Cultural Catchup Project: New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of” (Buffy and Angel)

New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of”

June 19th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

It’s only fitting that, as Buffy and Angel’s paths diverge into two separate series, the Cultural Catchup Project forces them back together for the sake of analysis.

There is no plot-based connection between “The Freshman,” Buffy’s fourth season premiere, and “City Of,” Angel’s “pilot” of sorts which started off its first season: while there is a brief moment shared between the two episodes, it is an easter egg more than a substantial development. However, both episodes tell more or less the same story: our protagonist moves onto a new stage in their life in an unfamiliar location and struggles to reconcile their past life with their present situation.

In that sense, both episodes serve the function of a pilot: while “The Freshman” isn’t debuting a new series, it is ushering in a new era for Buffy, as she heads down the road to UC Sunnydale and discovers that it is truly a “whole new world” in more ways than she bargained for. And “City Of,” while unique in that Buffy viewers have a greater understanding of Angel and Cordelia’s characters than those tuning in for the first time, still needs to introduce Angel’s current goals and set up just what kind of show Angel wants to be.

And while both episodes were entertaining, I’m going to make the argument that neither of them were actually that successful when considered as the beginning of their respective seasons.

“The Freshman” is a fun episode of television, but it’s also a little bit derivative of Season Three’s “Anne:” Buffy struggles to fit into a new environment on her own, refusing to ask others for help as she wants to be able to handle things independently. Of course, the eventual message is very different from “Anne,” as there Buffy rediscovered her Slayer identity on her own, while here she gets her mojo back only once she meets up with Xander and the whole gang gets back together. If “Anne” told Buffy that she was meant to be the Slayer, then “The Freshman” told Buffy that she was meant to be surrounded by people who care about her (Willow, Giles, Xander, etc.). As compared with “Anne,” I think this premiere is more enjoyable in general terms: Sunday is an engaging villainess, and since I always prefer my evildoers to have a sense of humour I thought their dorm raids (in particular their Klimt/Monet competition) were a neat bit of colour for the episode. In fact, I was sort of disappointed they were (mostly) killed off at episode’s end, as I sort of liked the idea that Buffy would have to take a bit more time to uproot this particular gang before moving onto bigger fish.

However, I think “The Freshman” could have done more to engage with its new setting beyond Buffy’s integration. Sure, we meet Riley (who I vaguely recall from the bits and pieces I’ve seen of later seasons), and we get the final shot of the technologically-advanced vampire hunters to indicate where the season might be heading, but I don’t like the notion that the character dynamics won’t actually change in any capacity. For better or for worse, the show is moving onto college, which is a great opportunity to shake things up a bit. It’s charming for Xander to return having spent his summer washing dishes at a strip club, and it’s delightful to see Giles so apologetic towards Buffy as he arrives with weapons in tow to attempt to assist her, but I think it’s a mistake to end the episode (even falsely) with Buffy believing that her support system is still safely in place. I don’t mean that Whedon needed to kill anyone or that some sort of major event needed to go down, but I simply believe that the premiere could have brought Buffy and the gang back together without having them tackle their problems at the same time. There’s a “How Buffy Got Her Groove Back” vibe to the episode which we’re meant to juxtapose with the unexplained dudes with assault rifles and tasers, but considering that Angel is now gone from the series, leaving a big hole in the mythology, I think I wanted a bit more than a brief little tag at the end of the episode.

Of course, “The Freshman” isn’t actually a pilot, so perhaps it’s unfair to expect it to set things up quite so clearly; however, with Angel departing for another series, and Whedon splitting his time, there is no question that Buffy is going to be a different show, and I think the episode spends too much time trying to tell us that it isn’t a different show at all. Moving to college, but not actually leaving Sunnydale, means that the show’s location is technically the same even if our perspective on that location is entirely different: it’s an interesting juxtaposition, and I think I was hoping for the show to embrace its different potential beyond “classes are really hard” within the premiere. I get that Buffy doesn’t want to turn her back on her past, which is why she is (rightfully) so angry when Sunday breaks the umbrella she received as Class Protector in “The Prom,” but I think my advance knowledge of the shift to come made me expect Whedon to show a bit more of the fire that he’s about to throw Buffy into. It doesn’t make this a poor episode, and I’m certainly intrigued to see where things go from here, but if we look at it as the launch of something new then it could have done more to set things up.

By comparison, it’s entirely fair to judge “City Of” as the start of a new series considering that it is, in fact, the start of a new series. What’s strange about Angel is that it’s impossible to really tell you how this works as a standalone pilot: as someone who knows Angel’s character quite well (and who therefore found Doyle’s expositional trip through Buffy highly unnecessary), and as someone who completely understands how far Cordelia has fallen to be stealing food from cocktail parties and trying to will herself away from hunger, I think “City Of” was pretty effective, but separate from that I don’t know if it did as much as it could have to establish the show’s premise. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the show’s premise remains frustratingly elusive: as far as I can tell, some shadowy figure told Doyle in a dream to find Angel to convince him to become a vampiric Michael Westen who helps out those in danger of being preyed on by vampires and demons and the like. That sounds like a pretty cool show, but it’s also a very vague show, and coming from the growing mythology of Buffy it’s a bit strange to stumble into something quite so undefined.

When I chose to watch Angel simultaneously to Buffy, I wanted to be able to experience it as fans of Buffy would when the show first premiered, and I’m curious to hear how others fans responded. For me, I find that the show and I are operating on a different level in “City Of,” as I know so much about the characters that there’s no surprise when it’s Cordelia who Angel saves from the evil Russell, or when Cordelia doesn’t go for the whole damsel in distress gig and quickly figures out Russell is a vampire. It creates an odd circumstance where it feels like I’m one step ahead of the narrative and yet I don’t know where things are ultimately headed. This isn’t really a huge problem, but I think it contributed to the sense that the show doesn’t have a particular direction at the moment: while Buffy, when it started, was able to draw on the ready-made conflicts of high school in order to tell its stories, Angel is operating without a net beyond our pre-existing knowledge of the characters. And so a lot hinges on how this first case establishes Angel’s character, and Doyle and Cordelia as supporting characters, which is where the show is both successful and unsuccessful.

