Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who Will Fight The Apocalypse? A Vampire And His Team: Angel - The Complete Series!

The Good: Funny, Clever, Moments that are downright touching, New pack saves space, Decent acting/plots
The Bad: One or two real lemon episodes, Could always use more DVD extras...
The Basics: A vampire with a soul strikes out with a small band of demon hunters, learning that he is part of an impending Apocalypse, one that is closer than anyone thinks!

There is a reason why Joss Whedon fans are as loyal as they are: Whedon has a habit of creating television shows that are a wonderful mix of action and comedy, surreal drama and pure metaphor, violent and quiet and touching. Whedon strikes a balance with all of those things with his writing and producing of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) and Firefly (reviewed here!). In between the two projects by which he seems to be best known was a little show called Angel. Out now in one complete series pack, Angel is available for fans to get everything in one fell swoop, with a few little goodies thrown in that were not previously available.

First off, it's important to note that this is essentially a repackaging of the same DVDs already released as individual season sets along with one or two little incentives for the boxed set buyer, much like The West Wing did with its complete series boxed set (reviewed here!). Fans of Angel who have been holding out to buy the entire series are rewarded with a note from Joss Whedon (ooh, ahh, wow!) and a booklet. Those who purchased the series right along are not penalized by missing out on any additional DVD content. There are NO DVD bonus features or discs exclusive to this boxed set! Those who purchase this set simply get an extra booklet and letter and have an Angel DVD collection that takes up less space on the shelf.

For those unfamiliar with Angel, it is a fantasy/action series robbed of most of the metaphor that defined much of Buffy The Vampire Slayer - from which Angel was spun off. Angel takes place in a very gritty, very real Los Angeles where there are people in need and a champion rises up to protect the innocent.

Following Buffy's graduation from high school, Angel leaves Sunnydale and makes it to Los Angeles. There, he encounters Doyle, a demon who operates as a mouthpiece for the Powers That Be. The Powers give Doyle clues for Angel to follow to save the locals who most need saving. Angel is joined by Cordelia, who is struggling to find work as an actress and the three set up Angel Investigations. Angel Investigations is soon beset by very real tragedy that results in Doyle's demise and Cordelia becoming the conduit that Doyle had been. They are joined by Wesley, who has become a rogue demon hunter and Angel Investigations becomes a paranormal crime fighting team scouring Los Angeles and ridding it of demons.

Soon, though, the vampire with a soul and his companions help vampire hunter Gunn, who joins them shortly before they are beset with the consequences of Angel's past. In the course of their investigations, Angel Investigations butts heads with Wolfram and Hart, a powerful law firm which represents demonic clients and has an interest in the paranormal. Soon, the lawyers from Wolfram and Hart have set their sights on destroying Angel and Angel Investigations, all as part of a scheme to bring about the apocalypse. With the forces that Wolfram and Hart conjure, like resurrecting Angel's sire, Darla, they just might succeed . . .

Angel is an antihero tale and the wonderful magic of the series is that because it is heavily serialized the continual theme of consequences truly resonates. This is a show about living with the consequences of our actions and Angel, cursed with a soul, is now forced to live with the consequences of having a conscience after being one of the most sadistic vampires to ever walk the night. Throughout the series, Angel is forced to deal with the consequences of his subsequent actions, like trying desperately to save Darla from Wolfram and Hart and rescuing a nerdy woman from an alternate universe. The show is all about consequences and it is adult and strangely adolescent at the same time.

Angel - The Collector's Set is truly the way to go for anyone who is a fan of the series or who wants to become a fan of the show. Angel episodes are integrally tied together - seasons three and four are, in many ways, one big arc - and they build on one another. It's inconvenient enough to have to change discs; it's even worse to have to leave the comfort of one's house to go out and get the next boxed set!

And while the series starts out with a strangely episodic sense to it, it quickly becomes serialized with Cordelia and Angel dealing with the consequences of Doyle's death and Cordelia becoming a conduit to the Powers That Be. When it turns serialized and the show begins to make long story arcs that last several episodes or entire seasons, the show becomes richly focused on the characters. Because there are - over the course of the series - essentially six principle characters, each one gets developed quite well over the course of the 111 episodes. The characters of note are:

Angel - A moody vampire who works for the forces of good because he has been given a soul and cannot bear to slaughter good people any longer. This leads him to a fairly solitary life because bliss causes him to lose his soul. As a result, Angel is withdrawn and often pessimistic. He is brutish when he needs to be, but he tends to look at people as those he needs to shepherd and protect from the more destructive elements prowling the night. He finds himself a target of the machinations of the powerful Wolfram and Hart law firm and seeks to prevent the apocalypse they seem set on creating,

