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:

Season 1
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.

Seasons 2-5
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.


Nurse Brian said...

I agree Nikki! Season 3 was my favorite in terms of plot and character development.

If anything, I feel that anyone should at least watch Angel: Season 2's "Through the Looking Glass". Six words (and I think Nikki would agree with me here): "Numfar, do the 'Dance of Joy'!"

I hope to catch up with you guys in the BtVS rewatch since I'm graduating this week. Excited to join in the fun! (And y'know, graduation too!)

And for 'ol times' sake: WV - "cosso": what a marble-mouthed Frenchman has for breakfast

Page48 said...

I did the simultaneous watch (BtVS 4.1, then "Angel" 1.1 and so on) right through until Buffy ended. To me, it's the way nature intended.

"Angel" is must see TV for Buffy fans, IMO. Great left-BtVS-and-went-over-to-Angel characters, great original characters, and, occasionally, welcome crossover guests.

Also, "Angel" sported a number of faces who would soon be rocking shows like "Firefly", "Alias", "Lost", "Dollhouse" and "Chuck". Who the heck would want to miss all that?

If you enjoy Buffy, if you're loving the rewatch, do your own damn self a favour and watch "Angel" in its entirety. You'll laugh, you'll cry, sometimes you'll laugh UNTIL you cry. But, one thing you won't do is regret your decision to climb on board the A-train.

Hunter said...

I'll echo everything that's been said before. I love Angel. I think I might be the only one that actually prefers it to Buffy. The more serious tone they take clicks with me. And everyone needs to see Andy Hallet at least once. He plays one of the greatest, though sometimes forgotten, characters in the Whedonverse.

StephenC said...

first time viewer,

got my angel dvds a month ago for this.
I'm going to watch as it was on tv originally.

don't stress about not doing a post nikki ! you're doing a lot on here, what with buffy and GOT etc.

excited !!!!!

Tom D. said...

For me, it's seasons 2 and 5 of Angel that are mindblowingly great. Really looking forward to seeing season 1 again, though.

Batcabbage said...

I may be in the minority here, but I always preferred Angel's show to Buffy's. I'm not sure why, but I once read somewhere that Joss had written that Angel (the series) was his take on Batman. I'm a pretty big Batman fan (which should be obvious, being a mild-mannered billionaire playboy cabbage by day, and dressing up as a bat by night - not to fight criminal scum, just because I like it). Now I'm a pretty big Joss fan, and Angel is why. Also, Nikki is right, that character from Buffy she alluded to who is also in Angel? Frakking mind-blowing. Some of the greatest acting you'll ever see, and the greatest arc for a character you'll see outside of Deadwood. Also, Fred is just cute as a button. Also also, Illyria made blue chicks hot before Mr My Ego Is Too Big For Titanic even thought of Dances with Wolves in Spac... I mean, Avatar.

Efthymia said...

I personally never really loved "Angel" (perhaps because I never really loved Angel), and even if he-who-shall-remain-unnamed did get a great story and is indeed one of the best characters in the entire Whedonverse, the rest of them... I don't know; I think that turning them from secondary "BtVS" characters to protagonists they tried to make them more protagonist-like, consequently making them lose a lot of their charm. As for the rest of them, the one I instantly love didn't last very long, the other one I really liked was more comic relief than anything else, and the rest of them never felt as interesting or as lovable to me. Well, except for he-who-shall-remain-unnamed, of course! :) Plus, "BtVS" had the Hellmouth explanation, while everything happening in LA seems a bit too far-fetched, and don't get me started on the Matrix-like fight scenes, especially in Season 5!
Still, I did watch Angel, and I took care to watch the episode order as it was supposed to be (each Angel episode after the respective Buffy episode for the first two seasons, in the more confusing order for the next two) because I didn't want to miss anything out in the Buffyverse.

And if first time watchers ever want to enter the Spoiler Forum, they HAVE TO watch "Angel".

Stacey said...

Just to echo everything that has been said before - Angel is a must see. Like some on here, Angel speaks to me even more than Buffy (and that is saying a lot). I like its darkness but also the characters continued search for redemption no matter impossible that may seem. Also, Illyria, Lorne, countless great Buffy crossovers that I won't spoil and the character who must not be named (who most people know I adore). So much to watch but like Nikki, I urge people to watch the shows together. It was as it was intended and it makes both shows all the richer.

Stacy said...

I found a website that put in order which episodes to watch when-Angel/Buffy. So that's what I've been doing- I watch on Netflix- so going back and forth isn't bad.

The first season of Angel kind of reminded me of the show Touched by an Angel- except darker of course. I just started 2nd season of Angel and 5th season Buffy- so I'm a little ahead of the rewatch.

I am loving both of these shows and am getting sad at seeing my Buffy list of episodes getting shorter.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I had no interest in Buffy (she kills vampires? I LIKE vampires) - but I watched Angel from the beginning. I was missing Forever Knight, and here was another vampire detective show. There's some ways in which I like Angel more. A must watch.

