Category: Action/Adventure

I’m not going to lie. This review is probably going to be a little short and a little hazy. This was the post that I was working on Friday when the power went out, and it’s been three days since I’ve watched any Angel, and I’ve seen one episode of a TV show I’m going to be reviewing (True Blood), a movie (you’ll see later), read a whole book (Catching Fire), and read a quarter of another (Mockingjay) since then. Obviously, there’s a lot of shit bouncing around in my head right now, and some things are going to get lost in the mix-up. I should have followed my gut-instincts about just writing the reviews in Microsoft Word and then copy & pasting them on to here, but I didn’t expect the electricity to be out the entire weekend. It was a bad gamble on my part. And now there are just a million stories, thoughts, critiques, and non-sequiturs just floating around my skull. We’ll see if I can’t get anything meaningful out of it. I tried to play the PSX Resident Evil today (and yesterday. I own a lot of PS 1 games on my PS3), and I discovered it to be nearly non-playable. If Chris Redfield is supposed to be an elite special forces soldier, why does he control like he took all of the world’s barbiturates at once? I don’t know what that has to do with Angel, but like I said, non-sequiturs.

This disc was very Darla-centric (except for the last episode and even then her presence weighed heavily on the proceedings). We finally discover what the plan with Wolfram & Hart concerning Darla and Angel ultimately was (I think because Holland Manners sort of implies later on that their plans are a little bigger than that). When they brought Darla back, she was brought back as a human. She’s no longer a vampire, and now she has a soul. Although you’d think that would mean she’d suddenly begin to feel guilty about the atrocities she committed as a vampire, it takes a while for any of that to set in, and initially, she’s still evil. Wolfram & Hart’s plan is to use Darla to give Angel “true happiness” and thus make him Angelus and use him as a force of darkness instead of a soldier for the Powers that Be. When Angel first sees Darla outside of his dreams, she pretends to be someone else to make Angel (and Cordy and Wesley) think he’s going insane. She even sets a trap to frame Angel for murder and further destroy his relationship with Kate Lockley (who finally returns to the series’ fold). However, by the end of the first episode, Darla is showing some stirrings of remorse and it’s clear that her conscience is returning. In the second episode, Angel takes a backseat (though still has plenty of screen time) as Wesley pretends to be Angel (to save Cordelia’s life) and agrees (at gunpoint) to protect the daughter of a wealthy magician/businessman. Meanwhile, Angel tries to get advice from a swami after he is unable to stop obsessing over the return of Darla and how to help her now that she has a soul (if she’s willing to be helped).

The third episode, entitled “Darla,” was the best episode of Angel yet (more on that later) and finally provided some much needed backstory for Angel’s sire (and I’m sure there’s more to come). Darla is beginning to snap under the weight of the guilt for the probably hundreds of murders she committed when she was a vampire. With the help of Lindsay (who continues to show signs that despite choosing Wolfram & Hart over the path of good, he’s not completely evil), she escapes Wolfram & Hart’s clutches and hooks back up with Angel. While Angel tries to help her come to terms with what she’s done over the years (and that the only way to deal with it is to accept what you’ve done and try to atone for your past sins), we get a series of flashbacks that chronicles Darla’s life before being turned (she was a prostitute dying of some terrible disease in the 1600s when she was turned by the Master), her early years gallivanting with Angel, Spike, and Dru, and her sense of betrayal when Angel was finally re-ensouled. However, by the end of the episode, Darla doesn’t choose redemption. She wants an easier path. She wants Angel to turn her back into a vampire which he refuses and she runs away. In the final episode, Angel’s obsession with what’s happened with Darla is stopping Angel Investigations from doing any business so Cordy and Wesley help Angel get what they think is an easy case: stopping a group of demons from robbing a mystic shroud from a museum. However, the mystic shroud is indeed mystic and its power drives anyone who comes near it crazy. When Kate gets on the case and thinks Angel is finally a criminal, she nearly gets what she wants when a crazy Angel (though he was actually faking it to save her life) feeds on her.

Like I said, I’ll try to keep this short because it’s been so long since I’ve really watched this. “Dear Boy” was probably the weakest episode of the disc but at a solid “B+” that’s okay. Julie Benz has been fantastic this season as Darla. Honestly, I might have said this in my last Angel review but I don’t remember so I’ll (possibly) say it again. She is infinitely more interesting and dynamic as the morally complex and dark Darla than she ever was as the very bland Rita onDexter. Having Trinity kill her off remains one of the ballsiest things that show ever did. I still haven’t really warmed up to Gunn on this show yet. He needs more backstory or something. “Guise Will Be Guise” was great because it was the episode where Wesley officially stopped being a putz (or at least a total putz) and became more of a bad-ass. Wesley has probably become my favorite character on the show so far. Which is so weird. Alexis Denisof has just really made the role his own and the writing of the character has become exceptionally sharp. Had it now been for the power outage, I probably could have written a whole paragraph about “Darla” but I’ll do my best. It was Tim Minear’s first directed episode, and it was a grand slam home run. The way that we saw both Angel and Darla (Angel in flashbacks) struggling with what it means to have a soul and ultimately taking different paths at the end of the day was very compelling. Also, we learned that Angel wasn’t instantly a paragon of good after getting his soul and in fact fed on humans to try and re-earn the trust of Darla for a bit after he got his soul back. “The Shroud of Rahmon” was myth-arc lite but it was cool to A) see a play on the heist film and also B ), you saw another of the many, many teases this season that Angelus could be returning any minute now. I would love to see that happen because David Boreanaz is always at his A-game when he’s playing Angelus.

Like I promised, this will be short (if you call 1300 words short). I still have three other posts to put up, and I’d like my movie review to be fairly in-depth because I think it’s going to shock people that I think so highly of the film. I want to save my energy for it so to speak. Anyways, after a rock start to this season of Angel, I actually thought the show really picked things up in this disc by providing the best episode of the series so far (even managing to edge out the excellent “I Will Remember You”) and two other great episodes (and one good ep). I’m really curious where this whole Darla story is going, and I’m wondering if Joss Whedon is just teasing us with all of these flashes of Angelus. He’d better not because that would be an abuse of his foreshadowing privileges otherwise. Next disc will finish us up with the home half of season 2 of Angel, and I’m feeling really good about where this season is going.

Final Score: A-

Well, after the misstep with the third season of Mad Men (where I only reviewed the entire season rather than each individual disc of the series), we’re back in Los Angeles for the second season of Angel. That’s my current TV on DVD set-up for the blog. I’m going back and forth between Angel and Mad Men (as a regular recurring break in between my movie reviews as well as the current season of True Blood). It feels like ages since I finished the last season of Angel though I know it’s only been about three weeks. I really enjoyed the first season. While it was certainly better than the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still didn’t feel like I was more invested in Angel by the end of that season than I was in Buffy. It’s probably an unfair comparison to make because I had seven season of Buffy to fall in love with the Scooby gang. Wesley has only been around half a season by the end of season 1 and Gunn was there for four episodes. So, what I’m hoping happens this season is that I form a deeper emotional connection to these characters. That’s the primary benefit of TV (as I’ve harped on again and again on here). I finished the first disc last night before I went to bed (my current nighttime reading material is the newest Dark Tower book, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Expect a review soon), and while I wasn’t wowed by any of the individual stories on display, there is definitely a sense that the show is in complete control of what sort of program it wants to be and how these particular characters fit together.

