Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ode to Television: Angel

Does it get any more epic than this? At first view, I found the show strange, cheesy, and heavy handed. I had not watched 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' this series' precursor. Still, something about 'Angel' kept me watching. I casually tuned in when it was on. Then, at the end of one episode, I gasped in surprise at a shocking twist. I knew I was hooked.

It turns out that 'Angel' is a sort of funny, action-packed, inter-
dimensional soap opera. Its scale, characters, and themes are mythical. However, with all the melodrama, it retains a streak of nonchalance and humor (this is Joss Whedon's invention, after all). Fantastic character development makes its tragic ironies and moments of joy all the more intense. Even minor characters are vastly entertaining.

The premise is pretty wild. Angel, a 250 year old or so vampire with a soul, is seeking redemption in Los Angeles. Unlike most vampires, he has been cursed with a conscience after living as one of the most sadistic vampires ever for about 150 years. In L.A., he and a team fight and save demons, people - and lawyers. The particularly pesky, multidimensional law firm Wolfram & Hart serves the noble cause of the propagation of evil. It resembles the devil, contributing to humanity's wickedness in both small and large measures.

Angel (David Boreanaz) is a wonderfully complex character who manages to suppress a very powerful and dark id. Because of his wisdom and age, he often acts as a kind of therapist, encouraging hope and morality. However, Angel is also quite hilariously awkward and dorky because of his old-fashioned sensibilities and emotional constraint. (He has a difficult time with technology.) His greatest difficulties arise from guilt, the curse of his soul (if he experiences pure happiness, he becomes evil again), and his difficulty with relationships (he goes completely insane over people he cares for).

The titular character is pulled out of his initial funk at the beginning of the series by Doyle (Glenn Quinn), a half demon whose head-splitting visions reveal creatures in need of rescuing. Doyle is a funny, easily lovable fellow who is ashamed of his demon side and underestimates his worth. He harbors a crush on the initially bubble-headed and impulsive babe Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). The selfish, wanna-be-actress reveals a remarkable strength and maturity as the daily suffering of others gradually dawns on her. Both absolutely hysterical and genuinely touching, Cordelia displays stellar character development.

Others become hardened from their painful growth. The nerdy Wesley (Alexis Denisof), useful because of his incredible language and research skills, goes on an especially grim journey. Perhaps the most depressing character is Angel's confused and destructive son Connor (Vincent Kartheiser), an enigma, for vampires cannot in theory reproduce. Angel's love for him makes their strained relationship all the more painful. ("Strained" is a euphemism.)

Crew members also include Gunn (J. August Richards), a homeless young leader of a vampire-hunting gang, and the flamboyant green demon Lorne (Andy Hallett) who can sense the intentions of individuals when they sing. In a detour to Lorne's unpleasant home world, the group picks up the wispy, lovely math whiz Fred Burkle (Amy Acker). Five years of imprisonment has made her and bashfully batty. Eventually, another vampire with a soul, Spike (James Marsters), is introduced, and his pragmatism is a delightful foil to the brooding Angel.

The plot line is both fanciful and a crazy analogy to real life. The powers that be (as they are literally called in 'Angel') toy with and aid the mere mortals - demons and humans alike. Traditional questions about salvation, violence, evil, love, courage, and goodness abound. These people have to deal with the apocalypse, for crying out loud. At its best, 'Angel's' portrayal of heroism conveys an old message about the arduous but essential fight for good. In fact, I'll leave off with a quote from the show:

Angel: Fight the good fight, whichever way you can.
Doyle: Tell you what. You fight, and I'll keep score.