Category Archives: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’

Enterprise-d_bridge_yesterday's enterprise

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” might not be my favorite episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” – that top spot might go to “Best of Both Worlds” or “Starship Mine” or “Inner Light” or a handful of others – but it’s one that I stop and rematch every single time it’s on.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” was the 15th episode of the third season of “TNG,” airing in February 1990. The series had found its footing by that point. What seemed like an awkward, stilted attempt to reboot the “Star Trek” franchise became its own show, with relatable characters and a cohesive, intriguing universe.
That said, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” took a risk that a few series take at some point in their run: Twisting that established universe and showing fans what might have been. The original “Star Trek” did it, most famously, with its “Mirror, Mirror” universe. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did it better than almost anyone. Heck, in recent years, even “Community” did it, with its “Darkest Timeline” stories, in which beloved Abed suggests everyone adopt Spock-style goatees to signify the twist.
With “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “TNG” went in a fascinating direction. A team of writers – four are credited with the screenplay and two with the story – and director David Carson took us to a dark place: An alternate universe in which the Federation has been at war with the Klingon empire for many years.
The familiar Enterprise, under the command of Captain Picard, encounters another ship coming out of a rift in time. The ship is the Enterprise-C, and its appearance in the “TNG” reality catapults Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D from the show’s familiar setting to the war-torn universe.

 

Castillo_and_Yar_yesterday's enterprise
The change in timeline means more than a change in the look of the ship. Klingon officer Worf is, obviously, no longer on the ship. But Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby, most recently seen in “The Walking Dead”) is back. Yar has been dead for a couple of years in the mainstream universe, but no one knows this in the rebooted, twisted universe, just like no one knows the Federation really isn’t at war with the Klingons in “our” universe.
No one but Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the enigmatic alien who tends Ten Forward, the Enterprise-D’s bar.
Against all probability, Picard finds that Guinan’s warnings of the disrupted timeline make sense and has a fateful decision to make. If he sends the Enterprise-C and its crew, including Captain Rachel Garrett and helmsman Richard Castillo, back into the time rift and certain death. But doing so might “correct” the twisted timeline.
It’s a fascinating, spooky “what might have been” episode.
Random thoughts:
The crew did a lot to suggest the wartime Enterprise-D with darker sets, more “war room” type display panels and a few minor costume adjustments. Neither “TNG” or any TV series of the time had money to burn on individual episodes, so a little had to go a long way.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” was an example of what “Star Trek” always did best: Raising the stakes and building to a suspenseful climax.
The weight of Federation history weighs heavily on this episode and the writers, director and cast rise to the occasion.
The guest cast was good. Richard McDonald played Castillo in a kind of Ryker-ish style. McDonald has been a good character actor for years now, and he’s maybe best known for this and his role as the idiot husband in “Thelma and Louise.” Not to mention Shooter McGavin in “Happy Gilmore.”
And I’ve always loved Tricia O’Neil, who played Captain Garrett. She’s gorgeous and authoritative. I wish we had seen more of her adventures. Or more of her in this episode, for that matter. Her early death leaves her ship in the hands of Castillo and Yar.

 

Classic TV: ‘Angel’ ends with drama and class

angel finale not fade away

I’m not sure, to tell you the truth, how much time Joss Whedon, Jeff Bell and others behind the scenes on “Angel” had to prepare for the end of the series. The way writer/producer David Fury tells it, Whedon had asked the WB network for early word on renewal for a sixth season – the fifth season was drawing a bigger viewing audience than the fourth – and wanted to play ahead. But the network decided to cancel the show in February 2004.

The final seven episodes of the season’s full order of 22 were still to air, and while most of those were undoubtedly written, in production or even finished by that February announcement, the final handful of episodes feel like they’re building to something – either one of the most genuinely satisfying season climaxes ever or one of the most genuinely satisfying series finales ever.

As readers know, I rewatched a couple of late-fifth-season episodes on a whim recently. Then another couple. And before I knew it, we had rewatched the final nine episodes.

First, a word about what that means.

My concentrated TV-watching time is pretty limited, considering work and family demands. It seems like a lot of time for reading more than an article in Time or Entertainment Weekly or watching a random episode of a series just isn’t available. Because of that, I’ve got a to-read list a mile long. And I’ve got a to-watch list that includes all of “Breaking Bad” and the last episode of “The Sopranos,” for god’s sake. Plus a lot of other worthy stuff.

So sitting down and watching the last nine episodes of “Angel” in just a few days’ time? That was pretty extraordinary.