I should have mentioned this in my review of Salvador but now is as good a time as any to bring it up. Long time readers may have noticed a subtle change to the format of this blog. The pictures in the post are bigger instead of being smaller versions of larger photos. I just didn’t like how small and unclear the pictures looked (unless you clicked on them to make them bigger). I think this set-up may be more engaging to the eyes. Feel free to let me know how you feel about the change. Anyways back to Angel. In the first episode, the gang has had to relocate their offices temporarily to Cordelia’s (and Dennis the ghost’s) apartment. After failing to stop Wolfram & Hart from resurrecting Darla (though Angel still doesn’t know Darla’s what was resurrected), Angel has gone on a crusade to stop all of the evil in L.A. that he can. However, when one of Cordelia’s visions sends him to confront a demon, he kills the demon only to discover that it was good like him and protecting a pregnant woman (whose unborn daughter will grow up to be an important soldier in the fight against the darkness). Angel then has to take up the mantle of her new protector until she can find sanctuary. During all four of these episodes, Angel is having very sexual dreams about Darla and we discover in the fourth episode that Darla is using some special magical herb to control Angel in his sleep (at the orders of Lindsay from Wolfram & Hart). In the second episode, Angel Investigations investigates a 1950s hotel with a history of murder and the supernatural (and a connection to Angel’s past). When they finally defeat the demon that has haunted the hotel for 50 years, Angel decides to make the Hyperion Hotel the new headquarters for Angel Investigations.

In the third episode, Cordelia’s visions are again unclear enough to ultimately cause problems for everyone. She has a vision of Gunn fighting for his life. Because Angel is under the dream influence of Darla and Wesley is simply AWOL, Cordelia goes to investigate on her own and accidentally attacks (but doesn’t really injure) one of Gunn’s men who he was sparring with. However, Cordy knows that she was sent to Gunn for a reason and vows to stay with him until whatever threat to his life appears. As they search together for Angel’s stolen car (which was taken when Cordy went to save Gunn), we get a deeper look into why Gunn does what he does as well as his own death-seeking heroism. When they vanquish a demon that Gunn had been hunting at the episode’s end (with the intervention of Angel and Wesley), Cordelia reveals to Gunn that the demon wasn’t his threat. He’s his own worst enemy and he has to learn to control his temper and his desire to be exposed to danger if he wants to stay alive. In the final episode, we meet a young psychic named Bethany who (unbeknownst to her) has been targeted by Wolfram & Hart as a potential psychic assassin. One of Cordy’s visions send Angel to rescue her but her uncontrolled psychic powers make her kill the would-be rapists (actually sent by Wolfram & Hart to test what would happen to Bethany under stress). As Angel tries to help her control her powers and come to deal with the personal demons (the metaphorical variety) that caused her powers to manifest, he has to deal with the scheming of Wolfram & Hart as well as the continuing thrall that Darla has placed him under.

In all of that recapping, I forgot to mention my potentially new favorite character on the show. He’s some type of benevolent demon known as the Host (also known as Lorne) that runs a karaoke bar because if people sing in public, it allows him to see into their future (at will unlike Cordelia’s uncontrollable visions). He is fairly flamboyantly gay and absolutely fabulous. He adds some much needed levity to the program (and has provided some of the season’s most memorable moments so far but more on that shortly). Joss Whedon works so well (compared to other popcorn supernatural programs) because of the pop literacy of his writing (and his team’s writing) as well as that of his characters. Cordelia had been the only one providing that sort of awareness because Angel is nearly completely pop culture illiterate and Wesley has more of a British leaning (obviously). Lorne brings some of that pop culture joie de vivre to the proceedings and I just think his character is a fun new addition to the cast. He’s far more interesting right now than Gunn. Side note on Gunn, no one on this cast knows how to write an African American character (not that they have to be written a specific way but what I’m saying will make sense in a second). They try really hard to make him sound “black” and “street” and wow do they not do it well. It seems pretty forced and artificial when he talks, and that’s almost never the case for the dialogue on a Joss Whedon project.

As for the individual episodes, they were consistently good even if none of them (except for perhaps the last one, of course directed by Joss Whedon himself) were actually great. The season premiere, “Judgment,” was good in the way that we saw a moment where Angel wasn’t doing good for good’s sake but because he was angry. He was “keeping score” and it cost him when he didn’t think before acting. Also, it sort of grounds us in the fact that it’s going to be a long time before the Shanshu prophecy (where Angel’s good deeds will eventually make him human) can ever come true. The second episode, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been,” is a fan favorite (although I’m not sure why). The parallels with the McCarthy hearing were pretty cool, and the moment where an ensouled Angel leaves a group of humans to be murdered and tortured by the demon controlling the hotel (in the 1950s after they tried to lynch him for a murder) was really interesting. I just don’t think the rest of the episode held up that well. “First  Impressions” gave us plenty of Cordelia. She’s become far more serious and likeable of a character this season (though still occasionally having the more traditional “Cordelia” moments) and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow. Unlike with Spike, watching her become more sympathetic hasn’t robber her character of any of its strength. Same with Wesley. He’s now fare more of an interesting character now that he isn’t an incompetent twat. However, that episode also gave us a lot of Gunn and so far he isn’t clicking with me. The final episode “Untouched” was the best.Angel is all about redemption and coming to terms with our dark sides, and that episode added a layer of dark sexuality to the whole proceedings. Also, I’m really interested to try to figure out what Wolfram & Hart’s whole plan with Darla is. They’ve been teasing that out very slowly and I’m ready for some more information.

Well, I still need to review last night’s episode of True Blood (this season has been fairly uneventful but at least it hasn’t been outright bad like last season) so I’ll draw this to a close. After a semi-disappointing third season of Mad Men, I’m really hoping that this season of Angel can still deliver the goods that last season sent my way. Otherwise, I’ll be in for a slump of TV. The season’s not off to an amazing start, but it’s been good, and I can see how the season is laying the pieces for things to get better. Once again, I’d love some feedback about using these larger pictures instead of the smaller 300 X 200 pics that I was using before. Feel free to check out my Anchorman review to see an example of the posts with smaller pics. It’s a change. Angel was a bad post to use an example of for these because there are very few decent quality pictures of this show on the internet for whatever reason (I had a similar problem with Buffy).

Final Score: B+

Well, after some pondering, I have decided to actually attempt to review this season of True Blood. Much like the second season of The Walking Dead, the fourth season of True Blood was a bit of a disaster (though it had none of the glorious highs of season 2 of TWD to make up for its low moments). The main villain, Marnie (The Butcher Boy‘s Fiona Shaw), was the worst in series history and the show abandoned much of the humor and fun that had made True Blood such a guilty pleasure delight the previous three seasons and instead decided to focus on a love triangle that while interesting the source material books, threatened to derail the entire program into a more generic and bland soap opera. Similarly, the show accumulated show many competing storylines that it became impossible for the show to devote any real time to any of them, and at the end of the day, none of them were particularly interesting except for those involving Sam and Jessica. I was ready to give up on the series until the finale which seemingly (though apparently not god damnit) killed off my least favorite character (Rutina Wesley’s Tara) and resurrected my favorite character, Russell Edginton. It’s to be seen if the latter is true but sadly the former isn’t though the season premiere of True Blood managed to be enjoyable nonetheless as the show managed to recapture a little bit of the humor I love so much.

