Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Scribble Creatures Spotlight: Angel

It was Buffy the Vampire Slayer's 19th birthday the other day. To celebrate, our Spotlight series continues as we look at that show's often underappreciated spin-off...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke the mold of genre television over its seven-year run, proving that dealing with sci-fi and fantasy didn't mean a show had to exclude proper human drama and intelligent themes as well. The series' spin-off, Angel, which debuted after perhaps Buffy's greatest year (season three) had its work cut out in escaping its sister show's shadow. If you have been put of by this or perhaps by its lead character, you should really reconsider. Though merely the romantic interest on Buffy, Angel hugely grows as a character once heading his own series, going from a proto-Edward Cullen to a fully-fledged hero on the road to redemption.

Angel begins as a supernatural noir series, casting Angel as a figure somewhere between Batman (he loves standing on rooftops) and Phillip Marlowe (he's a troubled detective). Despite the gloomier colour pallette and more sombre tone, the show certainly doesn't jettison the wit of Buffy and frequently pokes fun at its brooding hero as much as it plays him straight. At first, Angel's detective agency - Angel Investigations: they help the helpless! - is much more intimate than the Scooby gang, only consisting of charming rogue half-demon Doyle and former Sunnydale cheerleader Cordelia. She, in particular, is hugely fleshed-out over the course of the first series and those thereafter, growing from the self-obsessed teen found on the parent series into a powerful and caring woman.

Over the seasons, however, Angel Investigations swells to form a team that rival's Buffy's Scooby Gang in camaraderie and chemistry. There is street-wise Gunn, science geek Fred and flamboyant demon Lorne but my favourite probably has to be Wesley, who undergoes an astonishing character development across the series, similar to both Angel and Cordelia but to a more extreme state. Appearing as an insufferable source of comic relief in Buffy season three, he initially plays the same function here before quickly being fleshed out as an invaluable member of the team. Yet due to various tragic occurences (ssh, spoilers) by season five he is a battle-harded anti-hero. It's the exact opposite of where the character started but thanks to some great writing and an even better performance from Alexis Denisof, Wesley's progression is entirely believable.

Speaking of which, while the show grows organically over the seasons, heads and shoulders above the others is season five. It is simply one of the greatest revamps of a TV show ever, as the show's core premise is flipped. Instead of Team Angel fighting against Wolfram and Hart, they take over the establishment, hoping to change it for the better from the inside. This season also sees fan-favourite Spike crossover from Buffy, making for a great rivalry between him and Angel. By this time, Joss Whedon's other two shows - Buffy and Firefly - had been cancelled so he was able to fully commit to Angel. That, harder work from everyone else on his team, and perhaps the virtue of it being the last season conspire to create something special.

Far from Buffy-lite, Angel manages to largely carve out its own identity and arguably sports more mature central themes. While Buffy is about the drama of teenage life mixed up with the fight between good and evil, Angel is concerned with the light and dark in everyone and how the clash between these two sides is a perennial fight which never ends.

It also has one of my personal favourite TV theme tunes. Love that cello!

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