Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Foot: Best of ANGEL

Seven Business Days of Whedon continues with the top twelve ANGEL episodes. Talk about cutting to the chase.

ANGEL is my second favorite show of all-time, right behind LOST. ANGEL did not have a poor season besides the first season but Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt were unsure about the creative direction of the show for most of that season. They are quoted as saying they figured things out by "Hero," but I disagree.

Whedon wanted to give Boreanaz his own show after seeing the performance he gave in "I Only Have Eyes For You," a season two Buffy episode. He and David Greenwalt developed the series together and agreed they wanted ANGEL to be more adult than Buffy and more ambivalent. The demons weren't black and white evil in LA. Whedon wanted ANGEL to capture the post-college experience of young adults. What I like most about ANGEL are the prevailing themes in the show of atonement, forgiveness, redemption, doing good, etc. Angel's a character who never quits seeking atonement. The characters in ANGEL are united in their desire to help the helpless.

The characters are the strongest part of the show. The show was initially conceived as a film-noirish, detective show in which Angel, Cordelia and Doyle would solve a case each and every week but that concept didn't work well in the Buffyverse because fans were too attached to the characters. The show abandoned the detective cases for storytelling fans were familiar with on Buffy. Joss and Greenwalt realized they didn't need complex stories coming from out of the Angel offices though they thought the stories would come from the case; the stories could come out of the characters already established and the few new characters the show introduced.

Creatively, things took off for the show at the end of season one when they brought back Darla (Julie Benz). Season two is about Angel and Darla and then it becomes a story about Angel's path to the dark side, and his eventual journey back to the good side and into the good graces of his friends whom he hurt very deeply when he went solo because of his obsession with Darla. The show found itself an identity and every character had an identity. All of the essential characters entered into the story by season's end. Lorne (Andy Hallett) is introduced in the premiere, Fred (Amy Acker) is introduced during the Pylea arc and Gunn is introduced in season one's "War Zone." Once the writers had their world and characters established, the show absolutely took off. Seasons three and four demolish seasons six and seven of Buffy (both aired at the same time). While the quality of Buffy diminished, the quality of ANGEL just improved every single week. The show was so tightly constructed and plotted. Season four spans a period of just 2-3 weeks.

And season five, the show's last season, maybe the show's strongest season. TheWB wanted ANGEL to abandon the serialized style that dominated season four because they wanted new viewers to understand the story if they were interested in tuning in. The writers moved the characters into the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart which provided a wealth of story as shades of grey became the dominant theme of the season. How much good could the characters do in a place that isn't designed for good?

Whedon asked TheWB head, Jordan Levin, for an early renewal but Levin balked and swiftly cancelled the show. Of course, Levin lost his job very soon afterwards and the new boss said if Joss had waited a few more weeks, ANGEL would've gotten its sixth season.

It's truly a terrific series. I understand that Netflix added the entire series to instantly watch. While I recommend those with netflix take advantage of the opportunity to watch the whole series, I mostly recommend those with netflix to check out, at least, one of the fourteen episodes I rank.

Note: I forgot about season two's Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been? but I am now too frustrated with wordpress to switch everything around. Thank you. Good day.


14. Destiny (Written By David Fury & Steven S. DeKnight; Directed By Skip Schoolnik)

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The Shanshu prophecy returns in this episode, just in time for Spike to become a real boy. After seven episodes where he was incorporeal, Spike opens a piece of mail and becomes corporeal for the first time since he burned up in the hellmouth. The firm goes insane so Angel and Spike are told that two vampires with a soul upsets the balance. One will need to drink from the Cup of Perpetual Torment to restore order and determine the true champion as well as find out who will be Shanshued once the final battle has been fought. It's all a con set up by Lindsay, who returns for the first time since "Dead End." The episode has a near three act fight between Spike and Angel. It's fantastic.

13. Awakening (Written By David Fury & Steven S. DeKnight; Directed By James A. Contner)

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The episode is a jaw-dropper. I don't want to say too much should anyone venture to watch this season four episode. I sat with my jaw dropped after the episode ended. It's a brilliantly plotted episode and would've loved to be in the writer's room as they broke this one.

12. Spin The Bottle (Written&Directed By Joss Whedon)

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Sure this episode is a retread of Buffy's "Tabula Rasa" but the episode is so much fun. The characters revert to their teenage personas which means a return of classic bitchy Cordelia.

11. Damage (Written By Steven S. DeKnight & Drew Goddard; Directed By David Fury)

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In the series finale of Buffy, every potential slayer becomes a slayer thanks to Willow's magic. This episode is about one of those Slayers who was already severely damaged and it's an episode about being a victim. Angel would like to try to save Dana from herself but Andrew and the new slayers take her to England to be trained by the new Watchers council. Outstanding episode.