I had honestly forgotten nearly everything that happened last season (mostly as an attempt to repress the memories of how awful the show had become) except for Debbie Pelt shooting Tara in the head and Lafayette murdering Jesus when he was possessed by Marnie. So, I had forgotten many of the cliffhangers of the season including Sam being surrounded by a pack of werewolves (after killing their old packmaster with Alcide in order to protect Luna and her daughter), a vampiric Steve Noonan showing up at Jason Stackhouse’s home, as well as Terry Bellefleur’s old army buddy showing up in Bon Temps and stirring up shit. I also forgot that Eric and Bill had killed Nan Flanagan and would now be wanted by the Authority. That’s how bad last season was. I literally did my damnedest to forget it had happened. Still, tonight tried its hardest to make these stories compelling and it mostly succeeded. Immediately after killing Nan Flanagan, Eric and Bill are captured by the Authority. Though they manage to escape the Authority’s clutches with the help of Eric’s “sister” (who was also made by Godric. He calls her sister but they fuck. It’s weird and apparently True Blood is embracing the Game of Thrones incest thing), they are captured shortly thereafter as they’re trying to flee the country under assumed aliases (and all of the vampires around them are given explosive renditions of the true death). In Sookie-ville (traditionally the least exciting place in True Blood), she and Lafayette enlist the help of Pam to turn Tara into a vampire rather than let her die (despite Tara’s complete hatred of vampires). Pam agrees to “make” Tara in return for Sookie patching up her relations with Eric as well as another, unnamed favor in the future. Sookie lies to Alcide about killing Debbie (well, she’s stopped by Lafayette before she can admit to it), and the episode ends with Tara being resurrected as a vampire.

Maybe part of the reason why this episode was able to succeed was that it didn’t try to tell a million stories at once. There were only a handful of other stories and they were mostly compelling (Andy Bellefleur and Holly’s budding romance being the less interesting exception). Steve Noon showed up at Jason’s house and confessed his love to Jason cause apparently he was a closeted homosexual when he was a person. He professes his love for Jason but when Jason rejects him, it takes Jessica’s intervention to save him but those two don’t wind up a couple again. In a moment of surprising maturity from Jason, he actually turns down guaranteed sex with a young co-ed because he knows it wouldn’t mean anything. Sam agrees to be taken in by Alcide’s old pack in order to take the blame for killing the packmaster. He’s nearly killed by the new pack before Alcide shows up to take responsibility for what happened (Sam was covering for him as payment for helping Sam out in protecting Sam’s brother). By pack laws, Alcide killing the old packmaster means he’s the de facto new packmaster, but there’s obviously some dissension in the ranks, most clearly from Marcus’ mother (Winter’s Bone‘s Dale Dickey). Terry Bellefleur’s friend from Iraq brings news that the houses of several people in his platoon from Iraq have caught on fire and there’s some vague illusions to some dangerous incident from Iraq that Terry doesn’t want to talk about (and would explain his PTSD). We finally see a violent side of the otherwise loveable Terry which means whatever he’s blocking about Iraq must be pretty awful.

Like I said last paragraph, part of how this episode succeeded was that it scaled back the storytelling to a more manageable level. There were around ten independent storylines last season, and honestly, only two of them were compelling because none of them had a chance to develop and mature into something. Let’s not even start about how all of these poorly written romantic subplots threatened to derail all of the great characters on the show like Eric and Bill (and even Lafayette seemed depressingly domesticized). Several of the characters who were forming all of their own different stories last time around seem to be hanging out together (i.e. Bill and Eric, or Sookie, Lafayette, Tara, and Pam). True Blood just became far too unfocused last time around, and if this episode is a sign that the show is narrowing its focus again, that’s for the best. True Blood has always been a show I’ve wanted to love, and in seasons 2 and 3, I honestly did. However, it doesn’t know when to draw things back, and these seasons have really upped the ridiculous quality (I’d still like to pretend Sookie isn’t a fucking fairy). I’d like to see the show return to its roots a little bit. Another thing this episode did well was allow for some great, little humorous moments. They mostly involved Pam, and if her joke about wearing a Wal-Mart shirt and being a team player wasn’t one of her comedic highlights of the whole series, I don’t know what is.

I want to write a little bit more about this episode but I’m still buzzed as hell on allergy medicine like I’ve been all day. It’s a miracle that I’ve been able to get any writing done today. Plus, it’s nearly 2:30 in the morning and I want to do a little bit of reading and go to bed. I’m almost finished with Thomas Pynchon’s V., and I’d kind of like to finish it tonight. I don’t know if that will actually happen, but I’m going to try. So, despite my better judgment, I’m going to give True Blood another try and see how this whole season works out. I actually up to like the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery novels, so I think I know about some of the potential storylines, but honestly, True Blood has parted so significantly with the books that I wouldn’t be shocked if zero things from the books ever happened again. Also, I read those like three or four years ago so my memory is spotty at best. I just have two requests for this season. Plenty of Sam and Jessica (and maybe Alcide). They’re the best characters on the show and the only ones who have remained consistently compelling.

Final Score: B

And the first season of Angel is finished. I actually finished it last night (well more like 3 AM today but whatever), and I’m not going to lie. Considering the season’s twist ending (and the serious shift towards serialized, myth-arc heavy storytelling in the final disc), I almost don’t want to watch the third season of Mad Men and instead just jump into season 2 of Angel. I’m not going to do that because I hate screwing up my system fro my blog. It keeps my indecision and OCD in check (although my drive to do things by the standard I set for this blog are probably an extension of my OCD). However, damn! Those final two episodes of the season were among some of the most intense episodes of the series yet. So, kudos to Joss Whedon and crew (I feel like I never give enough credit to Tim Minear and David Greenwalt for these things) for bringing the strong first season of Angel to an excellent close. I still don’t like the series more than Buffy, but as I’ve said in past posts, there’s seven seasons of attachment to those characters. Angel still hasn’t earned that kind of goodwill yet even if it is off to a much better start than Buffy was at the same point in its career.

The first episode was relatively self-contained although it did introduce a new character who eventually becomes one of the main characters on the show. Angel runs afoul of a street gang that fights vampires despite being ordinary humans. Led by the headstrong Charles Gunn (J. August Richards), the group wages war against the L.A. vampire clans despite the never-ending stream of casualties they face. Though they initially think that Angel is a foe, he is able to convince them that they need his help after Gunn’s sister is captured by the vampires, turned into a vampire, and then Gunn is forced to dust her. In the second episode, Wolfram & Hart attorney Lindsay McDonald (Christian Kane) suffers a crisis of conscience when he learns that Wolfram & Hart plans to send a supernatural blind assassin to murder three children that pose a threat to the company. He enlists Angel’s help to stop the travesty from occurring, and when Angel breaks into Wolfram & Hart to find out the plans for when and where to murder the children, he stumbles upon the Prophecies of Aberjian (but more on that next episode) which he also steals from the office because he was supernaturally drawn to them. However, despite helping Angel with this theft, Lindsay decides to stay with Wolfram & Hart when his ambition catches the eyes of Senior Partner Holland Manners (Lost‘s Sam Anderson) who offers him a promotion to Junior Partner. In the final episode, Wolfram & Hart is desperate to regain control of the prophecy (which Wesley has translated and by the end of the episode believes that they mean that if Angel fulfills an unspecific destiny he can regain his humanity). They send a demon after Angel who nearly kills Wesley with a bomb and mind rapes Cordelia by using her visions to make her experience all of human suffering at once. He even kills the Oracles. While Angel is able to defeat him and recover the Prophecies which Wolfram & Hart had stolen back (and cutting off one of Lindsay’s hands in the process), he isn’t able to stop Wolfram & Hart from performing part of the prophecy which involved raising the Beast. It turns out in a last minute twist in the finale that the raised Beast is in fact Darla (Julie Benz), aka Angel’s sire. Interesting.