I’ve noted recently that while the series was uneven at times early on, the final season – with the partners in Angel Investigations being put in charge of evil Los Angeles law firm Wolfram & Hart – was consistently good if not great.

The core characters were sharp and the actors played their hearts out. Characters like Harmony and Lindsay contributed great support. Cameos and references tied the series’ final hours to the greater “Buffy” and “Angel” universes.

The final episodes – following the tragic classic “A Hole in the World” and followups “Shells” and “Underneath” – set the wheels in motion for the finale.

In “Origin,” the adoptive parents of Angel’s son Connor come to Wolfram & Hart with questions after the teenager turns out to be superhuman. The deal that a desperate Angel made the previous season – to give Connor a happy life – begins to unravel.

“Time Bomb” finds Illyria, the ancient god who simultaneously destroyed and possessed the beloved Fred in “A Hole in the World,” posing more of a threat to the team … and, unexpectedly, a potential ally.

The most light-hearted episode of this final stretch, “The Girl in Question,” finds Angel and Spike in Italy, ostensibly trying to recover the body of the head of a demon clan but truthfully dealing with overwhelming jealousy after Buffy begins dating the Immortal, a perfect nemesis of the two for more than a century. It’s a shame Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t return for a quick moment as Buffy, but the episode as written focuses on Angel and Spike and their lame attempt to “move on” after the woman in their life was no longer in their life.

And “The Girl in Question” also gave us some bittersweet moments, as Fred’s parents visit and Illyria impersonates Fred and fools them. It’s a charade that horrifies Wesley … or so he says.

During the final episodes, the series set Angel up as a potential bad guy, finally working toward the goals of the supernatural senior partners in Wolfram & Hart and making inexplicably hard-hearted choices. It’s a role that David Boreanaz had played well before, of course: A moment of true happiness puts Angel’s soul in a bottle and he reverts back to his evil incarnation of Angelus.

The episode “Power Play” brought Spike, Wesley, Gunn and even Illyria out of the realm of suspicion of Angel and into direct confrontation.

Not much more can be said about “Not Fade Away” that hasn’t been said since the “Angel” series finale aired on May 19, 2004. I’m kind of dumbfounded to realize that it will soon be a decade since the finale.

A lot of series – really good series – have aired in the past decade and some of them ended in a manner that either pleased fans (“Breaking Bad”) or confused and even outraged them (“Lost”).

But while the ending of “Angel” is left somewhat open-ended, it remains one of the most satisfying series finales ever for me.

Angel and his team – acknowledging that they have no real hope of striking a painful blow to the senior partners in Wolfram & Hart – decide to take out their representatives on earth, the Circle of the Black Thorn. Angel has been acting cruelly and – well, evilly – to ingratiate himself with the Circle, which is made up of demons either in disguise – one is a U.S. senator – or blatantly, openly evil.

In a finale that feels, in some ways, like an “Ocean’s 11” or “Magnificent Seven” plot variation, the team – including Lorne, the musical demon, and Lindsay, the former Wolfram & Hart lawyer – takes on the Circle with an aim of achieving Angel’s goal of destroying it.

(After a final afternoon of saying goodbyes and achieving goals, that is. Spike finally performs his poetry onstage and Gunn spends time helping Anne, the inner-city youth shelter director whose character goes all the way back to the early days of “Buffy.”)

The final showdown is suspenseful and heartfelt, as the team takes its revenge on the demon circle, saves a baby and loses at least two of its members.

angel not fade away wesley illyria

In one of the most effecting moments on the entire series, Illyria comforts a dying Wesley by appearing to him as Fred one last time.

The final scene finds the survivors in a back alley behind the Hyperion, the old hotel where they were headquartered for a season or two. Angel and Spike had predicted that the senior partners would reign hell down on them for their acts. As an Orc-like army approaches and a dragon dips menacingly overhead, our heroes prepare for one final battle.

And black-knight-turned-white-knight Angel, sword in hand, is ready to meet the dragon.

Watching the last few episodes of “Angel” again recently left me acutely feeling the loss of the series. A part of me wishes that we were still watching “Angel,” which would be in the middle of a 15th or 16th season by now.

Part of me wishes that the widespread view embrace of horror/sci-fi TV that’s brought a long life to “Buffy” and “Angel’s” successors, like “Supernatural” and “Vampire Diaries” and “American Horror Story,” had been present when the uncle, the forefather, of those latter-day shows had been around.

Because I’d love to have seen the outcome of that battle with the dragon. And everything that came next.

‘Angel’ season five – ‘Shells’ and “Underneath’

angel shells illyria

I didn’t expect to be rewatching – no less reviewing here – the last handful of episodes of “Angel,” the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spinoff that was, in some seasons, superior to “Buffy.”