It’s successful in the fact that Tina’s death is, like most of Whedon’s deaths, quite effective: it tells us that Los Angeles is perhaps more “realistic” than Sunnydale, its threats somewhat more organized and ruthless than the random vampires which either lacked organization or go for theatrics over cold-blooded murder, and it shows us how Angel responds when someone hurts someone he cares about as we saw with his superhuman feats rescuing Cordelia and eventually murdering Russell in dramatic fashion. I don’t think Tina’s ghost is going to hang over the entire series or anything, but it’s much like Jesse in Buffy’s pilot: the character exists entirely to demonstrate that Buffy’s world is about to change, to make her quest to stop the Master something more than saving the world by reminding her that she’s protecting the rest of the student population from ending up like Jesse. Here, Tina becomes the prodigal client, the one which launches the series forward to…

And there’s where it’s somewhat unsuccessful, as the show didn’t do a whole lot to extend beyond this particular case. The final scene is a bit painful, as Cordelia exposits some logical reasons they would take on some cases but none of it really feels like it stems naturally from the episode itself. A lot of this is a result of how thinly drawn Doyle is at this particular moment: while I know Whedon enjoys mysterious helper figures (as we saw with Whistler’s brief stint in a similar role with Angel in the past), there’s a point where the mystery doesn’t work in your favour, as Doyle remains a blank slate who could go in any multitude of directions, and that sort of sheer potential needs to be contextualized at least a bit at this stage of the game. It’s especially problematic for those of us who know the other two characters so well: we understand why Angel is doing this (his innate goodness), and why Cordelia is getting involved (having enjoyed her taste of vampire slaying and desperate to stay afloat in Hollywood), and so Doyle seems even more confounding for us. He’s some sort of demon, and the show is obviously using him for some comic relief (logical since Boreanaz, at least here, sticks to his straight man role), but I don’t know who he really is, and “it’s a mystery” isn’t going to cut it.

These likely sound like fairly critical judgments of these early episodes, and you’d be right to point out that this is a little unfair: every show takes time to grow into either its early episodes or a new era in its development, and we can’t forget that Whedon was running them simultaneously. However, I think we also have to remember that “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “Harvest” were big episodes which fully introduced Buffy’s reality and the large-scale threat in the Master; by comparison, “City Of” sort of takes that for granted, introducing us to a bureaucratic face of evil (law firm Wolfram & Hart) but just sort of gesturing towards their evil. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s hard (and, arguably, impossible) to separate Angel from Buffy. While the two shows are heading down different paths, both deliver episodes which show their protagonist struggling to adjust to life apart from one another, and in many ways the real test of these episodes is not whether they represent the perfect start to a season or series and rather whether they define their own identity, charting a course for a different (if somewhat shared) future than the one Buffy had within its third season.

And on that front, they are successful: I’m curious about where Buffy is going, and I’m interested in seeing how Angel develops as a series, and I feel like those are two separate foci. One of my concerns about watching both at the same time was that one would be inherently more interesting than the other, but they’re about even at this point: my intellectual curiosity about Angel’s search for an identity as its own series has me intrigued by the vagueness surrounding the show’s premise, while my long-term commitment to Buffy has me curious to see how they reconcile the change of venue in future installments. And, so as to not make me sound like a soulless automaton, I’m also engaged with the characters: it was nice to see Willow so confident in her new environment, and to spend more time with Cordelia in her “struggling, but putting on a brave face” mode that remained in the background on Buffy, and so in that sense it’s like the best of both worlds. Both shows have characters arcs I’m invested in, and each show has its own structural and thematic adjustments to make in the future that will be rife for analysis, although likely separately beyond the aforementioned crossovers.

Cultural Observations

  • One complaint I have with “The Freshman” is that Willow seems so disconnected from Slayer life: it’s necessary for the story, but she is a witch, so it’s not like she herself has no connection with the supernatural. It’s one thing for Giles (no longer officially Buffy’s watcher) to take a bit of a break, but Willow should be living in that culture, and her level of intellectual distraction is understandable but still a bit odd.
  • I noticed that Spike and Anya were both featured in the credits without actually being listed in the credits, so I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that they’ll be back in a big way this season, which excites me.
  • Don’t know if it was intentional, but knowing what’s coming up in a few seasons Xander’s “Once more with even less feeling” line is a fun bit of foreshadowing.
  • Not sure how much we’ll be seeing of Kathy the roommate, but it’s entertaining to see how much Celine Dion was seen as the ultimate sign of her lack of cool at the turn of the century – sometimes we forget about just how overbearing “My Heart Will Go On” became.
  • I seemed to note above that Angel doesn’t have a sense of humour, which ignores scenes like Angel jumping into the wrong car to start the car chase in the parking garage: Boreanaz is certainly capable of being funny, but he’s more or less kept in brooding mode beyond that scene, so it stood out a bit more as a result.
  • Josh Holloway! He looked awfully young in the Lost pilot (perhaps the most distractingly young upon looking back at it, and comparing it with Flash Sideways Sawyer), but here he looks even younger.
  • As I was warned, Angel tried going for a slightly different makeup style early on – glad to hear they eventually course correct, as it looks pretty bad.
  • I am curious, though, whether the bizarre flash edits stick around: I get that it allows the show to quickly transition from place to place, and since L.A. is larger than Sunnydale is helps justify a quick pace to avoid showing Angel traveling and the like. However, I thought the technique was just too annoying for me to feel comfortable with, so I’m hopeful that is, at the very least, toned down.


Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

82 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of” (Buffy and Angel)

  1. I’ve found that Buffy season premieres are always better after you’ve seen the entire season. The set-up is usually so subtle that you only notice it after seeing the finale (I won’t point out any examples here because I don’t want to spoil you), but I do think it’s safe to say that Whedon and Co. don’t shy away from creating new dynamics within the group throughout the season. In fact, it’s one of the things some people don’t like about the show. They want everything to stay the same, and it doesn’t (I think, for the better).

    As for Angel, I think from the beginning it was a straight up fantasy/horror version of noir detective mysteries. It moves on and evolves from there, eventually, but Season One pretty much sticks to that premise.

  2. Eldritch

    “…I don’t like the notion that the character dynamics won’t actually change in any capacity. …but I think it’s a mistake to end the episode … with Buffy believing that her support system is still safely in place. I don’t mean that Whedon needed to kill anyone …”

    Jeeze, so many bitch and moan that “Buffy” changes after season three, and you don’t think it’s changed enough! Can you say cognitive dissonance?

    • I actually love the way that the dynamics change. When you go to college, your natural impulse is to hold on to your old life and friends as tightly as possible. Everything doesn’t change instantly, it takes time (unless you go to a college out of state, but that’s not the case with Buffy and the Scoobies). In fact [SPOILER?] I think the Scoobies would have eventually drifted even further apart if they didn’t have Buffy’s Slayer responsibilities bringing them back together.

    • AO

      To be fair, it’s still very early yet.

  3. jarppu

    Myles, it’s interesting that you thought ‘The Freshman’ didn’t shake things up enough; that character relations stayed too much the same. Most fans complain exactly the opposite. They don’t like all the numerous changes in this season, including how the Scoobies interact. I for one, love the changes in this season. The changes feel like a breath of fresh air that energizes the show. I’ll be interested to see what you’ll think of all the changes in this season.

    • Morda

      I very much agree with this. I feel that the Scooby dynamic has a more realistic, adult resonance this season than it did in the Highschool years. Thematically, at the very least, it holds some fairly substantial weight that you shall see surface more and more as the season progresses.

  4. Morda

    Yay first comment!!

    Very well observed Mr Myles. I do very much feel your, erm, pain(?) brought upon by this exciting, new stage in the Buffy world. I find both episodes to be interesting yet they are certainly lacking in particular areas. Although, the Whedonverse premieres are never that great to begin with (Especially once compared to the Finalés) I have to say that these two are just down a somewhat grander notche. Maybe it’s the pressure involved with moving to (What is effectively) two entirely new, dominant locations. Or maybe Joss was still treading the water on how to work two very large, character-mythology based series at the same time. (He also wrote and directed both episodes).

    You commented that the episodes feel too similar to each other. I do agree with this. They may be inherently seperate in tone and aesthetic but narratively they’re pretty much the same tale. You’ll find, with this season, that the two shows (Well, Angel at least) are very much interconnected…And not necessarily in a good way. I feel that Angel relies too heavily on its more established parent to gain some kind of footing in (the now much grander) Buffyverse. Whereas Buffy takes its time to find its exact niche in this new environ – Give them time! I assure you, patience is the key at this juncture. If seasons two and three are evidence of how great Buffy can be once you let the series breath then take that same mentality to this new situation. Like you say, it is as if these episodes are the pilots to two entirely new shows. Now all you have to do is let them break into themselves a bit. I promise you won’t regret it.

    That comment about Doyle is going to get you some pretty serious hate mail dude (Hyberbole alert! :P). He’s kind of a fan favourite and I think in a few episodes you’re going to realise why. I do get where you’re coming from though – With the enigma that is Doyle – but it’s hard to deny his inherent charm.

    Damn that vamp makeup is bad. I have no idea what they were thinking with Russell Winters – Maybe that’s the vampiric equivilant of Lepracy or some such ailment.

    As for the flashy editing, well I don’t know if it’s too spoilerific to comment that they do seriously dial down on its intensity (For the most part). I however regret such action since I found it to be an incredibly visceral, visual part of what makes the first season great. (It does however recur until the very end of the series.) Maybe you just need to get used to it.

    Even though you mention this exact thing, I must say that I felt you have critiqued the dawn of this new era a little unfairly in retrospect. I know that neither episode represents Whedon at his pinnacle best (Far, far from it – Believe me!) but I think both episodes turned out well enough considering the challenges that they were confronted with (One creator-Two shows, new worlds, new characters, new situations, new Mythology).

    Still, a very astute review of the beginnings of year four. Keep it up! :):)

    Just out of interest, which of the two episodes is your favourite?

    • Morda

      Haha…I say first comment but I think I took so long writing the damn thing that other people got there first.

      lol, lame!

    • Eldritch

      “Damn that vamp makeup is bad. I have no idea what they were thinking…”

      According to the commentary, they were thinking they wanted scarier vampires. But even they agreed it was a mistake. That makeup disappears after one episode.

      • Morda

        Yeah, I do get where the writers were coming from in trying to differeniate the show from Buffy but still…His skin is all kinds of sickly green and the fact that his neck skin is still normal just heightens the almost caricature-like nature of the effect. I don’t judge the show in anyway because of this. It’s a tiny, irrelevant hiccough. But still…Damn!

        And although making both shows different sounds good on paper, by changing the vampire aesthetic the writer’s are actually noticably messing with the established mythology of the overarching Buffyverse saga. It’s in a very small way but considering how frequently vampires recur in both shows it could have turned out quite badly for Joss and Co. Thankfully they go back to normal over the course of the next few eps.

  5. Eldritch

    “…as far as I can tell, some shadowy figure told Doyle in a dream to find Angel to convince him to become a vampiric Michael Westen …”

    Yup. That’s about it.

    Angel’s first season is the weakest. It improves as Angel assembles his own Scoobie Gang. Whedon and crew are best at working group dynamics. Not so much dynamics when a lone wolf is alone.