10. The Trial (Written By Douglas Petrie & Tim Minear; Directed By Bruce Seth Green)

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Darla was dying from a disease before the Master sired her 400 years ago. Naturally, in her second life, she is still dying and Angel wants to save her. This is sort of like Sysyphus and the rock in that Angel completes difficult trials only to be told that Darla's been given her second life. Of course, we'll later learn that the life he earned is his son's. Julie Benz is so good in this episode and she even sings. David Greenwalt wrote the story for this; also, this one of the first episodes of ANGEL that made me realize how good the show is. Yes.

9. Reprise (Written By Tim Minear; Directed By James Whitmore Jr.)

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A season two episode in which Angel is still after Darla, who is a vampire again by the way. Angel prevents a ritual from being performed at a Wolfram and Hart gig. Angel's plan is to go to the home office to finish off the law firm but the home office is just earth and this revelation sends Angel into despair. The elevator scene between Holland and Angel is among the series best as Holland points out the ugliness of humanity. Soon after, he goes to Darla and the two have sex. Meanwhile, Kate is fired, Wesley gets dumped and Cordy will find herself in some trouble.

8. A Hole In The World (Written & Directed By Joss Whedon)

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Winifred Burkle dies and Illyria is born. I love how the episode is shot as well as the love all of the male characters have for Fred as they try to save her life. There are so many good scenes and great bonding between Angel and Spike. One of Joss' best episodes.

7. Not Fade Away (Written by Jeffrey Bell & Joss Whedon; Directed By Jeffrey Bell)

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The final episode of ANGEL is satisfying. There are many callbacks. Connor and Angel are finally experiencing a good father/son relationship. Spike's poetry is actually cheered. Gunn goes back to his old neighborhood to help Anne. Wesley dies in the finale in one of the saddest scenes in all of the whedonverse thanks to Illyria becoming Fred as Wesley dies. And nothing tops the final moment: our gang fighting because the fight never stops.

6. Sleep Tight (Written By David Greenwalt; Directed By Terrence O'Hara)

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The saddest episode of ANGEL. Holtz kidnaps Connor and escapes into a hell dimension. Wesley betrays Angel and actually takes Connor's son first and then his throat is slit by Justine.

5. Lineage (Written By Drew Goddard; Directed By Jefferson Kibbee)

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Throughout the series, we've known that Wesley's relationship with his father wasn't good. In this, his father visits and he continually insults his own son. Later, Wolfram&Hart is attacked by cyborgs and that Wesley's father is seemingly behind it. Wesley takes the insults from his father throughout but shoots him without hesitation when he threatens Fred's life. His father is revealed to be a robot as well. The episode ends with Wesley calling his actual father and his dad is as cruel as ever. Any episode that focuses on Wesley is usually great because of how talented an actor Alexis Denisof is and the story in "Lineage" is very strong and very sad.

4. Smile Time (Written & Directed By Ben Edlund)

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Puppet Angel. It's the funniest episode of the series and an absolute delight to watch.

3. Epiphany (Written By Tim Minear; Directed By Thomas J. Wright)

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"Epiphany" has my all-time favorite ANGEL scene where Angel tells Kate that "if nothing we do matters then all that matters is what we do." Angel has an epiphany after a moment of perfect despair with Darla. He saves the day and begins the process of being forgiven by his friends. It's also the last Kate episode. Kate, by the way, was an awful, awful character.

2. Home (Written & Directed By Tim Minear)

"Home" had to accomplish a few things: move the characters into Wolfram & Hart, write out Cordelia and resolve the Angel/Connor storyline. The episode is well-done on all fronts. The conclusion of the Angel/Connor storyline is particularly touching. Connor is pretty much beyond saving after everything he's experienced. Angel is reluctant to sign a contract with Wolfram&Hart until he sees the state his son is in. Connor's ready to kill himself, Cordelia and all the customers in the store he's taken over. Angel arrives and the two talk and fight. David Boreanaz and Vincent Kartheiser are excellent during the entire scene. The context of the scene is tough to convey considering the space but believe me when I write Minear manages to include a season's worth of emotional conflict into seven minutes. It's remarkable and the prophecy "the father will kill the son" comes true. Powerful stuff.

1. You're Welcome (Written & Directed By David Fury)

The 100th episode and Cordy's goodbye episode. It's moving and it sets the stage for the final episodes of ANGEL. Cordy asks the Powers for one last favor: help Angel rediscover his purpose. Angel does. They finally kiss and, by episode's end, we learn that Cordelia died. What an episode.


1 comment:

AJ said...

Smile Time funnier than The Girl in Question?! The "I signaled her with my eyes" joke alone is funnier than anything else in Angel. Also, seasons 3 and 4 were kinda meh. And 5 was absolutely the best.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.