Monday, May 16, 2011
To Angel or Not to Angel
When Buffy started its fourth season in September 1999, it aired from 8 to 9 p.m. Immediately following that broadcast on the WB network was the first and only Buffy spinoff, Angel, which aired from 9 to 10 p.m. It was touted as the more adult version of Joss Whedon’s cult show, set in the dark and seamy underbelly of L.A., rather than the hellmouth and high school of Sunnydale, California. Where Buffy was a drama centering on a girl struggling with growing up, huge responsibilities, relationships, and the weight of the world on her shoulders, Angel was about a vampire with a history, with a film noir sensibility (complete with detective agency), usually set at night. Buffy’s theme song was loud rock music; Angel’s was a mournful string quartet (with rock band accompaniment).
In other words, Angel is a very different show from BtVS. So the question I’ve gotten from about the third week of Angel’s existence is... should I be watching that show, too? For me, it seemed like a no-brainer. Of course I’d be watching Angel. If I love Joss’s writing as much as I do, and if I’ve come to care about Angel, Cordelia, and other characters as much as I do, would I really not be the least bit curious? I was there from the first episode, and never stopped. But many other fans didn’t hold on the same way. Because it was so different, they simply weren’t interested. I never felt like watching Angel was a slog, nor was I watching it out of any sense of duty to Joss Whedon.
If you’re still with us in this rewatch, then I can tell you the same thing I tell the first-time Buffy fans (for, you are no longer newbies if you’re already about to enter season 4). You have to make it through the first season of Angel, and you will be rewarded. Season 1 is very monster-of-the-week, running alongside the difficult season 4 of Buffy (a season that is absolutely worth watching because it contains some of the most stunning episodes of the entire series, even if the overall arc is less-than-appealing). Season 2 of Angel, however, is much like season 2 of Buffy: it takes the mythologies and relationships established in season 1 and builds on them. It runs alongside season 5 of Buffy, and was the last time both shows appeared on the same network. When Buffy jumped ship to UPN the following year, season 3 of Angel was left on its own, and it... is... AMAZING. Season 3 of Angel just might be the single best season of any Joss Whedon property, in my opinion. I’m sure I’ll have many detractors, so let me say again, IN MY OPINION. It contains highs and lows that left me absolutely gutted. I thought my heart was ripped out of my chest in “Passion” and stomped on in “Becoming, Part 2,” but season 3 of Angel took what was left and dropped it into a vat of acid. Pain... heartbreak... romantic love... filial love... friendships ripped apart... it’s amazing. And one character stands above all the others in that season... one who is currently on Buffy at the end of season 3, so I won’t say who. But Angel fans will concur that his particular arc on that show rivals the character development of any other. His story is what made Angel spectacular. David Boreanaz is great, but Angel’s story takes a back seat to the anguish this character goes through.
So, as you may have surmised, my answer is yes, you should watch Angel. The question is, how? When both shows were still on and I was getting people hooked on both of them in time for Buffy’s final season, I would lend them my videotapes (yes, I said videotapes... recorded from the TV with the original dancing frog WB commercials in them), and urge them to go back and forth. Buffy episode 1 season 4, then Angel episode 1 season 1. Buffy episode 2 season 4; Angel episode 2 season 1. Back and forth... The first person who did it said it was perfect, although she said it would have been fine to have jumped ahead and maybe watched three episodes at a time. As long as you have a list of the crossover episodes of Buffy in the first season, you’d be fine doing that (stay tuned to the end of this post for that list). After that, I continued suggesting that to people even after we moved into DVDs. That’s when it became more difficult. You pop out a DVD, you have to wait for it to load, then go to the episode, remember which one you watched last, and move to the next. It’s not as easy as VCR tapes, where you pop them in and they’re in the same place you last left them. So people began watching Buffy’s entire fourth season, followed by Angel’s first. And even then, they told me they could have just watched Buffy on its own, finished the entire series, and THEN watched Angel. I disagreed, but everyone can watch them however they’d like.
Last year, the most recent work colleague to get turned on to Buffy ventured into the show, and she followed the advice of those who said you could watch all of Buffy followed by Angel. By the time she was into Angel’s second season (surprisingly quickly... she is a whiz at watching TV!) she was loving it, but said something felt flat, especially in the crossovers. She said she wished she’d watched them together. She’d already said goodbye to the Buffy characters at the end of season 7, and suddenly she’s gone back in time four years and is in Angel territory. Buffy ended in May 2003, and Angel continued for one more year without it, so it was weird for her to pinpoint where the other show ended, and try to remember the feeling, especially when characters who survived the finale of Buffy began appearing in the fifth season of Angel.
So, I think my original assessment is right. I would urge you to watch them together, at the same time, so you’re keeping with the sensibility of the show. And when I say at the same time, I mean you could watch the entire season of one show, followed by the simultaneous season of the other (with the exception of season 1, which needs to be watched closer together, as I'll explain below).
While I would LOVE to conduct a simultaneous rewatch of Angel each week, I simply don’t have that kind of time. Even the Buffy rewatch is starting to become a little bit much for me on top of everything else in my life. However, I will direct you to my Angel episode guide, Once Bitten, which is more indepth than my Buffy book simply because it came later in my writing career, when I found myself with far more to say (see Finding Lost for when things truly got out of control). In certain Angel episodes, I mention what episodes of Buffy happen simultaneously with it, if relevant, and I also mention any other Buffy connections (hints, allusions to the other series, etc.) that were dropped in each one.
But here’s what I’ll do. There are a few key Angel episodes in season 1 that involve Buffy and the gang, and I’ll mention those specifically during the rewatch. Each week when I say what’s coming next week, I’ll also mention which Angel episodes you should be watching to keep caught up. Again, you could watch a group of Buffys followed by a group of Angels, but here are the key ones to make sure you watch together:
There’s a quick crossover in the pilot episode of Angel with S4E1 of Buffy, one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. See if you can find it.
S1E3 of Angel, "In the Dark," is the conclusion to a story that begins in Buffy's third episode, "Harsh Light of Day." So be sure to watch the Angel ep right after the Buffy one.
Watch S4E8 of Buffy (“Pangs”) before S1E8 of Angel (“I Will Remember You”). And honestly, even if you don’t plan to watch Angel, try to catch this one episode. It’s the best non-Buffy Buffy episode ever.
The two-part episode 18-19 of Angel, “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary,” come after the Buffy S4 episode, “Who Are You?”, episode 16.
After season 1, the Buffy connection grew weaker as Angel became its own show. In season 2, episode 7 of Angel (I won’t say the title name, because it’s a little spoilery), follows the S5 Buffy episode, “Fool for Love.”
The next crossover isn’t until S4 of Angel, “Orpheus,” but you don’t really have to watch that in tandem with S7 Buffy, since the crossover is barely mentioned over there.
And that’s pretty much it for crossovers. So essentially, watching season 1 of Angel in tandem with S4 of Buffy is a good idea. After that, you could watch one season of one show, followed by its sister season on the other, and you’ll keep pretty much up to date with both of them.
I do hope that you check out Angel, and stick with it to find out why the Whedonists love that series as much as they do Buffy.