Tag Archives: Angel

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.

Advertisements

‘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.

‘Buffy,’ ‘Angel’ and modern-day cable

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ran seven seasons and its spin-off show, “Angel,” ran a too-short five. Both aired on what were considered “mini” networks, The WB and The CW, but networks nonetheless with obligations to meet the standards of broadcast networks and bring in some semblance of traditional over-the-air ratings.

But we can only dream about how those Joss Whedon series as well as his “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” series might have faired if they had aired on channels that were decidedly off-network.

I’m thinking of TNT, FX, USA, AMC and A&E, channels – not networks, since networks are networks of stations, while cable channels have no physical presence out in the real world – that schedule, carry and nurture high-quality episodic drama.

Can you imagine “The Shield” or “Mad Men” or even “Falling Skies” on network TV?

I can’t. I can’t imagine those niche shows pulling enough viewers to stay on the air. “Firefly” sure didn’t.

I can’t imagine the networks allowing the creators of those shows to produce as few as 10 or 12 or 16 episodes per season, something that’s become routine with shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad.”

There seems to be less pressure without a 22-episode, big network season. Less expectation of Super Bowl-sized ratings. Less expectation of quickly meeting the 100-episode threshold for syndication.

With those shorter seasons, you can weed out the deadwood episodes. Okay, some of us were a little impatient with how long last season’s “The Walking Dead” spent on the farm. But it didn’t have to be that way. Look at last season’s “Mad Men” as an example. While the season had its critics, I thought almost every episode was riveting. Would that have been the case if the creators had been compelled to turn out twice as many episodes to fill out a network season?

Who doesn’t think “Smallville,” for example, would have been better with about a half-dozen fewer episodes per season and a little less filler? How about “Lost?”

There are some drawbacks. Out of sight, out of mind. “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” took their time and sometimes a year or even more passed between seasons. It was torture but it made us look forward to their return even more. That trick wouldn’t work for every show, however.

And admittedly, there’s still less visibility on cable, at least for some audiences. We live in a world where the biggest ratings are still garnered by standard network fare like cops-and-robbers procedurals. We can take solace in knowing that we’re cooler because we know all about “Justified.”

So in my alternate reality TV word, “Buffy” and “Angel” and “Firefly” are still chugging along, well  into the double-digits in years on the air. They’re just airing fewer episodes and every episode is greeted with a sense of anticipation and celebration.

Whedon to develop ‘Avengers’ universe TV show too

Well, duh.

In a perfect case of reverse-engineering, Disney and Marvel announced today that Joss Whedon, who got his start in TV and then directed “The Avengers” to good effect – and $1.5 billion in worldwide box office – will not only direct “Avengers 2” but oversee the development of the live-action TV series set in the “Avengers” movie universe.

It makes perfect sense, and some of the people reacting online tonight are sharing the same line of reasoning that had settled, like a fog, into my brain. Whedon, who made great TV series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly,” has moved on, we told ourselves. He’s not going back to TV after having directed one of the biggest movies ever.

Well, turns out that way of thinking was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now I doubt we’ll get Joss Whedon, showrunner, or Joss Whedon, director, or much more than Joss Whedon, occasional screenwriter, on this series.

But the man knows how to make a TV series with wit, action and service to multiple characters.

Turns out that was the strength that made him so right for “The Avengers.”

So here’s to a happy, anticipatory “Well, duh.”

Joss Whedon will be helping create the “Avengers” universe live action TV series.

Of course.

‘Cabin in the Woods’ a fun thrill ride

A lot of people are comparing “The Cabin in the Woods,” the new thriller, to other movies that simultaneously exploited, explored and expanded on horror film themes, notably “Scream.”

But besides being better than “Scream,” “Cabin” reminds me more of a grown-up and bloody “Monsters Inc.,” the Pixar animated movie about a company that specializes in giving kids nightmares with monsters under their bed and in their closet.

Since I didn’t see “Cabin” until a week after it opened, I’m going to assume anyone reading this has either seen the movie or heard the basic story by now. So there might be some spoilers ahead. I won’t spoil the ending, though.

“Cabin” was written by “Avengers” director and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon and directed and co-written by Drew Goddard. On the surface, it plays like a “Friday the 13th” throwback: A group of college students — a jock, a stoner, a brain, a shy girl and a slut — go to a remote cabin to party.

From the very start, though, the audience knows something else is going on. The group is being monitored by office monkeys/scientists in a war room-style bunker. Not only are the watchers seeing everything that happens as the five get to the cabin; they’re manipulating the players and events. Gas is pumped through vents that prompts the partiers to behave in particular ways. A mild electric shock runs through the handle of a knife to make the person holding it drop it.

A few spooky things happen in the cabin — not the least of which is the uncharacteristic behavior of the five — but the movie shifts into high gear when they venture into the cabin’s basement and find hundreds of old and obscure items, including a necklace, reels of film, a studded metal ball (more than a little reminiscent of the mechanical nightmare box from the “Hellraiser” movies) and a diary of the former occupants of the cabin.

The partiers choose — and seal — their fate when they become engrossed in the diary, even reading aloud a passage in Latin. It is here when the movie seems most like “Scream,” as the stoner warns against reading the words aloud. He’s seen enough movies to know what might happen.

Before long, the long-dead cabin occupants have crawled out of their graves and begun stalking the teens.