“War Zone” had several pretty awesome fight scenes. Whether it was the big gang brawl between Gunn’s people and the vampires or Angel fighting off all of Gunn’s men by himself, the episode had a lot of great action moments. I liked the introduction of the David Nabitt character. He was supposed to be a recurring character (and he shows up again in the season finale) but for scheduling reasons that didn’t happen which is a shame because he added some nice comic relief. I’m not sure how I feel about the character of Gunn yet. He’s got the tragic backstory part down pat but other than that, he doesn’t feel especially well developed to me. However, he hasn’t joined Angel Investigations yet so he’ll have plenty of time to develop in the future. “Blind Date” was probably my favorite episode of the disc (and one of the best of the series so far) because it really took the darkness of Angel to a whole ‘nother level. Like, you thought it was going to be one of those redemption stories and that Lindsay McDonald was going to die atoning for his sins at Wolfram & Hart. Instead, he chooses the darkness over the light even when he’s given a clean way to escape from Wolfram & Hart. It was just a great twist for the ending. “To Shanshu in L.A.” was also great (not even counting the clever pop culture reference in the title if you get the final translation of Shanshu that Wesley gives Angel). There was a really interesting philosophical discussion between Wesley and Cordelia about what drives Angel and whether he could even be alive in a meaningful sense of the word since he is so cut off from the rest of the world. Also, what the main demon did to Cordelia by making her feel all of humanity’s suffering was one of the most messed up things to happen in the series yet. Also, obviously, anything that involves the return of Darla should make for compelling drama next season. Thankfully, Mad Men only has 13 episode seasons I won’t have to wait too long to find out what happens.

I can’t believe I’m going to be watching Mad Men for the first time in like a month today. It’s definitely going to be a serious change of pace from Angel (and a serious change of pacing). I’m definitely glad that Angel finally reached its turn in my (lengthy) queue of TV shows that I want to review for this blog. As far as first seasons go, this was a pretty strong opening statement, and unlike even the best seasons of Buffy (except for Season 5 which was pretty uniformly excellent), I never once felt like in this season of Angel that I was forcing myself to sit through mediocre or bad episodes so I could get to the better stuff. That was always my major complaint about both Buffy and Doctor Who (well until Steven Moffat took over the latter). It seems like the writing on Angel is just consistently excellent (though obviously some stories are better than others). Thankfully, the show that I’m watching in between seasons of Angel is arguably the best show on TV right now. Mad Men should definitely make the time between seasons of Angel much easier to handle. I’ll be back soon L.A.

Final Score: A-

When you live at home for the first time in a while (although it’s really just the first time since last summer) after spending an extended period of time off on your own, you find yourself in a state of mental schism. I’ve simultaneously found myself regressing to some pre-college safety nets (my dad buying me food, getting by without cell phone service, spending virtually my entire day watching sitcoms with my sister) while also rebelling against the reality of my situation. I’m desperate to be around people my own age, to be able to get drinks with friends, to be within walking distance (or public transportation) of places where people my age congregate. It’s a weird situation. Being home has robbed me of much of my motivation. It’s sad but true. I just can’t really get excited about doing anything. So, even though I finished watching this particular disc of Angel a couple of days ago, I’m only just now finding the motivation to sit down and review it. However, in semi-cool news, an article I wrote for work about the Top 10 Bands at Bonnaroo that You Might Not Have Heard Of (you can read it here) has received nearly 1700 up-votes on Stumbleupon. So, that always feels good. Anyways, this last disc of Angel has been the best yet with four truly excellent episodes and what I’m assuming is the beginning of an epic showdown between Angel Investigations and the evil lawyers at Wolfram & Hart.

In the first episode, a client intentionally lures Angel into a trap to force him to become a combatant in an underground demon fighting ring (think Bloodsport but way more cool). If Angel kills 21 opponents, he’ll be let free. However, Angel isn’t going to kill anyone if he doesn’t have to and he’s looking for any way that he can get out of this predicament without having to kill his fellow prisoners to pay his price for freedom. We are also introduced to Lilah, a lawyer at Wolfram & Hart who offers to buy Angel’s way out of the ring in exchange for his silence (which he obviously refuses). In the second episode, an actress whose career is on the downslide is saved by a crazy stalker by Angel (who didn’t know who he was saving). When it turns out that her stalker was hired by her agent to help save her flagging career, the actress decides to convince Angel to turn her into a vampire so she can be young forever. However, the drug she uses on Angel to cause him to be open to her proposal causes him to experience an artificial “pure happiness” and he transforms into Angelus until the drug wears off. The last two episodes are a two-parter where Faith (Eliza Dushku) arrives in Los Angeles after the events in Sunnydale where she woke up from her coma and tried to kill Buffy and then wound up switching bodies with her (and sleeping with Riley. Yikes!). After causing some mayhem in L.A., she’s recruited by Wolfram and Hart to kill Angel. After Angel and Faith have an epic fight, we learn that Faith really just wants Angel to kill her, and he tries to set her on the road to redemption. However, the arrival of Watchers from England hell bent on killing Faith and Wolfram & Hart’s recruitment of the LAPD in their quest to put Faith and Angel down proves to much and to finally atone for her sins, Faith turns herself into the LAPD. Also, Buffy returns to L.A. one last time where she and Angel have a big fight and end their relationship for good.

Besides introducing Lilah to the series, “The Ring” probably contributed the least to the overall myth arc of the series. It was certainly the most self-contained story in the show (even if it did re-establish the theme that Angel only kills when he absolutely has to and he knows that the person he’s fighting is impossible to redeem, i.e. species that are always innately evil) but that didn’t make it any less bad-ass. There was a serious focus on hand-to-hand combat, and the gladiator style battles were all pretty cool. I mean, yeah it was a very simple concept and it was more action-oriented than story but it’s okay to have stuff like that every now and then. Also, it was another moment (that continues so much this disc. just so much) where Wesley really started to grow on me. I still haven’t been able to get over just how much more I like him recently compared to how much I despised him on Buffy. “Eternity” was just fantastic though. Well, the second half was amazing. The first half was more a study on how Angel is unable to become emotionally close to people after A) losing Buffy and B ) after turning into Angelus. He can’t risk experiencing that kind of happiness. When Angel became Angelus that episode, I was instantly reminded by how excellent that Buffy became the second he became bad. David Boreanaz can be a little stereotypically brooding as Angel (though he’s much more interesting and three-dimensional on his own show), but when he’s Angel, he gives Spike a run for his money in the entertainingly evil department. So, you can’t say David Boreanaz is a bad actor. The problem is that Angel is just written a little flatly as a character sometimes.

The real stars of the disc though were of course the two-parters, “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” (which only partially had to do with the fact that Joss Whedon co-wrote the last episode). Faith is a pretty excellent character. She’s supposed to be the Buffy-verse’s version of the superhero gone bad (think the Red Hood or Superboy Prime). So, she operates in a different realm of moral and ethics than our more stalwart heroes of Angel and Buffy. Watching her descent to the dark side was one of the highlights of Season 3 of Buffy, and here we see here at her lowest. She only took the job with Wolfram & Hart because she wanted Angel to kill her and put her out of her misery. There were plenty of great moments in “Five by Five.” Whether it was the initial scenes between Faith and Angel, the flashbacks with Angel and Darla (where we finally see what he was doing the first years after he was turned), or Faith torturing Wesley, emotions were running high for the whole hour and it all felt very focused on well-established characters and took them in new and exciting directions. However, the final fight between Angel and Faith was simply epic and the scene where she finally breaks down to him in the rain was superbly acted by Dushku (who I don’t normally think is all that great of an actress). Angel (even more so than Buffy) is all about our quests for redemption and who better than Faith to explore that with. “Sanctuary” upped the emotional ante by finding Wesley torn by his loyalties to the Watchers and his loyalty to Angel as well as having the final series appearance of Buffy in a very emotional confrontation with Angel. As someone who just went through a break-up, it was all pretty rough to watch. While I understand the show’s decision to have Faith wind up in prison, I almost wish she had stuck around a while longer because I long for our little group at Angel Investigations to get a little larger. They need at least one more person for them to really feel like as dynamic a group as the Scoobies. I think Gunn shows up next episode though so that should fix that.