But after watching “Smile Time” and the devastating “A Hole in the World,” we decided to rewatch a couple more episodes.

“Shells” is a continuation of “A Whole in the World,” in which lovable Fred (Amy Acker) is possessed by Illyria, an Ancient One looking to re-enter our world and rebuild its former kingdom.

angel illyria

While Angel, Spike, Gunn and Lorne continue to look for a way to reach an apparently impossible goal – re-infusing Fred’s soul into her body, now a blue, ambulatory but holy-moly-she-looks-good-in-blue-skin home for Illyria.

Illyria, meanwhile, plans to call forth her demon minions … but is in for an unpleasant surprise. With no undead army to command, she turns to Wesley, still morose over Fred’s death, to give her a reason for continuing to exist on this plain.

angel underneath

In “Underneath,” the plot points that will drive the rest of the season – and the series – are introduced. Duplicitous Eve, the former liaison to Wolfram & Harts’ senior partners, tells our heroes where they can find Lindsay, whose help they’ll need to defeat the apocalyptic plans of the senior partners.

Introduced was Adam Baldwin – so great as Jayne on “Firefly” a few years later – as Marcus Hamilton, the new liaison to the senior partners who will, ultimately be the surrogate Big Bad later in the season.

There’s no huge revelation or plot turning point in “Shells” and “Underneath.” They feel like mopping-up and setting-up episodes, in a way, continuing the origin of Illyria and setting up the final conflict. But damned if they aren’t strong hour-long fantasy dramas, deepening the characters we already know, returning favorites like Lindsay and making us love Amy Acker even more than we thought we could before.

The five episodes to come give us the return of Connor – a much more liable character than he was previously – and even Buffy, in a way.

“Angel” was overshadowed, in some ways, by “Buffy” during much of its run. But with the final season of “Buffy” over before season five of “Angel” began, it felt like all the stars aligned just at the right moment, giving us our only contact with the Buffyverse and great, beloved characters at their moments of truth.

Classic TV: ‘Angel’ – ‘A Hole in the World’

angel a hole in the world

Was there ever a stronger season of series TV than the fifth and final season of “Angel?”

Okay, maybe you can make arguments for peak seasons of “Lost” or “Breaking Bad,” or going way back, the first season of “Star Trek.”

But the fifth season of “Angel” – in which the stalwart heroes of Angel Investigations are put in charge of Wolfram and Hart, the Los Angeles law firm that represents evil on Earth – has to rank right up there.

The first season or two of “Angel” – which debuted in October 2003 as a spin-off of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – were uneven, with real highs and lows as vampire-with-a-soul Angel moved from Sunnydale to LA and began fighting crime. The best episodes gave off a real Batman vibe, with Angel fighting evil by night, jumping from rooftops and traveling through tunnels under the city. The worst episodes made it seem like “Buffy” mastermind Joss Whedon didn’t quite know what to do with star David Boreanaz and his supporting heroes like Wesley (Alexis Denisof) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter).

But despite a few mis-steps, “Angel” gradually built to a stronger series that was not only about the supernatural forces at work on Earth but also the flawed heroes who stood between us and the demon world.

By the fifth season, “Buffy” co-star James Marsters had joined “Angel” as Spike, the charismatic “bad boy” vampire and antagonist to Angel. Everything clicked. Boreanaz and Marsters were almost co-leads and Denisof, J. August Richards and the lovely Amy Acker – joined later by Andy Hallett as showbiz demon Lorne – were as solid a cast as any show on TV in the 2003-2004 season.

angel smile time

By the episode “Smile Time,” in which the Angel gang took on demonic puppets – and Angel found himself turned into a puppet – the show had hit a perfect mix of drama, soap opera and character comedy.

Then Whedon – more recently writer/director of “The Avengers” – hit us hard in the heart with “A Hole in the World.”

For several seasons, Acker had been the series’ secret weapon. An adorable genius, Fred had been the object of affection of half the cast, including both Wesley and Gunn (Richards). By this episode, she had picked up another admirer, nerdy Wolfram scientist Knox.

Although the romance between Fred and Gunn had been dramatically interesting, Wesley and Fred were destined to be together. They finally realized their full romantic potential in “A Hole in the World,” and – true to the Joss Whedon School of Romance in Drama – were soon to be split asunder. It’s the old “fall in love, get hit by a bus” theorem that I’ve referred to before.