  6. Eldritch

    “..but she is a witch, so … Willow should be living in that culture, and her level of intellectual distraction is understandable but still a bit odd.”

    She’s still just a dabbler. She’s been studying witchcraft pretty much on her own so far. Though she’s improving quickly. She reaches out to other witches before the season’s over.

  7. jarppu

    …but I don’t know who he really is, and “it’s a mystery” isn’t going to cut it.

    Sounds almost like Myles has been frustrated over Lost’s ‘mystery’ plotlines that never go anywhere nor revealed what they are about. Don’t worry, Buffy and Angel aren’t those type shows that just leave things to be a “mystery” especially when it comes to characters. Doyle will be getting more backstory and explanation.

    One complaint I have with “The Freshman” is that Willow seems so disconnected from Slayer life.

    I don’t agree with this. Willow pretty much tells herself in the episode why she is so excited over college. She’s a ‘nerd’ and finally she’s in place where that is appreciated. So I thought it was only natural that she would get (at least) momentarily so excited over college that she puts the witch stuff aside.

    • I think my issue with Doyle’s sense of mystery is that it’s not focused on: the problem that many (myself not included) had with Lost’s mysteries is that they were so central to the way the series’ narrative was structured and yet ultimately weren’t that important to the series as a whole. With Doyle, my issue isn’t that I’m concerned about it not being worthwhile, but rather that there’s nothing to connect his mystery to the story: he’s just “mysterious,” without being mysterious in a relevant fashion. Yes, this is going to change in the future, but it was left too vague here.

      As for Willow, I get that, but I think that it’s a cheat to have her completely disconnected from her witchcraft dabbling; it’s a justifiable cheat, and one that works well, but it simplified things a bit more than I’d prefer.

      • Tausif Khan

        The Doyle character was supposed to be Whistler which would have instantly connected the two ‘verses. I believe the actor who played Whistler did not want to play him again. Therefore Whedon is left with his traditional dilemma of how do I get new people involved in an already well developed universe?

        • Tausif Khan

          To be clearer I think they developed Doyle as a cypher for newcomers when the person who played Whistler did not want to be a part Angel.

          • I don’t think Whistler would have worked at all in upcoming story-lines, if you know what I mean, people who have watched before.

          • Re: Ashley’s comment above — agreed. I like Doyle much, much better than Whistler. (This may be because I hate the actor’s character on Gilmore Girls.)

            Nevertheless, having Whistler *would* have connected the two series, addressing Myles’ valid complaint that Doyle’s mystery seems irrelevant/disconnected to the rest of the story.

          • @voluntarymanslaughter: That’s why I don’t like to watch the two series together. Personally, I like thinking about them being in two different universes (not literally, because obviously they both exist in the Buffyverse) because it puts too much pressure on Angel to be awesome (and like Buffy) right out of the gate, even if you are trying to keep them separated. They are different shows with different purposes, so why do they need to be so connected (in terms of narrative, I mean, obviously it was helpful in terms of building audience)?

            Doyle is an Angel character, and I don’t think there is necessarily any need for him to connect to Buffy’s world at all. In fact, one of the things I enjoy about Angel is how characters like Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley (among others) move past the Buffy storyline to create their *own* stories.

          • @Ashley — I was also in the camp that advised Myles to watch the two shows separately (although, if you’re going to watch any of it together, B4/A1 is the time to do it, and I’m interested to see his take on the simultaneous viewing).

            They’re definitely very different shows. For me, the quintessential example of that is the last three eps of Angel season 2, contrasted with the last three eps of Buffy season 5. COMPLETELY unrelated!!!

          • @voluntarymanslaughter: For me, it’s just as simple as the fact that they are literally two different shows. While it’s certainly fun to have crossovers once and again, neither show depends on the other’s existence (as evidenced by Angel’s awesome Season Five having taken place post Buffy-cancellation), so I think in some ways it’s kind of besides the point to compare them extensively (some comparison is certainly warranted).

            Whedon & Co. and the Network didn’t just want Buffy fans to watch. They wanted to hook new fans as well. I guess I’m proof of that, since I saw Season Three of Angel before I even saw a single episode of Buffy, and I enjoyed it.

    • Agreed. Willow is just excited to finally be in college, where it’s okay to be smart. She’s probably also pretty psyched by her rockin’ awesome new haircut.

  8. diane

    As always, good review!

    Joss always takes his time at the beginning of seasons, and lays out the foundations of the season arc slowly and carefully. As you’ve seen, when it works well, it’s worth the delayed buildup. Patience is required! And surfaces are deceptive; you don’t seem happy with how the Scoobies come back together by the end of “The Freshman,” but remember that it may be more illusion than reality. As you note with Willow, this really is a new world for all the characters.

    As we’ve noted before, Angel starts as an anthology, and eventually switches gears into a serial. It’s a slow switch, and includes a lot of foundation build-up that feels like anthology, so again, patience is necessary. By about two-thirds of the way through the season, though, the series is finding its groove, and is well prepped for an outstanding second season.

    Angel’s theme is not so obvious as Buffy’s. It’s an inner conflict in a layered and deeply conflicted individual. All will become clear over time….

    • I totally see where you’re coming from Diane, and I certainly am not pre-judging the seasons based on my initial response to these episodes: however, I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of those who didn’t have advance knowledge of what’s to come, or commenters to give them a sense of the season to come. While Buffy may have earned viewers’ patience, there’s still that power of the unknown that comes with substantial changes, and with Angel Whedon doesn’t necessarily have the same patience considering the entirely new structure. On that front, I think expectations for these episodes would have been particularly high, and yet Whedon delivers premieres just like the ones he’s done before.

      Which is ballsy, I’ll give him that, but I wonder if it was the smartest of choices considering the circumstances.

      • diane

        Well, slow startup is what Whedon does. It’s there in Firefly, and in Dollhouse, too. (Yes, I know that the network contributed to that, but the same foundation-building is there.) Those of us who knew Joss’s previous work were probably willing to give him a lot more time to get rolling, compared to those who were new to Joss.