I did eventually come around to Buffy, but not until late season four.

Lisa(until further notice) said...

Episode one of Angel has a nice LOST surprise!!! I concur with all who love this show. It is certainly a show about redemption, friendship and love. It's hard to re-watch the first couple seasons of Angel the character on BtVS after having watched Angel on "Angel". Angel the series is what made me a David Boreanaz fan and led me to one of my favorite shows, "Bones."

karoliina said...

I started to watch "Angel" soon after the beginning of fourth season and kept watching them together until the "unnamed one"/"Fool for love" - after that Buffy's story got just too exciting and I didn't have time for "Angel" anymore and left it all to the end - I'm glad to read that doing so I was still following Nikki's guidlines.
But I think there's one more rather essential "Angel"-episode for Buffy rewatchers - the one with another unnamed character right after "The harsh light of day". Well, maybe it's not essential, but it's fun.

Nikki Stafford said...

karoliina: You are absolutely right!! How did I forget that? Thank you so much, I've added it in now. ;)

Witness Aria said...

I can't remember for sure how I first watched the two shows. I bought the DVD sets at the same time, as they came out just as I was finishing Buffy season 3 for the first time. I think I tried to watch them alternating disks, but the tone on Angel was so different, and it took it a while to get its groove, that I think I ended up watching all of Buffy 4 first and then Angel 1.
IMO, Angel's cast/team really started clicking about halfway through the season (controversial opinion I believe). Then by the time of the last crossover you mentioned, 18-19, that's when the show found itself and started firing on all cylinders.
That said, there's some brilliant episodes before that. Tim Minear!! Welcome to Jossdom you gorgeous person you! And flashbacks. And a whole new take on the demon world that has more to do with grays and less with black and white.
As has been said, Angel deals with adulthood to Buffy's coming of age, and it explores a lot of really important themes. But it does so in awesome stories (minus a few S1 duds) with complex, fun characters and awesome fights and much humor. Oh, the places you'll go...

Tom D. said...

don't get me started on the Matrix-like fight scenes, especially in Season 5!

Efthymia, I'm confused. Are you saying that's a bad thing, that a show has fight scenes that you'd compare to one of the greatest sci-fi action movies ever? Do you mean the fight scenes in Angel are too derivative? Or do you just think, contrary to popular opinion, that The Matrix sucked?

JavaChick said...

I am way behind on the Buffy rewatch - I wanted to keep up, I just haven't managed it. But, my two cents...I watched Buffy and Angel together as they aired and I do think there is something to be said for watching them that way for the crossover episodes. Angel can definitely stand on it's own as great TV though.

Dave said...

I didn't care all that much for Angel while he was on Buffy. Too much whining about Buffy. Once he gets away from all of that I enjoy the brooding and practically every other aspect of the show. I highly recommend it, especially for Buffy/Whedon fans.

I know we keep telling people to stick with these shows. I'm sure those of you who stuck with Buffy after the first season are glad you did. I would advise the same for Angel. Actually, the first season of Angel is better than Buffy's first season. But the main reason I say stick with it is because it lays a good foundation and just takes off from there.

Its hard for me to pick between seasons 3-5. But the show arguably gets better in every season. Not many shows can say that.

Efthymia said...

@Tom D.:
No, I don't hate the Matrix (although I'm really not a fan of its two sequels) and I really liked the fight scenes there, but the entire tone and make of the film were very different to those of "Angel". I always viewed Angel (as well as "BtVS") as more down-to-earth, creature-y shows and not really as SF shows, so the Matrix-like fight scenes got me out of the mood.

I know I'm the minority in not liking "Angel" just as much as (or even more than) "BtVS", but I still wanted to offer my opinion, for polyphony's sake.

Blam said...

The answer is definitely "to Angel". 8^)

I know it's a lot of TV to cram in, but first-run broadcast television (in the US, anyway) is basically on hiatus through September, and, well... Don't you want to get the full sense of what's happening in the Slayerverse alongside Buffy by experiencing yet more Whedony goodness? It's what's known as a win-win, folks.

Here's a recommended viewing order for rewatching Buffy and Angel together, by the way, "designed for minimum disc switching" while still keeping any shared or parallel narratives in the right sequence:

I don't have any prior experience with the fansite on which it's posted, but some friends who are far more experienced in doing Buffy Rewatches than myself vouch for it with a perhaps a couple of tweaks (one suggested within the list itself).

VW: plinow — An insistent command from the ballet instructor.

AEC said...

I got behind in my rewatch, so I'm working on catching up now! I've never seen Angel/Buffy before this, so I'm planning to watch both shows together. I found this list on Wikipedia of all the episodes for both shows and it's in order of how they should be watched.

Less convenient if you're using DVDs, but pretty easy if you're watching it all on Netflix like me!

AEC said...

let me try that link again, for some reason blogger cut off my comment