Of course, it is the lab scenes that set “Cabin” apart from the “Evil Dead” films. We quickly find out that the lab workers are monitoring the goings-on at the cabin — as well as other sites around the world — and causing terror and mayhem. The reason? They’re servants of the ancient, Lovecraftian gods, the old ones, that once dominated the earth. And they know that bad things will happen if those gods aren’t appeased by their sacrifice.

The lab workers are also the source of much of the film’s humor, which is as crass and mean-spirited as it is funny. The scientists, led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, are cold-hearted (mostly) and unfeeling as they must be. Their jobs are to stage modern-day human sacrifices. There’s no room for bleeding hearts here — except for the ones being ripped out on the lab’s monitors.

It’s hard to imagine, given the ending, how a sequel to “Cabin” could happen, but I guess a prequel is possible. What’s more likely is the Internet will fill up with speculation/fan fiction set in the world in which “Cabin” takes place that will fill in the backstory of the lab and its workers, how their system was set up and maintained and how it otherwise interacted with the outside world. Do the lab workers commute? Is the lab government-sponsored?

The lab workers, who also include Amy Acker and Tom Lenk from Whedon’s “Buffy” and “Angel,” are perfectly cast and always believable.

The archetype young people offered up for sacrifice are likewise terrific. The movie was made a couple of years ago and sat on the shelf not because of its quality but because its original studio, MGM, was having money problems. Since then, Chris Hemsworth (who plays the jock) has become a star as the Marvel comics character “Thor.” He’s got a big summer between this and “The Avengers.” Hemsworth is good and he and his four co-stars — Kristin Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams and Fran Kranz — are well-cast and play their parts perfectly. Kranz, who was in Whedon’s “Dollhouse” TV series, is very Shaggy-reminiscent as the stoner.

Random thoughts:

The sterile, underground labs and monster holding cells of “Cabin” reminded me of the Initiative, the secret military experiment from the fourth season of Whedon’s “Buffy.” Only instead of stocking a compound full of monsters to kill teenagers, the Initiative captured monsters to experiment on them.

Another “Buffy” echo: “Cabin” builds on the idea of thousands of years of human sacrifice to appease evil. Of course in “Buffy,” the Slayers and Watchers were created, thousands of years ago, to fight evil.

I hope someone’s working on a detailed analysis of the whiteboard in the war room that contained all the monsters and scenarios. I tried to read as much of it as I could and caught some of the other threats like “Kevin” — a Jason stand-in, possibly? — but I would love to see everything that was up there.

Do you think the monsters in the movie were supposed to be real in their world? Or were they created, “inspired” by old horror tales and movies? Or does — as one clever person I know suggested — “Cabin” take place in the same world as all those old horror movies, finally taking us behind the scenes of Jason, Michael Myers, Freddy and all the rest?

“Cabin” is, for those with strong hearts and stomachs, cool, geeky fun. Maybe best of all, it made me want to re-watch “Buffy” episodes and some favorite recent horror movies.

‘Lost Girl’ has a ‘Buffy” feel to it

There’s never really been an heir apparent to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as TV’s most clever supernatural drama. I’ve never gotten into the “Vampire Diaries” or “Supernatural” habit. “Buffy” and spin-off “Angel” were hard acts to follow.

So there’s something very enjoyable about discovering “Lost Girl,” a Canadian TV series that’s airing on SyFy, the former Sci-Fi Channel.

With the exception of “Alphas,” the “X-Men” style series about a group of super-powered government agents, I can’t abide much of what SyFy airs. Aside from a grab-bag of awful and intentionally awful movies, ghost-hunting shows and wrestling — the hell, SyFy? — there hasn’t been much there for me since “Battlestar Galactica.”

So after hearing TV experts like Maureen Ryan praising “Lost Girl,” I decided to check out the show.

“Lost Girl” is about a woman named Bo who works as a bartender and occasionally feeds, somewhat like a vampire, on assorted passersby. Bo, played by the striking Anna Silk, befriends Kenzi (Ksenia Solo), a young human grifter who is saved by Bo from a date rapist.

Bo saves Kenzi by feeding on the jerk, kissing him and sucking his life force out.

Bo and Kenzi are captured by agents of the Fae, supernatural creatures who have been living below the radar among human society for thousands of years.

The Fae tell Bo she’s a succubus, a super tough, super sexy predator. For Bo, abandoned by her parents as a baby, that explains a lot.

They also tell Bo that she must choose to join either the Light or the Dark Fae clans.

Bo proves herself in battle and wins the leverage to decline to join either group.

During the course of the early episodes, Bo and Kenzi move through a tough urban landscape, trying to avoid the Fae for the most part but being drawn into their battles.

The series has a straightforward, even flat look that reminds me more of “Law and Order” or some other police procedural than a supernatural series. The cast, led by the seductive Silk and the pert, spunky Solo, is totally unknown to me — hello from north of the border, eh? — but appealing.

The biggest surprise of the series is the tart, clever writing. Bo and particularly Kenzi are given more than a few sharp, funny lines. “Boy, you don’t know how to read women,” Bo tells one potential love interest. In another episode, a Will o’ the Wisp who seeks Bo’s help is a paunchy, slovenly type. “I struggle with my weight,” he acknowledges.

“Lost Girl” has been running for a couple of seasons on Canadian TV but has only just started on SyFy. It’s pretty cool to discover a sexy, funny series with more than a few episodes to air. If the show works out, it could be a longterm relationship.