Cordelia Chase - Gifted with a demon sense that provides her with visions sent from the nebulous Powers That Be, Cordelia is an aspiring actress-turned-mercenary. She works with Angel to uncover clues that might well help save the world by tracking down destructive demons. She and Angel share a love that remains largely unspoken and unrealized and she works hard to contribute, ultimately giving up her privileged background for the more dirty detective work that the Powers seem to insist she take on,

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce - Formerly a Watcher, now a rogue demon hunter, he is a socially awkward, bookish fellow who has great intelligence, but low self esteem. Plagued by memories of an abusive father, Wesley joins the team as the research consultant who almost instantly makes himself invaluable with his knowledge of obscure demon information. As Wolfram and Hart begins to move the world toward the Apocalypse, Wesley begins to understand that Angel may be the key and that the vampire might not be a force of good when the end times come,

Charles Gunn - A Los Angeles inner city youth who has lived on the streets protecting his small gang from the nests of vampires that prey upon the people there. Gunn is a fighter and becomes the serious muscle of Angel Investigation when he joins the team, though he seeks to be more,

Fred (Winifred Burkle) - A nerdy physics student who was sent through a portal to another realm where she was on the run for years. In the alternate world, humans are slaves and cattle and Fred survived by outwitting the demons there. When rescued by Angel and the team, Fred returns to Earth as a reclusive young woman initially dominated by fear. Incredibly smart, she gives Wesley a run for his money, though she and Gunn become closer than anyone would have suspected,

and Lorne - A green demon who can read a person's destiny when they sing to him. He owns a nightclub for demons in downtown Los Angeles and aids Angel whenever he is cut off from his conduits to the Powers. Lorne is a pacifist and while he despises Wolfram and Hart, he tries to remain neutral through most of Angel's struggles.

Angel made a star out of David Boreanaz and this might well be the role of a lifetime for him. As Angel, Boreanaz performed a number of very physical fights (including swordfighting), did a lot of running and jumping and became everything one might expect from a young man who is a television action hero. But more than that, Boreanaz is given the chance to add some real emotion to the part by presenting Angel as a conflicted action hero who has a conscience and an intelligence. He is a trooper, to be sure, but he also has to navigate a precarious love that remains undefined with Cordelia. Boreanaz has great on-screen chemistry with Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia, and he is able to make the transition from brooding, brutish action hero, to quiet and contemplative antihero drown in the consequences of his actions. Boreanaz gives a wonderful and surprisingly human performance throughout.

It is Charisma Carpenter who makes the show worth watching, though. Carpenter transforms Cordelia from the bratty socialite that she was on Buffy The Vampire Slayer into a young woman who has both sophistication and a selfless quality that allows her to become what Angel needs her to be. Carpenter sells the viewer effortlessly on the transition and she continually brings something new to the show. In addition, she has a wonderful sense of comic timing and embodies Cordelia on this series with a great sense of wit. And yes, she has great on-screen chemistry with David Boreanaz which makes their love-just-below-the-surface work perfectly for the series.

Alexis Denisof (Wesley), J. August Richards (Gunn), Amy Acker (Fred) and Andy Hallett (Lorne) round out the cast. They are all good. All of the principles are perfectly cast.

And it's a wonderful show. What starts as a pretty standard action hero show with a vampire protagonist becomes a wonderful blend of witty lines and strange situations from the moment Angel first jumps into a car that is not his (but looks identical because it has the top down). As the series continues, always growing with a sense of momentum that the story and characters are going somewhere, the humor and wit take a back seat to a growing darkness and the overwhelming mood that the end of the world is truly near and it won't be pretty.

This series is a must for anyone who likes adult fantasy, science fiction or superhero series'. Anyone who likes a strong drama with an antihero and can tolerate and enjoy a supernatural element will find a lot to love about Angel - The Complete Collection!

On DVD there are several episodes with commentary tracks, deleted scenes, blooper reels and featurettes on the making of the show, the story arcs as the seasons progress and the stars of the show. I could always use more commentary and I find myself wishing more episodes in the series had it, but the ones that do are informative and/or entertaining.

For those on the fence, there is no better (and less expensive overall) way to own the entire series than this boxed set. You'll be glad you gave it your time and attention!

For more information on Angel, check out my reviews of the individual seasons (the discs are the same as the ones in this boxed set) reviewed at:
Angel Season 1
Angel Season 2
Angel Season 3
Angel Season 4
Angel Season 5


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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