Well, I really need to finish Yentl. I think I started it like a week ago. I think I may finally break my rule about always finishing the movies I start for this blog (and to be fair, I’ve broken it once before when I started things out with Downfall but never finished it) and just leave Yentl behind for the next time that I refresh the order of my blog (which I do once a year when I add the new award-nominee films to the list) because I don’t want to start it all the way over but it’s been so long since I watched the first half, that my review would be pretty awful if I just started it again. I feel bad about it, but I think it’s the right way to handle it. However, this incident (as well as the one with Downfall which was seriously on the verge of being an “A+” film) has proven to me that I shouldn’t start any movies unless I plan to sit all the way through it. I don’t have the attention span, memory, or willpower to restart a lot of movies if I don’t watch it all at once. Anyways, one last thought on this season of Yentl. I’ve only got one disc left but the first season of Angel is light years better than the first season of Buffy. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Well, it looks like I’ll be starting Mad Men soon. Cool stuff.

I have a sneaking suspicion that when the fall comes around and I’ll have school work and a real job plus my commitments as a contributing writer to Baeble Music to take care of, this blog may suddenly disappear. Two jobs plus being a full-time student (and my firm knowledge that I can’t fuck my schooling up this time like I have the last two years) means I won’t have a lot of time to invest in my for fun writing. Since I’ll be doing writing at a professional level though, there are worse things that could happen to me. Still, knowing that this blog probably doesn’t have a lot of life left in it is a sad realization. I’ll keep it up and running til I absolutely decide that it’s days are over, but I’m going to miss the hundreds of hours I’ve put into this thing over the last year and a half (more like year and three months). So, let’s use this summer to get as much blogging out of the way as I can if it will be this blog’s last days. And without further ado, we jump into the beginning of the second half of the first season of Joss Whedon’s cult favorite,Angel. I wasn’t as crazy about this disc as I was the two preceding it (primarily because of the very self-contained nature of most of its stories), but even this show’s stand-alone adventures have more bite and wit than the serial stories from lesser programs.

With the exception of the disc’s final episode, the stories on this disc did little to contribute to the overall development of these characters or the myth arc of the series. In the first episode, Cordelia goes out on a date with a seemingly nice and well-to-do man (Ken Marino) and after a sexual evening together, Cordelia wakes up the next day to find herself looking like she’s eight months pregnant. Cordelia (and her circle of friends) have been impregnated with the spawn of a demon (the men were sexual surrogates) and if they come to term, it will kill them. In the second episode, Angel finds himself embroiled in a battle between the genders of an extradimensional race of demons. The men (in a process very similar to the genital mutilation common in some cultures) disfigure the external spines of the women in order to control their sexual desires as well as their minds. The female princess of the race, Jheira (Bai Ling), is on a quest to rescue the women of her species, but her actions have been putting human lives in danger. Now Angel must help Jheira protect her women while also finding a way to keep humanity out of the crossfire. In the third episode, Angel Investigations finds themselves pitted against a more Christian concept of a demon that has possessed a small boy and Angel and Wesley must perform the exorcism. Lastly, we get an episode exploring Angel’s life before he became a vampire (his human name was Liam apparently) with his troubled relationship with his father (as well as the first on-screen presentation of his murder of his family as Angelus) interspersed with new drama in his friendship with Kate when we discover that her father is actually a crooked cop (retired but still crooked) working as part of a demon drug-running scheme. When her father is murdered by vampires, I think it’s safe to say that Kate and Angel’s partnership is going to be forever shattered.

“Expecting” was cool in so far as that whole notion of getting pregnant after one “safe” sexual encounter is a very adult fear. Angel and Buffy have always excelled at translating the growing pains of being a teenager, young adult, grown-up into engaging supernatural foes and a demonic pregnancy works great in the established canon of Whedon metaphors. Also, Alexis Denisof had some great moments of physical humor in the episode (but more on that in “She”). We got to see Dennis again (the ghost living in Cordelia’s apartment) and the little touches of him trying to comfort her while she was freaking out about her pregnancy were well implemented. It’s good to know that Whedon takes canon seriously (not that I didn’t already know that because of Buffy). “She” was the weakest episode on the disc (and one of the weaker episodes of the series) but what can you expect when Bai Ling is in an episode of your show. She’s very responsible for one of the worst episodes in the history of Lost. You’d be crazy not to think her presence on Angel would have a similar effect. I just thought the whole story was a little silly. I think it’s cool what message the show was trying to send about female genital mutilation, but they should have wrapped it in a better story and cast an actual actress, not the sad sham that is Bai Ling. However, the scenes at Cordelia’s party where Angel and Wesley are dancing are without question some of the funniest moments of the show yet. It was just a comedy gold mine. I don’t really like Wesley yet. He’s still a huge tool, but Alexis Denisof is quickly becoming the show’s comedy touchstone. And he’s excelling at the humor.

I actually thought “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was going to be pretty awful at the beginning but it turned into one of the more legitimately frightening episodes of the series yet. I still firmly believe that the original The Exorcist is the scariest horror film ever made, and the whole notion of exorcisms in general/demonic possession still freaks me out even though I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits or God or any of that nonsense (bet that sentence pissed some people off by referring to God as nonsense. Oh well.). So, the touch of having the little boy be so absolutely terrifying when the demon was called forth was freaky enough. The make-up work was really top notch. But the best part of the episode was the end when we discovered that he was more dangerous and evil as a boy than he was when the demon was in him. The scene where the actual boy tries to murder his little sister in her sleep was among the scariest and most tense things on either Buffy or Angel. This episode was my pick for the best of the disc. “The Prodigal” was pretty good as well because we learned how damaged and scarred Angel was before he even became a vampire which has a lot to do with why he was so particularly evil and psycho as Angelus. Also, Julie Benz was back and ever since the Trinity Killer murdered her on Dexter, I’ve been looking for a chance to watch Rita do something. I guess I’ll have to take Darla (cause I’ve read that she has a more important role on this show. Not sure how since she died in the first season of Buffy but I’m sure I’ll find out). Also, Elisabeth Rohm did a great job the whole episode, and we finally learned a little bit about why her dad was so shut off. It was a really good episode all around.

I’ll stop my ramblings for now (mainly because I need to work on a feature article I’m doing for work about Bonnaroo and also I have some movies at home that I’d like to watch). There’s only two discs of this season of Angel left and before I know it, I’ll be back to Mad Men all over again for a short (compared to the 22 episode seasons of Angel) stay in the offices of Sterling Cooper (though they were purchased in the season finale so I don’t know what to call them now). I’m definitely glad that I’ve been watching Angel so far. At this point, the series still isn’t at the same leve as Buffy although I think the writing has been consistently good at a better rate than Buffy. Angel just hasn’t gelled with me as a character-driven drama yet and I don’t feel nearly the same level of attachment with these characters as I did with the Scoobies (which is sad because these three characters now are all cast-offs of Buffy). I know that every show takes a while to find its center so I’m more than willing to give Angel the time it needs to develop into the cult classic it is now remembered being.