        I really can’t assess how well that worked for Angel at the time, since I came to the Whedonverse only as Angel was ending. I don’t know how much Angel (the Series) really sought out a new audience. After all, the shows aired back-to-back on Tuesday evenings.

        Yes, definitely ballsy to offer what amounted to two new seasons, splitting a familiar cast, in the place of the high school series that had come to such an emphatic close.

  9. Beth

    While there are certainly some crossovers and similarities between Buffy and Angel episodes in this season, there will be some serious thematic divergences coming up that will make critiquing both episodes in one entry more structurally challenging, so I’m wondering if you will end up keeping this format. It works for now.

    I too agree that watching these episodes in retrospect after watching the rest of the seasons is more rewarding and I can understand where the feeling of treading water is coming from. But, yes, as others have said, the characters do diverge quite a bit this season, so enjoy the togetherness while you can!

    I also loved Sunday and wish they would have kept her for awhile!

  10. I think this analysis is really spot-on. “The Freshman” struggles to figure out how to locate Buffy’s premise in college (as do all high-school shows that have to make that leap), and “City Of” just…. struggles.

    Honestly, I really don’t think the creators themselves knew where this whole spinoff thing was going at this point. We don’t get anything more than the vague, shadowy vampire-detective-noir theme, because there *isn’t* anything more at this point. The question of when AtS finds its voice is a very interesting one. Personally I don’t think it’s until they assemble the ensemble cast of season three — some people even argue that season five is where the show really comes together — but I’m pretty sure we all agree that it ain’t happening in season one. 🙂

    Re: Doyle, my understanding is that they wanted Angel’s mysterious-helper person to still be Whistler, but couldn’t make it work out (actor conflict or something?). So it’s absolutely fair to say that it feels like Doyle was just thrown in there without much context.

    Also, I had never noticed that the Tina-role is the same as the Jesse-role… very nice connection, Myles! (The Tina actress was also on LOST, for an episode or two, which I found completely hilarious…)

    P.S. So, so glad you mentioned Angel jumping in the wrong car. When I first watched the pilot I was a bit dubious, and that was the moment that I thought to myself, “All right, I’m going to like this show,” and settled in to become fully invested.

    • diane

      I’m rewatching AtS season 2 right now, and I think that the series has found it’s voice in the way that it carries both theme and plot over from the season 1 finale. The core cast has expanded, the villains and conflict are just as broad and deep, and detective Kate shines with her continuing ambivalence. Add in the new character introduced with season 2, and the ensemble cast has come together very well.

      • Unfortunately, I can’t stand Kate! That definitely detracts from my enjoyment of the season. Otherwise, yes, season 2 has a lot of good stuff going for it.

        I personally prefer season 3 because of the new character introduced at the end of season 2 😀

        • diane

          I don’t know whether Kate was ever intended to be likeable. Perhaps not. But I completely get where she’s coming from, and what role she plays.

          As for the character introduced at the end of season three, now that’s a character that I can’t stand! And the actor has proven himself quite versatile in such roles.

          • Certainly, a lot of people don’t like that character, and I can understand where they’re coming from. Personally I really like him — I’m not sure why — maybe because I always had a crush on Link, from the Legend of Zelda video game? — but I am sure that we’ll talk about it a lot when we get to season three!

        • mothergunn

          Yes, I also loathe and despise Kate. Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with her forever.

  11. Eric

    I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed re-watching “The Freshman” and “City of…”. Sunday is, of course, one of the best Monster-of-the-Weeks, and one who is almost universally wished to have been at least a “Little-Bad” like Mr. Trick, but Buffy’s trouble adjusting does seems a little forced, and her failure to seek out Willow and Oz when Sunday’s gang makes their presence felt does seem unreasonable, even given Willow’s enjoyment of spurty knowledge. I do think that the “teaser” at the end was quite deliberate, though. Buffy and the Scooby-Gang are back together, all is right with the world, and everything will proceed as it has in the previous seasons, except … nothing is the same, really.

    “City of…” suffers from being a dual-purpose episode, I think. It is a series pilot, but it is also the 4th season opener for the Angel and Cordy show, and has to serve both new viewers, and BtVS fans who have followed Angel for years. I thought Doyle was actually pretty well established, but his connection to The Powers That Be, (“the powers that be what?”, in Angel’s words), was not. Still, I look forward to re-watching both seasons in alternating fashion, since the Netflix Instant Queue makes it so easy.

  12. Austin

    Yeah the flash edits are kinda weird, I don’t really remember what happened to them except that I can’t remember if they are there after a few eps. I think you will find that Angel has a purpose in not having a purpose. According to Wheadon, Angel is to the 20s as Buffy is to the teens. People are trying to launch into life and really don’t know what they are doing. I think you will be please with a few of the overarching premises that Angel introduces over time (with one horrifyingly notable exception – jk I don’t think it is that bad, most people do tho.)
    I think you will find that Buffy S4 has its high points, amidst a lot of struggles.

    • Susan

      The flash edits hang around far too long, but they do eventually go away. 20+ watchings of the series, and they still bug me. Not sure what they were thinking.

  13. Tausif Khan

    As of Firefly Whedon stated that he is part of the school of thought where the first five episodes of the television series are essentially the pilot. This would imply that exposition will be doled out in little bits and junks rather than dumped into the first episode. Do you agree with this way of story telling for television? How would it work differently for episodic television as opposed to serialized television (as we don’t know which one Angel is or is going to be)?

    • Tausif Khan

      Or rather exposition will be repeated to hook in new viewers. How does this impact a critical appreciation of a single episode and moreover a critical appreciation of a pilot episode?

  14. I have to disagree — I think the five-pilot comment means that the first five episodes have to continually repeat exposition, for new viewers, as opposed to stretching it out. I would say this is an unfortunate necessity for a show on network tv, that does negatively impact the show’s quality when you watch it straight through with a critical eye.