Fred is infected by spores from an ancient sarcophagus in the Wolfram lab. Very quickly, it’s determined – in a whipsmart scene in which Lorne, who reads people’s thoughts and future by hearing them sing, hears Fred singing a few notes – that Fred is dying inside as Illyria, an ancient demon, hellbent on returning to Earth, reshapes her as its vessel.

Wesley comforts Fred, Gunn over-compensates for his inadvertent role in Fred’s condition and Angel and Spike head for Great Britain to find the Deeper Well, a literal “hole in the world” from which Illyria sprang.

There’s a tremendous “band of brothers” feel to the group that works feverishly to save Fred’s life and Whedon not only writes a devastating finale to Fred’s story but elevates an already great season.

Because there’s a price to be paid for the hubris and ambition of the players in this story and Fred pays it.

What’s extraordinary about the story is that, even while it brings Fred’s existence to an end, it continues her story as Illyria and gives Acker a totally different acting challenge.

The fifth season of “Angel” continued to one of the best series finales ever, one that was perfect and satisfying and yet made you want more at the same time.

But the season peaked with “A Hole in the World,” leaving a hole in viewers hearts.

Classic TV: “Dragnet: The Christmas Story’

dragnet the christmas story tree

Every TV series – well. most of them, anyway – does a Christmas episode. Sometimes they’re “very special” episodes. It’s too much for TV writers and producers to resist, really: Do a heartwarming episode for the holiday, usually adapting Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” As they said, in reference to another subject, on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” It is an opportunity to “hug and cry and learn and grow.”

But not Jack Webb, no ma’am. When the creator of “Dragnet” does a Christmas story, he does one that’s to the point and – even though it has some sentimental moments – full of sharp edges.

I just rewatched “The Christmas Story” episode of “Dragnet,” which also proved that when Webb had a story he liked, he stuck with it. Webb wrote the script originally for his “Dragnet” radio series and the version of TV’s “Dragnet” that aired in the 1950s.

I watched the version – called “The Big Little Jesus” originally but retitled “The Christmas Story” by this time –  that aired on NBC in December 1967. This was the color version of “Dragnet” and the one that co-starred Harry Morgan as Bill Gannon, the partner to Webb’s LAPD Detective Joe Friday.

“Dragnet” reveled in the everyday police cases that Webb believed made the Los Angeles Police Department the best law enforcement agency in the world. “The Christmas Story” was a perfect example of that.

A San Fernando Valley church reports  on Christmas Eve that its Baby Jesus statute is missing from its Nativity display. Friday and Gannon question the priest about who might have been able to get into the church to steal it. Friday seems surprised when the priest says the church is open 24 hours a day. “So any thief could get in?” Friday asks the priest, who replies that the church especially wanted thieves to make their way to the altar.

Friday and Gannon promise the priest they will try to have the Baby Jesus statue back before 6 a.m. Mass on Christmas morning.

The detectives pursue a couple of leads, including a visit to an offbeat seller and, apparently, re-buyer, of religious statues. They also talk to a couple of altar boys, including Barry Williams, who would within two years be playing Greg Brady on “The Brady Bunch.”

Ultimately the cops are pointed toward a down-on-his-luck parishioner who, it’s assumed, stole the statue. But it’s obvious he did not, and Webb makes Friday’s frustration at the dead end briefly palpable.

The mystery, such as it was, is solved without any participation, other than as observers, by the cops. As Friday and Gannon go back to the church to tell the priest they failed, a little boy comes in, pulling a red wagon. In it, of course, is the Baby Jesus statue. The boy, whose family attends the church, had told the infant that if he got a red wagon for Christmas he would give it the first ride. The boy got the wagon from local firemen, who fix up broken toys for poor children in the neighborhood, which explains why he had the wagon early enough to pinch Baby Jesus from the manger.

“The Christmas Story” was, after all, a very special episode of “Dragnet.”

Random observations:

The conversation between Friday and Gannon that opens the episode acknowledges, for the first time I remember really, that Friday has a girlfriend. I’m sure this was touched on at other times in the series, and it’s well-established that Gannon is married, But it’s a nice touch, and the ensuing conversation about proper presents for a wife or girlfriend adds a bit of personality to the characters.

I also love that the Christmas tree that Gannon brings to the office and plops down on the work table he shares with Friday looks like an even more pathetic version of Charlie Brown’s tree, as seen in the animated special two years earlier.

It’s a nice bit of business for Friday and Gannon to get more time to work on the theft by asking their captain – who had wanted them on another case – to call the priest himself and tell him they wouldn’t be returning the stolen Baby Jesus in time for Christmas.