Final Score: B+

Two Joss Whedon related posts in a row? I’m perfectly okay with that (as long as people don’t think this is suddenly becoming the Joss Whedon fan blog [cause I’m sure there are a million of those out there]). I actually should probably be doing a review of Sunday’s excellent Game of Thrones before this Angel review but it’s literally gotten to the point where my Game of Thrones reviews are so in-depth and extensive that I have to work up the energy to get started on them. They can be that draining. I’ve got the season finale of Glee tonight which I’ll probably have to save the writing of this review mid-production to watch, but I’ll immediately be back to finish up this post and to also do my song of the day for today. I’ll give you a hint as to what it’s going to be. It’s a name of a gem stone and it comes off the latest album from a Baltimore dream pop band. It also sounds like Final Fantasy music. Anyways, though, I’m now officially halfway through the first season of Angel (and halfway closer to starting Season 3 of Mad Men), and I think it’s safe to say that this is the moment (along with the last two episodes of the last disc) where the series really began to find its voice. Opinion of Angel is pretty split among my friends where half of them think it’s leagues better than Buffy and half of them think it should never have been made in the first place, but if the show can keep up the type of dark and mature storytelling it’s achieved over the last five episodes, I’m ready to believe that I might fall in that first camp someday.

In true Joss Whedon fashion, just when you think you’re going to get a breather episode to make up for the emotional trauma that was Angel regaining his humanity and the chance to live happily ever after with Buffy but he ends up being forced to not only sacrifice his regained humanity to save Buffy’s life but also erase the memories of their happiness from her mind, Joss Whedon stabs you in the heart even harder the very next episode by having the first death of a series’ main character thus far. Seriously, if you ever watched Buffy or Serenity, you know that Whedon is almost  a sadist in this regard, and it’s “good” to know that Angel won’t be any different. Doyle gets a vision of a group of half-demon refugees who are being chased by a pure-blood demon supremacist group (that bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to demon Nazis). We finally learn the dirtiest secret of Doyle’s past (and the one that has caused him the most guilt over the years). When he was younger and first learned of his demon heritage, he was asked for help from a member of his species to try and escape the Scourge. He refused to put his neck out for anyone else, and an entire family of half-demons was brutally murdered by the Scourge and receiving the Visions became part of his penance for his cowardice. Finally telling Cordelia the truth about his heritage and kissing her (and transferring his visions to her), Doyle sacrifices his life to stop the Scourge from killing this group of refugees (and keeps Angel from making the sacrifice since Angel could do more good than Doyle ever could). When Cordelia gets the visions, they lead Angel Investigations into the path of a “rogue demon hunter” who turns out to be former Watcher Wesley (Alexis Denisof) who’s been tracking a demon that is trying to steal the power sources of demons across the country, and by the episode’s end, Wesley has found a place in the offices. The disc ends with one of Angel’s vampire progeny, Penn (The Avengers‘ Jeremy Renner), arriving in L.A. and committing a series of brutal and public murders aping Angel’s old M.O. from when he was still Angelus. Angel enlists the help of the LAPD and Kate to help stop Penn, and while they are able to finally stake Penn before he can commit any more murders, Kate also discovers that Angel is a vampire and about the atrocities he committed before he regained his soul and it appears that their friendship has been ruined before.

“Hero” is, along with “I Will Remember You” from last disc, one of the best episodes of the series so far. Doyle was only in Angel for nine episodes, but Glenn Quinn did such a great job inhabiting the role and the series’ writers did such an excellent job of slowly fleshing him out that losing him hurt nearly as much as losing any of the Scoobies (lord knows it carried more weight than the very sudden and almost anti-climactic death of Anya). Redemption is always a major theme in the works of Joss Whedon. Whether it’s Spike’s quest for penance in the final season of Buffy, Angel’s attempts to atone for his past as Angelus, Anya trying to make up for being a demon, or Andrew trying to make up for murdering Jonathon, all of the best Whedon heroes have something to atone for (except for Buffy for the most part). It’s a testament to the economy of the story telling on this show that you were able to get a meaningful redemption story out of Doyle in such a short period of time. It’s also pretty impressive that we got to learn so much about his character. By this point in Buffy, there hadn’t been half this many episodes devoted solely to supporting members of the team. It’s good to know that Angel really respects its status as an ensemble piece and it’s more interested in telling serialized, character-driven stories than the monster of the week stuff that started the show off. All three episodes of this disc contributed to the myth arc of the season in one way or another, and I think that’s incredibly important for any modern sci-fi/fantasy program that wants to be taken seriously.

“Parting Gifts” and “Somnambulist” were both pretty great in their own right (even if they didn’t quite reach the level of “Hero). Alexis Denisof as Wesley ranks right below Warren and Adam on my list of least favorite Buffy characters, and making him a major character on this program seems like a really odd choice since we already had the other really irritating cast-off from its parent program with Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia. Still, he seems to fill an archetypal urban fantasy role that was missing even when Doyle was on the show (which is to say the brainy guy). Pretty much everyone working at Angel Investigations right now is lacking in the social graces department. Angel is all dark and gloomy and brooding. Cordelia is self-involved and oblivious to comic levels. and Wesley is just about the most pretentious person in the history of this particular ‘verse. There’s a great comedic chemistry there that I wouldn’t have really expected because miscommunication has already become a recurring theme among this group of ragtag misfits. Also, I know that Wesley gets some pretty massive character development on this series (so does Cordy) so I’ll give him a chance. It was great to have Elisabeth Rohm back for another episode as Kate. Not only is she one of the most gorgeous women to ever grace either Buffy or Angel, she’s a complex and strong-willed character in her own right and now that the cat is out of the bag in regards to Angel’s vampirism, it should shake up the stable dynamic the show had been generating with her as Angel’s inside man in the LAPD. Also, there was just some great stuff in that episode about Angel’s quest for atonement and the guilt he still carries not only for everything he did as Angelus but also for all the things that Penn has done since Penn was his creation. The scene where Angel offers himself up to be staked by Kate to stop Penn is a great example of the sort of hero Angel has become and will continue to grow as in this series.

I’m dedicating this post to Glenn Quinn who died of an accidental drug overdose three years after his stint on the series ended. Not only did Doyle have to battle with his inner demons (both emotional and quite literal), Glenn Quinn had his own battles to face and sadly he succumbed to them. I still wish that he had been part of the series for longer than a scant 9 episodes, but I respect and recognize what path Joss Whedon wanted the series to take with this decision and the overall tone it would set for the series. I’m going to draw this review to a close because it’s 10:30 (I did end up taking that break for the season finale of Glee that I was predicting) and I still haven’t done my song of the day post. That obviously needs to get finished ASAP. I still need to review Sunday’s Game of Thrones plus tonight’s Glee finale. Anyways, I stand by my earlier statement that this is the disc of Angel where I think everyone finally realized what type of show they wanted to make, and at this point, you’re either on for the ride or you aren’t. I’m here for the long haul.

Final Score: A-

I’m returning to WV today after a four month (well three days shy of four months) stay in New York City as an editorial intern writing about independent music at Baeble Music. Although my internship is over and I’m going to be eight hours away from the office, I’m still going to be staying on as a contributing writer to the site (unpaid but it will be a great resume booster). So, there’s a reason why my blogging has slowed down a little bit again these last two weeks (besides how much I’ve gotten into Mass Effect 3), and it’s that I’m in the process of moving and taking care of all of the last minute things I need to do in order to be completely finished here in NYC. Although, I’ve still found the time to watch some TV (mostly Community so there should be another review of that here), and I finished up the second disc of Angel day before yesterday which means it’s time to jump back into the world of Joss Whedon yet again with a disc that contained the best episode of the series yet.