    Happily, the successes of BSG and LOST show that at least some segment of the population is willing to commit to a television show that has a big narrative arc and requires the viewer to keep up with the story.

  15. Bouncy X

    regarding David being funny…oh my you’re in for a treat. i forget which but theres a season one episode where Angel’s at a party and does a dance that can’t be described, its so hilarious.

    • OMG yes. That’s one of the best things about AtS. Boreanaz finally gets to break out of the rather narrow broody-boyfriend role, and occasionally he is just HILARIOUS.

      • Eldritch

        He doesn’t sing too well either!

        • rosengje

          I think the epic dancing happens in “She,” which has the interesting distinction of being probably the worst episode of the season (series?) yet containing one of its best moments.

          • Susan

            Yep, “She.” And Myles, hang around into the ending credits when you watch that one.

          • Okay, this inspired me to run through the list of episodes… and yes, I’m going to pick “She” for worst ep in the entire series.

            Closely followed by “Happy Anniversary,” which would have been fine back in season one, I guess, but has no place at all bollixing up an otherwise perfectly good run of eps in season two.

            Query: if forced to pick one, would you rather watch “She” or “Bad Eggs”? I actually think I’d rather watch “Bad Eggs,” which really says a lot about how really, really bad “She” is.

          • Susan

            I’d definitely rather watch “Bad Eggs” than “She,” but “I Fall to Pieces” is still my vote for worst Angel ep. “Happy Anniversary” is unremarkable either way, imo.

          • Eldritch

            “She” and “I fall to Pieces” are great candidates for worst. I shudder at watching either again. “She” is worse, I feel. At least “Pieces” had a plot that made some kind of sense.

  16. BobT

    “The Freshman” and “City of…” are some of my favourite episodes.
    I know they’re flawed and seen as weaker episodes, but they work for me.

    I like the sense of change both present. For me it was quite effective.
    There’s a sense of hope for the future when you graduate from high school, something “Graduation Day” conveyed really well.

    So it was pretty effective and sad for me to see the reality of where Xander and Cordelia’s lifes end up.

    The overall idea of alienation that S4 of Buffy deals with was interesting to me.
    I think I was in senior year at the time or close to it. So the idea of what the future after high school could be, affected me quite a bit.

    Then there’s some of the genre ideas I just really like.

    The rainbow six vampire hunters had so much potential ( it never quite lived up to my imagination, but whatever).

    Whedon once said that if Angel is Batman, then Riley is Superman.
    So the idea of a lighter boyscout type of love interest for Buffy really intrigued me.

    I also loves me some Batman, and the spin-off took that analogy and ran with it.

    It took them a whole season to really know what they wanted with the spin-off and the series got better for it. But I still like the first season for the “Angel as a dark avenger” concept.

    • Dude, that is an awesome concept — the Angel-Batman, Riley-Superman idea — when/where did Whedon say that? This is the first time on this blog that someone has made a “Whedon said…” statement that I didn’t know 🙂

      • Eric

        The Angel = Batman comes from the spoiler-filled commentary on “City of”. The other part is entirely too spoilery to talk about.

      • BobT

        I wouldn’t be able to tell you the source. I’m basing this of some news blurb I read when they were casting the role.

        So this is over 10 years ago (ouch). I probably just got internet access at the time, ’cause I’m pretty sure it was on some site.

        Being a superhero nut I always remembered that comment.

        I want to say I read it either on Entertainment weekly or tv guide. But It’ll be really hard to look it up.

  17. Mel

    1. I think you’ll be one of the people who like season 4, based on your comments here.

    2. they reveal a lot about Doyle, I promise. I love Doyle. Also, there’s disagreement as to why Whistler wasn’t on Angel–Mutant Enemy says they contacted him and were turned down, his camp says he’d never turn it down and didn’t get contacted. the real story, who knows? (Did you notice Max Perlich–
    Whistler–was on this week’s Burn Notice?) That being said, while I initially thought it should have been Whistler (particularly due to City Of) Doyle is fantastic and I think the way things developed with him is amazing.

    3. They definitely take a different tack with Angel–instead of season long villains with vamps and other baddies for stand alones, Wolfram and Hart is the series long baddie with vamps and other baddies showing up for episodes or even seasons.

  18. greg

    Anyone else wonder how Sunday’s crew were able to enter Buffy’s dorm room to steal her stuff without an invitation?

    With regards to ‘Angel’, though, it did take the writers a while to get their sea legs. Partially because they had to juggle showrunners (and David Greenwalt and Joss Whedon’s styles are far from consistent) and also studio interference. In ‘City Of’ that pretty much just meant more clumsy exposition than was really required and a “Batman” moment at the end to make Angel more iconic than he really needs to be, but there were fights. If you can find David Fury’s original script for the intended second episode online (don’t read it NOW, of course, but keep it in mind for much later) it shows where they expected/intended the show to go (think some of the darker moments of ‘The Shield’) before the Fox/WB suits straightened them out and made them fly right. It would take a while and Joss’s involvement becomes much greater as the series progresses.

    • Gill

      Anyone else wonder how Sunday’s crew were able to enter Buffy’s dorm room to steal her stuff without an invitation?

      I think dorms count as “shared space” like shops and other public places and workplaces. Other vampires manage to get into the same space later, without invitation – at least two I can think of.

      • greg

        Not dorm rooms; they’re actually assigned to specific people who live there (or at least I guess that’s the logic behind it) – rented hotel rooms are fair game but (cf. ‘The Yoko Factor’) vamps (excluding this episode) require an invitation to enter a dorm.

        • Mel

          yes but I think it takes time for the ‘threshold” to develop–buffy only just moved in, its not her home yet.

      • Eldritch

        “Anyone else wonder how Sunday’s crew were able to enter Buffy’s dorm room to steal her stuff without an invitation?”

