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.

You Might be a Geek if…

6 Comments

  1. You get excited by the prospect of the finale to a TV show and plan to get up in the middle of the night to watch the simulcast.
  2. You genuinely believe that you’re cool because of your extensive wardrobe of comic book t shirts.
  3. You can name every Captain there has been of the Starship Enterprise, but struggle with the names of family members.
  4. You think movie posters are underrated as modern art.
  5. Bazinga!
  6. Even your children think you’ve watch Star Wars too many times.
  7. You speak to you friends more via the internet rather in ‘real life’.
  8. You have used “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” in an actual conversation.
  9. You can have an actual argument about The Prequels.
  10. You know what ‘The Prequels’ means.
  11. You know Buffy’s middle name, and it makes you smirk.
  12. You cried when Spock died in The Wrath of Khan.
  13. You learned everything you need in life from Sam Beckett, Jim Kirk, The Doctor and Batman.
  14. You read the book before the movie was even made.
  15. You complain that a movie wasn’t faithful enough to the source material.
  16. You complain that a movie was too faithful to the source material.
  17. When you read an article about “Spiderman” you feel the urge to write a stern letter to point out the mistake.
  18. You assume Trekkers don’t hike.
  19. You donated money to the Elite Kickstarter campaign, rather than to help starving African children.
  20. You spent hundreds of pounds on a new PC because your old PC wasn’t quick enough to play a game that cost you £30.
  21. You feel jilted by your love interest in Mass Effect.
  22. You can spend the better part of an evening debating which order to watch the Terminator movies in.
  23. As above, but with the Indiana Jones movies.
  24. You can spend an enjoyable couple of hours looking up obscure entries in the Doctor Who Encyclopedia.
  25. You have a blog dedicated to how geeky you are.

Thanks for assistance must go to the following people: Ollie Pietruch, Nick Reeve, Helena Hancock, Russ Whitfield, Troo Topham, Alex Cook, Liam Barrett & Lee Medcalf.

There will, more than likely, be a part 2…

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