Angel hasn’t really done much in terms of a season-long story yet (though this disc did a lot to further develop our characters in the one-shot adventures and it also deepened the mythology of the franchise) and this disc consisted of four mostly stand-alone episodes. In the first episode, Cordelia decides to move out of her dingy, cockroach infested apartment, and with the help of Doyle, she finds the apartment of her dreams at a “too good to be true” price. It was too good to be true because the apartment is haunted by the vengeful (and homicidal) spirit of a woman who may been murdered in the apartment 50 years earlier. In the second episode, Angel helps Kate bust the leader of a powerful L.A. crime family. However, when the crime boss calls in the assistance of the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, a case of court-ordered sensitivity training for the LAPD takes a turn for the supernatural when all of the police (including Kate and even Angel) lose all control over their emotions. In the third episode, we learn a little more about Doyle who we discover is married (though estranged) when his wife shows up asking for a divorce. Although she’s human, she wants to marry another demon who invites Doyle to his bachelor party (in order to eat his brains as part of an ancient demon marriage ritual). Finally, in the most heartbreaking episode of the series yet (although I know what happens in my next episode which will be even more soul-crushing), Buffy comes to L.A. to confront Angel about protecting her in Sunnydale without letting her know he was in town. When a demon crashes their argument, some of its blood mixes with Angels and he becomes a human again. He and Buffy share an amazing day together but when he learns that his mortality will come at the eventual cost of Buffy’s life, he decides to beg the Powers that Be to return him to being a vampire. They acquiesce to his request but at the cost that Buffy will never remember the day they were able to spend together and it will be like it never happened.

Cordelia isn’t exactly the most likeable character in the Buffy/Angel-verse, and centering an entire episode around her is a tricky proposition at best (though there was an entire subplot about Doyle owing money to some demon loan sharks). Still, “Rm w/ a Vu” was a surprisingly great and dark episode (with its fair share of humor because it wouldn’t be a Joss Whedon program without dark comedy). I think this was the moment when we were finally supposed to start fully sympathizing with Cordy instead of equally liking and disliking her. She still has her more annoying traits but she went through so much hell in that episode (and matures so much over the next three episodes) that she’s finally someone you can root for as much as anyone else in the team. Also, the big twist at the end was a great reveal and I really hope that we “see” more of Phantom Dennis throughout the series. The episode also really upped the “noir” aspects of Angel with the Doyle loan shark subplot, and Glenn Quinn is just incredibly intense in the role. He has the comedy down but there’s always this seething darkness there and I hate he’s ultimately going to spend such a small amount of time on the show.”Sense and Sensitivity” was probably the least memorable episode of the disc (but still a solid “B+” in its own right), and we learned a little more about Kate and her daddy issues. The scenes with the uber-sensitive Angel were comedy gold, and David Boreanaz spends so much time in hardcore “brooding” mode that it’s easy to forget he can be a really funny guy.

“Bachelor Party” was really cool to me because along with the next episode, I felt like it did a really good job of contributing to the over-arching mythology of this particular universe. Prior to this, not counting Doyle, I can’t think of any demons from the Buffy or Angel episodes that weren’t inherently evil. These demons turned out to be bad (they wanted to eat Doyle’s brain), but they were also intelligent and well-acclimated into human society. Much like Doyle’s ethnodemonologist ex-wife, I find this kind of stuff really interesting (because I’ve gabbed and gabbed about in the past, I’m really into universe building). Also, Glenn Quinn does such a great job with Doyle that any chance to learn more about him and why he’s become the broken man he is makes for compelling TV. However, the best episode of the show yet (that I would include with a lot of the classics from Buffy just for the sheer tragedy aspect) was “I Will Remember You.” I mean, it’s pure Joss Whedon even though he didn’t write write it or direct it. He gives Angel and Buffy everything either has ever wanted and then he rips it right away from them in the most vicious way imaginable. That last scene where Buffy and Angel are holding each other one last time before existence is rewritten and Buffy forgets everything that happened is pure waterworks. I was crying like a baby. It was embarrassing. Yet, it shows everything that is making Angel such a more interesting and complete character on this show than he ever was on Buffy. As a complete character who is defined through his own struggles with his past and his inner darkness rather than being defined through Buffy, he’s really grown in interesting ways and I can’t wait to keep seeing him develop as the show progresses.

I want to keep writing more about Angel but there are some last minute things I want to do before my mom gets here to pick me up at around between 5:30 and 6:30. It’s so freaking weird that I’m going to be coming home tonight. I honestly just don’t want to think about it. I’m really excited for the opportunity to see my dad and sister again and my friends back home, but NYC is my home now. I’ve never been happier anywhere else than I was here. And I know that the plethora of interesting and available women that greeted me here in NYC will be non-existent in Morgantown. I’m either going to have to settle with being celibate for the rest of the time that I’m back home or seriously lower my standards in terms of things I want to have in common with girls I’d like to date. So, like I said, I just don’t want to think about things like that. For now, I’m just going to sit here and bask in the endless stream of wonderful memories I’ve accumulated over the last four months and how I’m going to use those memories to sustain myself when I’m back in the cultural wasteland that is Morgantown.

Final Score: A-

Joss Whedon’s cultural capital is at an all-time high. Thanks to the extraordinary success of The Avengers (which raked in over $200 million in domestic gross for its opening weekend smashing the record for highest opening weekend), a man whose cultural legacy was increasingly becoming associated with critically acclaimed but swiftly canceled TV series. His last bona-fide commercial success was Buffy the Vampire Slayer which ended in 2003. So, it’s a small miracle that my master plan to review Angel after I had finished Dexter and Doctor Who alongside Mad Men resulted in me beginning to watch a Joss Whedon program right when the man is on the tip of everyone’s tongue for the first time in years. I finished reviewing Buffy ages ago and Angel has been practically begging me to watch it since then. I’ve owned the entire series on DVD for years now. I just never got around to watching it, and my complicated scheduling process for how I interact with pop culture on this blog definitely complicated things even more. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the darker and more mature spin-off to Buffy. Angel is the Torchwood to Buffy’s Doctor Who.

Feeling that Buffy could never truly be happy or safe while he was in Sunnydale, vampire with a soul Angel (David Boreanaz) decides to move to Los Angeles to continue his quest for redemption by doing his small part to fight back against the forces of darkness eating away at the city’s soul. However, he’s completely shut himself away from contact with the rest of humanity as penance for his past crimes (consider that his stint as Angelus was only a year prior to the series though he spent a long time in the Hell dimension so that argument actually makes no sense in my mind anymore). One night, as he returns to his spacious living quarters, he is confronted by a half-human/half-demon Irishman named Doyle (Glenn Quinn). Doyle has been sent by “the Powers that Be” to help guide Angel back on the path towards the light as Doyle is “blessed” with visions of people in need. Angel desperately wants to be rid of the guilt of his past crimes and tentatively agrees to help Doyle, but when his first case leads him to a struggling actress under the cruel thumb of a local businessman/vampire that feeds off young girls, Angel (who runs into Cordelia [Charisma Carpenter], herself a failing actress, at a Hollywood party) knows his quest isn’t going to be simple. He’s unable to save the young girl, but he does stop the vampire when it threatens Cordelia. We learn about a mysterious law firm called Wolfram & Hart a fictional law firm dedicated to protecting the interests of vampires, demons, and other evil entities. Cordelia and Doyle officially join Angel in his quest for redemption as part of Angel Investigations, devoted to “helping the helpless”

That was just the first episode and my attempts to sum up the basic nature of the series. As to the rest of the three episodes on the disc, they were mostly more stand-alone in nature (though as I understand it, Angel eventually becomes more reliant on heavily serialized storytelling ala Lost). In the second episode, Doyle’s vision leads the gang to a nightclub where someone (unknown who) is in trouble. Angel meets a local policewoman, Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Rohm), who is investigating a series of murders of patrons of the club. It turns out a local demon is preying on people’s loneliness and need for intimacy to find a perfect host body. In the third episode, Oz (Seth Green) arrives in Sunnydale with a ring that makes a vampire immune to sunlight or even stakes, but Spike (James Marsters) is hot on his trail because he wants these powers for himself and is willing to do anything to get them. Angel and crew are eventually able to foil Spike’s plans, but Angel decides the ring is too dangerous (after enjoying one last day in the sun) for anyone to have and destroys it. Finally, Doyle has a vision of a woman who is being stalked by a neuroscientist she went on one date with who of course turns out to have supernatural powers. He is able to detach and reattach his body parts to spy on people around him. I swear it’s all much creepier than my description.

