Here’s the review of the first season of Angel, a few days before new season four episodes hit the air, featuring a very special guest star.
David Boreanaz as Angel
Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase
Glenn Quinn as Francis Doyle
Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndham-Pryce
Christian Kane as Lindsey McDonald
Stephanie Romanov as Lilah Morgan
Elisabeth Rohm as Kate Lockley
Angel: Season One originally aired in the 1999/2000 TV season.
Angel leaves Sunnydale to fight the good fight away from the temptation that is Buffy.
There’s a lot of great stuff in this season. Hero, War Zone, Blind Date, and To Shansu in LA are all excellent. I think the single greatest thing about this series is the character work, though. If you have the chance, watch one of the first appearances of Cordelia or Wesley on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then look at where they are in the first season of Angel, or the fourth season of Angel that’s running now. When you see the two back-to-back, the monumental character development is obvious, but in the show, it happens so gradually that the viewer almost doesn’t notice. That slow development is a result of great planning, subtle writing, and excellent acting. The amount of development in Wesley alone in this season is impressive.
Lonely Hearts, the second episode, had very weak special effects, an actor who was disorientingly used as a different character a few episodes later, and a plot that was very reminiscent of the first season X-Files episode “Genderbender,” which would have been a little less obvious if Christophe Beck hadn’t used a musical cue that Mark Snow often uses on X-Files. If I were rating episodes individually, I’d have given this one 3 out of 6 overall, and it’s the worst of the season. That’s good TV.
Is the show original? Apart from Blade, I can’t think of another vampire hunter who is also a vampire. It’s a paranormal detective show. It’s also a spin-off, which hurts it a little. Finally, I can’t think of another show that did what they did with Doyle that early, having planned it from before the day the role was cast. I give it 5 out of 6, since the execution kept it far removed from the few other shows it has a rudimentary association with.
The effects by the end of the season were good. Some of the early stuff, like the tentacle demon, looked pretty terrible. I give it 4 out of 6.
The story being told is a good one. The weekly episodes are entertaining, but they fit together beautifully. If they had a story about a villain who’d only be around once, they’d bring in some character work to make sure something gets shaken up. (The first mention of Wesley’s relationship with his father springs to mind here.) I’m very glad for DVD; I didn’t start watching this show until it was well into its second season, so this allows a great way to catch up that really emphasizes the changes. This is where Coredila (eventually) gets the visions, and where Wesley begins the long hard road he’s on. This predates the hotel, for example, so there’s still some questions I can’t wait to answer in the second season. I give it 6 out of 6.
The acting is starting to shape up. I always felt that Charisma Carpenter and David Boreanaz were the weakest members of the Buffy cast, but they are better here. Cordelia Chase is starting to grow into a character that Charisma Carpenter does a better job with, and Angel starts to get a little bit of depth for David Boreanaz to work with. Alexis Denisof does a great job from start to finish, making his character’s growth so natural that it’s hard to spot without comparing the new episodes to the old. Glenn Quinn was also highly entertaining. It’s unfortunate that he passed away a few months ago; he had excellent comic timing. I give the acting 4 out of 6, because David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter were still so weak at the outset.
The emotional response this produced was barely dulled by the fact that I know where these characters are later. I knew who was marked for death, who would drift into the group, and who the “mysterious strangers” were when they first appeared. Still, they strung me along. I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Hero, Five By Five, Sanctuary, War Zone, and To Shanshu in LA all had some very powerful moments. (I’m sure I missed some, too.) I give it 5 out of 6.
The production is one of the best aspects of this show. It’s very dark, very moody, and most importantly, very different from the show it spun off from right from the beginning. They didn’t have the learning curve that most shows have trying to find themselves. Rather, these people knew what they wanted and that’s where they started. The little touches add up too, such as the fantastic theme music (which I think is the greatest on television for it’s perfect marriage of the dark, angry, and tormented undercurrents that are always facing off against the livelier rock beat) and the flashes of various images when changing scenes. I give it 6 out of 6.
Overall, this was the first season in a spin-off that soon surpassed its predecessor. (In my opinion, Once More With Feeling was the only season six episode of Buffy that came close to the quality of the output Angel had that season.) They hit the ground running, and kept building momentum. I give it 5 out of 6.
In total, Angel: Season One receives 35 out of 42.