesn't look completely convincing in their costume. This helps play on the horror aspect of the show, and is in many respects, is far superior than that of the make-up I've seen on Buffy.
The extras are not too abundant on this set, most likely due to the fact it was produced when DVDs were still relatively new and there wasn't as huge of an expectation to load each disc with hours and hours of new material. However, there are a handful of featurettes complete with cast and crew contributions, providing a great insight into the characters and how the show is produced. There are also a couple of audio commentaries on key episodes which are fascinating to listen to, with writers talking about their original ideas for the episodes in question and providing intelligent and witty comments about the end product.
At just £14.99 on Amazon, this boxset is a real steal given that you get 22 episodes of glorious television. Obviously, since this is the first season of Angel, you also have the advantage of not having to worry about not understanding past storylines. As a lot of Buffy fans never got round to watching the show, this is the perfect opportunity for them to venture into new territory. Although you don't at all have to have seen any of Joss Whedon's TV shows before to appreciate Angel - it has it all - comedy, drama, action, horror. It's got such cross genre appeal; I find it hard to believe that many wouldn't enjoy it. While this season doesn't showcase Angel at its best, it's an incredibly solid start, and really stands out like a jewel in the dirt, when it comes to comparing it to other programmes in the genre.
If you're interested in the future seasons of Angel, then feel free to browse my other reviews, as I have now reviewed all five DVD boxsets.
Summary: A great buy for those who haven't seen the show before, and want to start from the beginning.
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