The only series I’ve been watching lately that I could tackle on an episode-by-episode basis was Doctor Who so it’s great to have something that I can look at piece by piece. “City Of” was a wonderful pilot that was just leagues better than the Buffy pilot. It introduced the darker aspects of the series through the death of the girl that Angel was trying to rescue, showing that the series will have less happy endings than Buffy did. It also introduced the contrasting theme between Buffy and Angel. Whereas Buffy was all about the metaphors for growing up, the characters in Angel (except for Cordelia) are already grown-ups so it’s about dealing with the trials and tribulations of adulthood and often failed dreams. It also shows Angel‘s reliance on film noir as the primary genre of storytelling as opposed to the horror films that Buffy often subverted. “Lonely Hearts” continued the theme of the troubles of adulthood with a very allegorical tale of the lengths we go to make connections with others and the heartbreaking realities of trying to make an emotionally intimate connection with another in a big city. It also had a sly commentary about sex, but mostly, it served to emphasize the mature themes of the series. “In the Dark” was the best episode of the disc because it had Spike, and James Marsters makes everything better. It was funny, it was shockingly brutal (the torture scenes were difficult to watch), and it paid tribute both to the series that birthed Angel but also how this show was going to be much, much darker. But just honestly, the chance to see James Marster go off on any of his darkly comic rants is always a treat. “I Fall to Pieces” was super creepy. It sounds like a stupid concept for an episode, but the actor playing the villain was very well done, and it was just a great statement on the way that men use fear and intimidation as a way to exert control over women. Have I mentioned how Joss Whedon is one of the greatest feminist storytellers of all time?

Is the show as good as Buffy yet? No, it’s not even close at this point. However, I watched something like (more like exactly like) seven seasons of Buffy. I knew Joss Whedon’s well-rounded cast of characters like the back of my hand by the time the series was over. The Scooby Gang, whether it was the original trio of Buffy, Willow, and Xander (plus Giles) or its ever-increasing and rotating cast of characters, became a group of people that I simply felt like I “knew.” It’s four episodes in and while I already know plenty about Angel and Cordelia (cause of their time on Buffy), Doyle doesn’t seem all that well-developed even if he does have plenty of personality. There hasn’t been as much emphasis on character growth for our heroes as there has been for individual adventures and that’s something I’d like to see the show change. If there’s one thing that Joss Whedon does spectacularly well, it’s character-driven fantasy storytelling and I know he can do this group of characters justice (especially since I already know that the group is only going to get larger). Also, the show hasn’t introduced any kind of big bad yet besides the oblique references to Wolfram & Hart. I just want to know what the end-game for the season or series could be although I guess that’s a weird thing to complain about since I’m only four episodes in to the show.

Even if I don’t feel like the show has quite figured out who it is yet, I’m still really excited to be watching it. I actually watched the first half or so of this first season a couple years ago but then I stopped because the person I was watching it with stopped coming over as often. So, I know that it won’t be very long at all before the show begins to hit its groove again. Joss Whedon is one of my favorite TV showrunners of all time. He might not have the raw artistic talent of David Simon or David Chase, but much like Steven Moffat, he’s pretty much the master of popcorn TV. Having checked out the directing and writing credits for this season though, Joss is only credited with writing/directing the pilot which has me a little concerned about how much direct involvement he had with this season of Angel. My least favorite seasons of Buffy were the ones where Joss was involved the least (except for seven where it was still mostly excellent even in his absence though the times he was around were obviously the best). Still, I’ll keep reviewing the show and we’ll see how things turn out in the end.

Final Score: B+


It’s time like these when I wish I had access to the Greybeards from Skyrim (yeah, I can make a post about Doctor Who nerdier than it already would be). I need their ability to use the Thu’un to shout across the land “It. Is. Done.” (I don’t know what that would sound like in the Dragontongue). After nearly a year, I have watched all 6 seasons of Doctor Who! And all of the various holiday specials! I finished Season 6 proper just yesterday, and all I had left was the 2011 Christmas special until I was finally completely up to date on the adventures of my favorite lone survivor of Gallifrey. Written by Steven Moffat (because I guess it’s an unwritten [or perhaps written. what the fuck do I know about the backstage processes of the BBC] rule that the showrunner writes the Christmas episode), 2011’s Christmas special continues the tradition set by “A Christmas Carol” in 2010 of making a very loose adaptation of a beloved children’s story, (this timeThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). While I may not have enjoyed “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” quite as much as “A Christmas Carol,” it was still leagues better than any of the Russell T. Davies specials, so I won’t complain.

Under unexplained circumstances (which I love that they put no effort into telling us why the hell what was happening was happening), the Doctor is jettisoned by an exploding spaceship and hurtles towards the Earth. He manages to latch onto a spacesuit and falls to the Earth. He somehow survives a maximum velocity plummet to Earth because (I’m not really sure why) but the spacesuit is healing him so that’s part of it. He’s helped by a middle-aged British woman (on the eve of World War II) named Madge. He tells her if he can ever repay the favor to just make a wish. Cue three years later and her husband, a pilot, is believed to be shot down over the English Channel. Madge can’t bring it upon herself to tell her children (because it’s Christmas and she doesn’t want to ruin Christmas for the rest of their lives) even after they’re eventually forced out of London during the blitz to stay with friends of the family. When they arrive at the estate though, the original caretaker is gone and he’s been replaced by none other than the Doctor (who Madge doesn’t recognize because when she first met him, his space helmet was on backwards). The Doctor’s fixed up the house (which means making it completely anachronistic to the setting with plenty of sci-fi doodads), but things go wrong when the son, Cyril, climbs through a hole in space and time that’s wrapped as a present that takes him to a forest where the trees are suddenly coming to life.

I enjoyed the episode. I thought there were wasted moments (mainly very shallow characterization for the children as compared to the rich emotion with Kazran last year), but it still shows just how wildly imaginative Steven Moffat. There are obvious allusions to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe throughout the episode (the Blitz, the Doctor as the professor, the freaking snowy forest, the Doctor calls his TARDIS a wardrobe, and even a lampost), but Steven Moffat manages to make it a completely different story and knowing C. S. Lewis, he wouldn’t have minded one bit. I loved the fact that the beginning of the episode was basically a giant take-that at the Christmas stories of the Davies years (which were all “Save the entire Earth from Aliens” affairs), and the scene at the end of the episode where the Doctor sees Amy and Rory finally to tell them that he wasn’t really dead (even though River already told them) definitely got me choked up. Matt Smith was fantastic, but when isn’t he?

I’m very excited. Now that I’m all caught up with both Doctor Who and Dexter (which I’m really wondering if I should even bother watching the latter when it comes back on since season 6 of Dexter was so god-awful) I can finally begin two new series to watch. One of them is definitely going to be Mad Men since I’ve already reviewed the first Season and I want to start watching it before I wind up 5 seasons behind on it as well. I’m leaning towards Angel as the second show to watch while I take breaks between seasons of Mad Men. I meant to start Angel as soon as I finished with Buffy last semester but I decided to wait so that I wouldn’t burn myself out on Joss Whedon, and enough time has definitely passed since I finished the epic series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So, perhaps its time to return to a world of Slayers, demons, and vampires with souls when I need a rest from the soulless denizens of Sterling Cooper.

Final Score: A-