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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Here’s the thing: I don’t know if this little “quirk” is endemic to geeks in general or if it’s just me. I hope that my friends and fellow geeks do the same thing, but this might be one of those times where I make a bizarre observational gag about something that everyone can relate to, only to find that it’s just my warped head and everyone looks at me like I’m just a tiny bit sick in the head.

There are films that I completely, utterly and eternally hate. Everyone has those films that they watch and despise and, I guess for most people, that’s where it ends.With me, however, I will re-watch the hated movie again just to remind myself of why I hate it so much. A few years later I’ll watch it again. Even though I know that it’s shit I will load up the DVD player, plug in a USB stick or watch it on the telly. If I see a film that I particularly hate in the schedules and it’s on late or I’m at work I’ll set it to record so I can vent my venom in my free time.

Sparking this particular post was Terminator Salvation, which was on a few days ago. Utterly, utterly, shit movie. Beyond bad. I’d struggle to find a single redeeming feature. It’s got a stupid fucking plot, bad acting, terrible writing, too many quotes from the originals, a CGI Ah-nolt, shit casting and bastard mother-fucking Terminator bikes! But the main problem I have? The thing that truly revolts me about this movie? How come, in a film called “Terminator“, no one dies? In the first couple of films people were getting blown to shit all over the place. Here the Terminators look like they’ve been given intense training by the Stormtroopers from the Star Wars movies – they can’t hit shit!

I summed it up in this Tweet:

quote

I lasted about 5 minutes after that Tweet before I had to turn it off. The only alternative was to put my foot through the telly. But I already knew that I hated the movie! I watched it knowing that I would end up ranting about it. Twitter and Facebook are great tools for the whole social networking thing, and created purely for bitching about things that annoy you.

 

 

There are others that I watch, knowing that I am going to get the same result. I’ve tried to watch the first Twilight movie at least three or four times. I get a little further each time and if things go as they have done I’ll have watched the entire movie by about 2023. The furthest I have gotten is to the ‘sparkly’ bit, which caused me to scream at the telly-box and spend the next week muttering “vampires do not sparkle!” How the ever loving fuck did this film spawn a best-selling series (other than the fact there wasn’t a Harry Potter movie out that year)?

This trailer is well worth watching, if you tend to skip this sort of thing.

 

 

When I think about it there are plenty of films that I watch which I hate: The Star Wars prequels; Transformers: Revenge of the FallenSuperman IV: The Quest for Peace; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Catwoman. All of them (and more) are terrible movies and, if they’re on the telly I’ll sit my arse down and shout at the screen for a couple of hours.

So… why do I do it? Why do I voluntarily put myself through the agony that is Aliens Vs Predator? I could be watching Serenity or Memento. I could be re-watching Fringe or plowing my way through Breaking Bad. Instead I verbally abuse an empty room, curse George Lucas and wonder how Keanu Reeves continues to have a career.

 

 

The first Matrix movie was a lot of fun, but the sequels make as much sense as a fight between a Womble and a Vampire. The thing that makes me feel dirty is that, after watching the above trailer, I know that I am now going to watch the movie again. I own the DVD. It’s there, waiting for me. Even though I know the fight between Neo and 500 Agent Smith’s looks like something out of Shrek I will pour myself a glass of wine and slowly shake my head for the running time.

Do I do it because I want to learn how to NOT make a movie? Do I do it so that I can appreciate the good films out there? Is it a storytelling exercise where I am learning how structure, plot and theme can go wrong? I haven’t got a clue but I know that, after writing this little blog post, I’ve got a months worth of bad films to get through and no option but to watch them.

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