        Didn’t she have a roommate? Perhaps the roommate invited them in for a moment.

      • I actually had to go watch the scene again to make sure, but an invitation is required in 4.7 as well. It’s got to be either the roommate, or the “threshhold” idea. I’d never considered how long it would take to establish ownership of a place, for vamp-repelling purposes, but it’s a fascinating concept. It would also explain how Sunday & Co. are able to do this with regularity, to multiple victims at the start of every semester.

        And, re: 4.7, if you knew about the vampires in Sunnydale, would YOU ever just say “come in” when someone knocks????? Sheesh.

        • Susan

          Dorm rooms are definitely private spaces, so, we’re going to have to go with the roommate, I think. I think the idea that it wasn’t the roomies’ actual private space yet might work, but seems a little iffy.

          Eddie had a single, so once he was dead, no problem. But the best way their access to Buffy’s room makes sense is if we blame Kathy. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m fine with blaming her. 😉 I could think of an argument against it, but it might be too spoilery to set out right now.

          • Gill

            Yes, I think it’s fine to blame Kathy from two possible angles. One is that she casually called “Come in”, but the vamps then went away till they could gain access just to Buffy. The other is spoilery till Myles has seen the next episode – but makes a difference, if you think about how the “handicap” of a certain other character doesn’t apply with particular individuals, much to his delight. (Could I even manage to vague that up any more? 😉 )

        • Becker

          Since it is a college, a lot of these kids probably aren’t from Sunnydale and wouldn’t know about the vampires and therefore I’m sure they got invited in a lot. And they showed on Buffy (particularly S1) about people rationalizing away vamp activity as other things.

          • Gill

            The individual who calls “Come in” in 4.7 ought to know better – but the entire dorm probably feels safe by then, even though it isn’t – the hallways at least are public.

          • Bob Kat

            Personally I’m inclined to go for the idea that dorm rooms don’t constitute private dwellings in the magickal sense and that A Certain Person in “The Yoko Factor” was just being polite.

  19. Tom

    Re: “The Freshman,” you’re falling into a classic mid-series trap in which you’re expecting a lot more from a single episode than a season premiere can legitimately provide. You’ve seen what BtVS is capable of in terms of text, subtext, narrative, and metaphor, but you’ve seen it over seasons, and now you’re expecting to see it in a single episode. You’re faulting “The Freshman” for things it couldn’t help but fail to do. (Note that I’m not saying anything qualitative about the episode, which for me has good and bad points.)

    By way of attempting to avoid spoilers, I have a suggestion: at the end of the fourth season, come back and review at this post. I think it will prove educational while approaching any season premiere and what it can, and can’t, do.

  20. AO

    Very interesting review Myles, thanks as always.

    I quite like the description of “City Of” as “undefined”. While watching S1 for the first time I often came away with the impression that the writers weren’t always certain of which direction they wanted to take either the show, or certain character arcs/relationships. I still enjoy S1, especially in how it contrasts against the later Seasons, but I definitely do understand the sentiments that it could have been better had it been more “defined”.

    It’s interesting to hear from people who are big fans of Doyle. I never hated him, but for me he was pretty much just there and I never found much reason to like him. I’m sure that we can talk about that more later, as I wouldn’t want to potentially spoil anything.

    By contrast, I’m eagerly awaiting your thoughts on Riley (as those thoughts come). It’s clear that you know that he appears again, and my initial impression from his first few appearances was very similar to Brandon Routh’s depiction of Charles Shaw in Chuck. 🙂

    I have to say that I liked that “The Freshman” didn’t “do more to set things up”. As has been revealed, the show will definitely change in the Episodes and Seasons to come and I appreciate that Whedon took the route of easing into it, and making those changes more organic and understandable. If the transition to S4 had been more jarring then imo he would have run the risk of turning off some of his audience, especially those that, given the choice, would likely have preferred to have seen things continue as they had been going.

  21. Becker

    Myles, please drop all concerns about Joss being split between the two shows and one suffering because of that. You can wait to do that for when he did Firefly. “City Of” was shot nearly a month before “The Freshman” so that Joss could spend the tie writing and directing each with no division of duties. After that, Joss was not in the writers meetings for each episode. He read and gave notes on all of the scripts and the edits (including over riding every single person in room and removing a great scene form one later episode) and was around, but he rarely came downstairs as his focus was on Buffy and Greenwalt’s focus was on Angel. So, if you find any lacks in quality (and I’m not saying you will) do not accredit it to Joss being split between the shows.

    The vamp make-up difference was easy to explain. It was done by a different person and to use the same make-up would cost money they didn’t want to spend. The new make-up was unsatisfactory, so they forked up the cash and bought the rights to use the make-up.

    Doyle was originally thought up as being Whistler, but Whistler was dropped immediately after his appearance on Buffy and the character eventually became Doyle.

    Angel the Series was originally meant to go in a very dark direction, but the script for Ep 2 freaked out the network and the show was forced in a lighter direction.The network was also behind Angel being a more anthology style show than Buffy was. Oddly, I’ve never actually seen the original Ep 2 script, considering where I worked.

    I feel like there are a lot of spoilers in these replies. Gees.

    • Jack-Kay

      Where did you work Becker??… Intriguing.

      + what was this ‘great scene removing’?

      Obviously the answer will probably be a spoiler but I guess just mark it well for Myles to see, with CAPS n’ all.

      • Becker

        I’ll say the missing scene when it comes. There would be spoilers involved.

        I was a PA for writers for two seasons of some spin-off show. The job was never in the budget so I was eventually replaced with an unpaid intern. The job didn’t actually exist until right before the first day of filming, which is when got hired. By then the 2nd script was turned down, so I never saw it.

    • Bob Kat

      Becker; When that epsiode comes up, pretty please clue us in details-like :-).

