Pilot Re-watch: Angel (1999)

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It was the year that good old Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury, and also of the Columbine High School massacre. Jill Dando was shot dead, and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. It became the highest grossing film of the year, along with (among others) Toy Story 2, The Matrix and American Beauty.

In the United Kingdom Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Harold Shipman was charged with murder and Stephen Lawrence was killed. The minimum wage was introduced: It was £3.60 per hour! Gary Glitter was jailed for downloading child pornography and, most importantly, The Gruffalo was published.

The debut album of Britney Spears was released, Bruce Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden and it was the year that we were introduced to the vocal talents of S Club 7.

On a personal level I turned twenty-three years old. I was single, had just arrived in Oldham (and have yet to leave), was the licensee at Yates’s Wine Lodge. I had more hair than I have now and sported a pair of John Lennon glasses that I thought were really cool. I lived above a hair dressers and was, generally, having a pretty damn fine time of it.

As hard as it is to believe that Angel first aired fourteen years ago now (although if that makes you feel old how about the fact that it’s twenty-four years since Quantum Leap debuted?) it has indeed been that long. Born of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel had left the show at the end of the third season. Despite the popularity of the central love story between Buffy and Angel, Joss Whedon obviously saw that stretching it out indefinitely was never going to be dramatically possible.

So, how does it hold up in the second decade of the 21st century? Pretty well, actually. The format would drastically change over the course of the five seasons, but the pilot establishes the show as a detective series with Angel in the lead as well as fellow Sunnydale alumni Cordelia Chase and new guy Doyle. Whilst the cast would eventually grow to Scooby Gang levels the pilot, “City of”, focuses on our new trio.

“Once upon a time, there was a vampire. And he was the meanest vampire in all the land. I mean, other vampires were afraid of him he was such a bastard. Then, one day, he’s cursed, by gypsies. They restore his human soul and suddenly he’s mad with guilt. You know “What have I done…” You know, he’s freaked.” – DOYLE

The writing’s as polished as you’d expect from the nimble fingers of Joss Whedon, even when it comes to things like the above exposition. Doyle isn’t a greatly defined character in the pilot, but he gets a fair few of the best lines. His job here is to move the story along: To direct Angel in the beginning of his quest for redemption. If you’re judging him on the pilot alone he’s pretty much redundant. His role would just as easily be fulfilled by a letter being pushed under Angel’s door. It’s the writing that makes him appealing, as well as actor Glenn Quinn (although after first seeing him in Roseanne I was amazed to find out that he’s actually using his own accent in Angel – A bit like hearing James Marsters talk in his native tongue for the first time) who does a bang up job of making Doyle seem like an actual character.

“I finally get invited to a nice place… with no mirrors, and… lots of curtains… Hey! You’re a vampire! (…)  I’m from Sunnydale — we had our own Hellmouth! I think I know a vampire when I… am… alone with him… in his fortress-like home. And, you know? I think I’m just feeling a little light-headed from hunger. I’m just wacky! And kidding!! Ha, ha!…” – CORDELIA

Okay, so Angel bumping into Cordelia is a bit of a stretch coincidence wise. You have to love it when two characters miraculously bump into each other in a city with a population of… quick Wikipedia query… 3.8 million. Charisma Carpenter is an attractive actress and certainly adds a bit of glamour to the show, but more than that; she’s a GOOD actress. Over on Buffy Cordelia began as a one dimensional character, but Carpenter quickly rounded her out and she became an integral part of the cast. Her evolution continues here. She’s no longer the spoiled rich girl, but a destitute wannabe actress that desperately needs help. Even though Doyle points Angel in the direction of Tina, it’s Cordelia that ends up being saved: Not just from the evil vampire (Russell) that tries to eat her, but from the pathetic existence that she is now living.

The real reason that the pilot succeeds isn’t because of the main stars, but Tina, the guest of the week. Played brilliantly by Tracey Middendorf, Tina is (allegedly) the person that The Powers That Be want Angel to save. In this case it’s from an ancient vampire that likes to prey on aspiring actresses. In order to set the tone of the series, and illustrate that Angel is a much different beast from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon and co-writer David Greenwalt make the bold move of having Angel fail in his mission. The woman he has been sent to protect ends up dead on the floor of her apartment and all Angel can do is avenge her. It’s an audacious thing to do in any series, but to have it happen in the pilot is astonishing. It really sets the tone for the show in the fact that this is a much more mature series that its parent.

RUSSELL: We do things a certain way in LA. I keep my name out of the paper and I don’t make waves. And in return I can do anything I want.

[Angel puts his foot on Russell’s chair and whispers]

ANGEL: Can you fly?

[proceeds to kick Russell out the window. Russell becomes dust]

ANGEL: Guess not.

Apart from the 2 “Cordelia Coincidences” of the episode (randomly meeting Angel and then being the ONE person that Russell decides to have as his next meal, just when Angel is coming to kick his arse) there really aren’t any glaring negatives to say about the show. The action’s good and well staged, the denouement is satisfying, the writing and direction are layered with quality and the actors  seemingly enjoy themselves in the roles. Apart from the size of the mobile phones and Angel visiting a library to use their computer there’s very little to date this as a show from last century.

The pilot introduces many elements that continue throughout the series. Wolfram and Hart play a large part, including an unnamed lawyer, later to become Lindsey McDonald, that faces off with our hero. Lindsey is also the only character (apart from Angel himself) to appear in both the first and last episodes of the show. The Powers That Be are introduced and continue to direct Angel for the next 5 years. In essence, what the show is about isn’t winning, losing or keeping score. It’s about fighting the good fight because that’s what needs to be done.

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Evil Dead (2013) trailer

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I didn’t know what to think after hearing that they were remaking The Evil Dead. The original, and its sequels, are such classics that I couldn’t fathom why they’d remake them. After watching the trailer, however, I think it looks like it’s going to be outstanding.

It lacks the humour of the original, but that might just be the choice of the producers to focus on the horror aspect here. After Cabin in the Woods I expect great things from this: An old school horror movie with just balls to the wall scares. The kind of thing that I can show my 11 year old son if I want him to grow up slightly deranged.

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