And this, the choir from the hotel for down-on-their-luck men:

dragnet the christmas story choir

‘Agents of SHIELD’ – Five ways to save it

agents of shield cast

Remember way  back in September, when Marvel’s first modern-era TV production, “Agents of SHIELD,” seemed so exciting?

Sure we were all worried about how Marvel and show creator Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Avengers”) would be able to translate the excitement of the big-screen world onto ABC’s small screen. That ABC was showing it at 8 p.m. Tuesdays was also a concern. Nobody expected tough-and-gritty stories and atmosphere anyway, although we might see that with “Daredevil” and the other shows Marvel is doing for Netflix. An 8 p.m. timeslot all but guaranteed a fairly family-friendly aura.

But we were genuinely excited at the thought of everything that might happen. “SHIELD” would be a weekly dose of the greater Marvel  universe, filled with characters we love, characters that have never been portrayed in live action before. Luke Cage! Moon Knight!

At first, “Agents of SHIELD” seemed like a sure-fire hit. The pilot got very good ratings.

But as the first nine episodes continued to air, audience numbers dropped – and so did our expectations of and faith in the show.

Too many episodes, although they seem “thisclose” to really taking off, somehow fail to. The core team of SHIELD operatives isn’t that interesting. Too much time has been spent teasing the audience about what happened to Phil Coulson after Loki “killed” him. And the roster of comic book characters that have been allowed to make an appearance is lackluster. Graviton? Really?

So here’s what the producers of “Agents of SHIELD” need to do before it’s too late. If it isn’t already too late.

nick fury agents of shield

Give us some well-known characters. When Whedon said a while back that “Agents of SHIELD” gave him a few dozen opportunities to make “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” a little less special when it came out in 2015, he wasn’t joking. Obviously nobody at Marvel or Disney or ABC wants to sate the audience’s interest in Marvel heroes before the movie comes out. And obviously Marvel wants to save some characters for big-screen movies, which is why you won’t see Dr. Strange, I’m guessing. But stop with the one-and-done, wannabes and third-raters. There ware many, many Marvel characters the show could introduce.

Retool the cast. Each of the supporting characters is fine, really, but they’re the type of characters that Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson was in the Marvel movies. In other words, just that: Supporting. I loved episodes of “Buffy” that revolved around that show’s “supporting” cast. Remember “The Zeppo” and Xander as below-the-radar hero? “Agents of SHIELD” hasn’t, so far, been able to do that kind of thing with Fitz or Simmons or May or Skye.

Resolve Phil Coulson’s status now. Or at least take it to the next level. Remember in the final season of “Buffy” when Buffy would make a different version of the “this is gonna be a tough battle” speech what seemed like every week? Jeez, that got old. It seemed like the series was treading water. “SHIELD” seems to have fallen into the same trap with its near-weekly reminder that something is different with Agent Coulson. A while back I suggested they needed to let Coulson – who is blocked from viewing his own medical records – find out he’s a clone or Life Model Decoy or whatever, break ranks with SHIELD and go at least a little rogue. “The good guys versus SHIELD” angle appears to be at least part of the plot of next April’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” so it wouldn’t be totally out of character for the Marvel universe.

aim

Bring on the bad guys. SHIELD’s adversaries in the show so far have been weak to only mildly intriguing. I’m not sure I care a whit about Centipede unless it morphs into HYDRA. How about AIM? Advanced Idea Mechanics was referenced in “Iron Man 3.” In the comics, they were guys in crazy yellow hazmat/beekkeeper outfits. I’m sure the show could come up with an updated uniform.

iron-man-3-after-credits-scene

Give us some star power. Samuel L. Jackson’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in an early episode was fine. But we want more meat. Remember Mark Ruffalo’s appearance at the end of “Iron Man 3?” We want that in “SHIELD,” magnified.

Maybe “Agents of SHIELD” will resolve its problems quickly and, by February, be the kick-ass Marvel TV experience we all want. A couple of upcoming episodes hold promise.

But if not, it’s hard to imagine many of us sticking around.

Today in Halloween: The ‘Buffy’ dummy

ventriloquist dummy mask

Is it just me, or does this Today in Halloween look like something from one of the best ever episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”

Maybe it’s just me, but I swear this ventriloquist dummy mask I spotted tonight in a Halloween store is very suggestive of the ventriloquist dummy masks worn by the henchman of the dancin’ demon in “Once More with Feeling,” the musical episode of “Buffy.”

buffy once more with feeling dummy

Okay, maybe it is just me.

Anyway, looking up details of this very special “Buffy” episode reminded me of things I’d forgotten.

Did you remember that it aired Nov. 6, 2001, less than two months after the Sept. 11 attacks? I didn’t.