  22. Gill

    Another good review, Myles, and with some intriguing judgements in the light of what I know came later. Like everyone else, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but you may well wish to revisit these eps at the ends of the respective seasons.

    I think you’re a touch harsh on The Freshman, which I think beautifully encapsulates the experience of leaving an established context in which you know your place and entering another where you can, indeed must, reforge your identity. So Willow is in the place she always dreamed of, where nerds actually are cool and she learns her way around swiftly and fits in neatly, while Buffy, Queen of the Scoobies, is suddenly just one more newbie. I well recall going to university, leaving home, wondering how I actually became this thing called “an undergraduate”, with all these awesome individuals around me who already seemed to know exactly who they were and what they were doing there! Some of the themes of Welcome to the Hellmouth are reworked here, but from different angles, while the season themes are established with a light touch. I too am sorry Sunday was dusted at that point, as she had a lot of potential. “Buffy out of her depth” is a recurrent theme, and each time we see her cope with it it’s like returning at a higher point in the spiral that sums up young adulthood.

    That said, season openers are rarely Joss’s strongest episodes – he has to try to re-engage audiences who might have drifted away and attract new viewers, so there always has to be exposition regular fans don’t need, and story arcs are only really hinted at. However, all the season openers share a common theme, if you think about it – Buffy establishing her identity, for others and, more importantly, for herself.

    I think City of had too many disparate audiences and purposes to address to be successful, though there are some good touches. For some reason, Whedon’s shows tend to have relatively slow season openers and second episodes, then start popping around episode three – I think you’ll certainly notice that in this pair of seasons, with the first crossover.

    Doyle, as someone else said, has an important function – as the newbie in the group he gives a purpose to all the exposition necessary to attract the hoped-for new audience unaware of Buffy, while being an engaging and sympathetic character we want to see more of. I think you’ll find yourself becoming more interested in him over the next few episodes. And Angel, in his own show, is able to do a bit more than brood all the time (though he still has a real talent for brooding) and we see Boreanaz’s considerable comic talents.

  23. lyvvie

    Like many of the other comments I feel I just have to say, be patient 😉 It’ll happen. I also echo what a couple of people said that it’d be interesting to see your reaction to these episodes/this review after watching the rest of these seasons, or even the entire series.

    ‘The Freshman’ I find quite hard to comment on because I over-identify with Buffy’s central dilemma far too much as I too made the ‘mistake’ of going to Uni with school friends and thinking everything would be the same then finding out that it wasn’t. Mine had a less happy ending than this episode but it still brings it all flooding back. But I do think this episode is very funny, more consistently so that previous episodes, and I feel that about this entire season. It’s also noticeably filmed in better quality.

    With ‘City of…’ I pretty much agree with your analysis that the show doesn’t quite show what it wants to be, it gets there eventually but it does take a while.

    It’s a fairly standard problem-of-the-week in this episode but I think that’s needed to introduce us to the new setting. Though it seems like a strange idea there were people who watched just Angel and not Buffy and so as an intro to Angel, Cordy and Joss’s style and sense of humour I think this episode works well.

    Focussing on Cordy, she rarely got much focus in Buffy and apart from a few moments her character could come across as slightly 2D… but straight away in Angel I feel like I know her so much better and in a way that it still consistent with what has come before. Charisma really brings it in this episode both with the comedy (‘are you still…grrrr?’) and the drama (her tearing up at Russell Winters’ mansion and her tentative asking of what she’d have to do for him…). And although we’ve come to expect it on Buffy, it’s nice to see the main female character as more than just someone to be rescued, I love that she catches on that Winters in a vampire. It’s strange to think how much that’s changed in recent dramas as it wasn’t so prevalent when Angel started.

    As you can tell I’m a Cordy fan 😉 That mix of comedy, confidence and vulnerability is just wonderful.

    Just finally, I think the pre-credit’s sequence in ‘City of..’ is one of the finest pilot openings ever. As a way of introducing someone to a new series it has pretty much everything that you can expect from the series in just a few minutes:
    – Comedy (Angel acting drunk)
    – Misdirection/twists (Angel isn’t drunk/Angel’s a vampire)
    – Supernatural
    – Heroism
    – Action
    – Drama (Angel tempted by the girl’s blood)

  24. Eric

    Myles, I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but “Fear Itself” (BtVS 4.4) is another stand-alone episode that is worth paying particular attention to.)

    • Eldritch

      Not one of my favorite episodes. I realize it tries to make personal statements about our favorite characters, but just didn’t work for me. Particularly the lame joke at episode’s conclusion.

      Although the bunny gag always works!

      • Eric

        *nod* I’m not suggesting that it deserves its own review, just that like “Halloween”, it has deeper significance than I originally gave it credit for, plus I love, “We’re gonna have to create a door.” ” Create a door. You can do that?” “I can.”

      • Becker

        I actually thought that joke was pretty funny. Also one of my favorite episodes of the season.

      • mothergunn

        Aww, Eldritch, you make me sad. I love the joke at the end of that ep, not just because it’s funny, but also because it pretty much sums up the entire point of the episode (and the title). I wish I could explain further but won’t for fear of spoilers. We can discuss it more, though, when we get there, if it’s still relevent.

        • Eldritch

          Sorry. The last thing I wanted to do was make you sad! If it helps, I really liked the bunny and chainsaw jokes. 🙂 Hope I love some of your other favorite episodes.

          • mothergunn

            Hehe, it’s okay. Actually, I just finished reading Myles’ review of F,I and, apparently, you’re not the only who thought that gag was a little lame. Oh, well.

            And, since you bring it up, we actually haven’t gotten to most of my favorite eps. My all time fav is “Restless” and I’m quite aware that many fans are not fond of that one. I’m prepared for the hate, tho I’m hoping that Myles will dig it.

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  26. Surgoshan

    I don’t think Xander’s line was foreshadowing (not that it’s impossible; Whedon foreshadows the shit out of some things), but just playing with a cliché.

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