Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Vampire And Team Hit Their Stride . . . To Separate: Angel - Season Two!

The Good: Excellent character development and conflict, Good acting, Interesting stories
The Bad: Lack of sufficient DVD extras, No episode recaps, Last scene
The Basics: Entertaining, though dark enough to limit its audience mostly to adults, Angel season two is the continuing story of a vampire's quest to do good in the world.

I'm a big fan of serialized television, as many who read my reviews will note. I think of it more often as more adult television because it requires a commitment from the viewer. They have to tune in this week in order to understand what will happen next week and so on. Angel is well above average serialized television and part of what makes it work so well is that even as the characters and overriding plot arcs develop, the viewer never truly knows what type of show they will be watching from week to week. Angel season two is like that, with strong dramatic episodes mixed with comedy (when any of the characters sing at Caritas), mixed with historical fiction ("Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?") mixed with outright fantasy (the final four episodes of the season).

One of the only drawbacks to this DVD set is that it works on the assumption that the viewer has watched the first season and that they are watching these episodes in order. Why? In the original release and the syndicated versions on television now, Angel often begins with a "Previously on Angel" segment. The NYPD Blue DVDs keep the segment on the DVD, but separate from the actual episode; Angel does not even do that. This may hamper new fans from getting into this season, especially it begins right away with the Angel Investigations team trying to figure out what Wolfram and Hart resurrected in the box in the season one finale. If you haven't seen the first season, it feels like you're coming in at a disadvantage. Which you are. So go watch the first season first; this is serialized television, after all!

The second season of Angel finds the vampire, Angel, allying himself to a strange demon (known most of the season as The Host) who has the ability to read the fate of an individual when they sing karaoke. Hey, it's Angel; the premise works. While Cordelia has visions that guide Angel and Gunn, The Host tries to help Angel find the larger pattern in his life. It does not take long for the gang to learn that Wolfram and Hart brought Darla, the vampire who sired Angel, back from the dead, but with some limitations. While the villainous Lindsay McDonald and Lilah Morgan duke it out at Wolfram and Hart for seniority, Angel finds himself in a dark place, away from the support of his team.

One of the things Angel does quite successfully every season is that it continues to develop the characters. Here are how the main players develop throughout season 2:

The Host - Guides Angel through the world with some actual guidance and insight that the Powers That Be have never provided. He establishes himself as a peaceful demon who wants to do good,

Lilah Morgan - Her ambition grows throughout the season as she realizes that Wolfram and Hart's agenda is exceptionally dangerous. She stands with and combats Lindsay almost as much as she tries to thwart Angel,

Darla - Severely limited by her resurrected state and the presence of a soul, Darla allies with Lindsay in the hopes of forcing Angel to revert to his evil self,

Lindsay - Coping with the loss of his hand, the lawyer sets out for revenge on Angel only to find that the Senior Partners will not allow him to kill Angel. Lindsay grows into someone with some depth as his love for Darla causes him to question his loyalty to the law firm,

Gunn - Rescued by Cordelia, Gunn finds himself further distanced from his old gangs and old haunts by working for Angel Investigations. As he seeks to bring peace to his troubled past, he finds a purpose in life,

Wesley - Finds romance with a smart, sexy young woman who is almost offered as a sacrifice to a demon. Wesley finds himself exploring the role of the leader more, a state complicated by his friendship with Gunn and Cordelia,

Cordelia - Still plagued by visions that bring her pain, Cordelia has thrown herself into the idea of helping the helpless and alleviating the suffering in the world. Far from the shallow character she began as on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she immerses herself into the loyalty to her job and the idea that she can make a difference,

Angel - Tortured by the mistakes of his past, Angel is forced to deal with them directly upon Darla's return. His inability to reach her or save her from evil sends Angel into himself even deeper, his isolation growing to dangerous levels.

The second season of Angel continues where the first began by having long story arcs that are broken up into smaller, usually demon-of-the-week, conflicts. With the second season, there are less stories that do not fall into the larger story framework, though there are some, like one with a time stopping physicist ("Happy Anniversary") or Harmony ("Disharmony") that have a mostly episodic quality to them. Largely, though, this season puts Wolfram and Hart at the center of the struggle between good and evil and the show successfully develops Angel as blurred by their conflict. This season is largely about Angel trying desperately to repent for his past and, when that immediately fails, edging nearer to repeating his mistakes.

A lot of what makes Angel work is the acting. This is a fantastic ensemble cast and it is baffling that Andy Hallett (who plays The Host) is not immediately added to it, considering his presence in this season. Alexis Denisof continues to make Wesley believable and brainy, an added feat given that - upon watching the few DVD featurettes in this set I learned - he is not actually British. A most impressive, flawless accent makes Wesley completely believable as the ex-Watcher, especially as he is able to maintain it during battle scenes.

J. August Richards continues to impress as Charles Gunn. Far more than the stereotypical ethnic character on television, Richards adds credibility and intrigue to Gunn by playing him as someone who has overcome the shortcomings of his past, rather than being allowed to be defined by them. Richards is articulate, has wonderful body language and - in the brief clips on the featurettes - a great sense of humor. Charisma Carpenter and Richards have great chemistry on screen, making their character's friendship quite believable. Carpenter continues to expand her range beyond portraying Cordelia as self-centered and thoughtless. Carpenter has great physical comedy abilities and an expert sense of timing that she uses to explore Cordelia in the second season.

David Boreanaz is where the stock of the show lies, though. Boreanaz plays Angel with a wonderful mix of emotions and season two allows him to open up and explore them more fully. Boreanaz's repeated karaoke performances illustrate his ability to successfully pull off humor while the scenes with Darla force Boreanaz to portray Angel as dark in a way that he has not done when he has played Angelus. He keeps the show dark and brooding and interesting and he rises to the occasion throughout the season.

The only other real drawback to this DVD set is that there are too few bonus features. I am a bonus feature junkie and I feel like there could be more on this set. There are a few featurettes and a couple of the episodes have commentary, but there's nothing really exciting here as far as extras. For those who don't understand the significance of the last scene in the season finale, one of the featurettes fills us in (without any images from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). For those too lazy to watch, it corresponds to the fifth season finale of Buffy.

All in all, the second season of Angel on DVD is a worthwhile investment. It is fine television and it alternates quite effectively between moody relationship drama and action/adventure stories with a supernatural flavor. The strength of Angel is that it has interesting character is well-written situations that keep the viewer guessing. This is a treat to watch and get into, without being a fluffy or comedic as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. There is plenty for those who are not typically fans of science fiction or horror to enjoy here as it tells a fairly universal story of a man's attempts to be redeemed for the wrongs he has done.

For the sophomore seasons of other science fiction or fantasy shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 2
Heroes - The Complete Second Season
Carnivale - Season Two


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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