51 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Seeing What Sticks in Season One (Angel)

  1. Carlos Jacott is one of the very few “hat tricks” — he’s in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. I’m always amused that he has the same character in all three — the kinda-lame-buffoon who turns out to be the bad guy. He’s lots of fun to watch, though.

    • Well, he was a hat trick until Dollhouse got canceled. I wonder if there were ever any plans to snag him for a guest spot?

      • Susan

        I’m gonna say he still qualifies as a hat trick, since he’s in 3 of Whedon’s series.

        • Becker

          I think the point was that he might have turned from a hat trick into a grand slam.

          • Susan

            Oh, right. That would’ve been cool. And I bet Jacott would have made his way onto Dollhouse, given the time. I’ve always kinda dug this Whedon version of “stunt casting.”

          • Becker

            My issue with him being in all three is that he’s not in make-up for most of it so he stands out. If he was in demon make-up the whole time in Buffy and Angel (or latest had a different haircut or different speech patterns) maybe it would have been a little jarring, especially since Buffy and Angel exist in the same world.

          • Eldritch

            Andy Umberger has always been my favorite hat trick. Of course, he was in prosthetics in “Buffy,” but not the other two. I don’t know whether his body hair was shaved for his parts.

          • Susan

            Maybe if you think of the group of actors that tend to show up in Whedon’s work as a “troupe,” it might not be so distracting.

            I get that having an actor like Jacott (or someone else who hasn’t turned up in either yet) turn up in Buffy and Angel as two different people might be jarring, since both series operate in the same narrative space.

            And then there’s the fact that some actors cross over in the same characters, so yeah, it could be disconcerting to see a familiar face and not at first know whether it’s on a familiar character or not.

  2. Susan

    I’m really surprised that you apparently like “I Fall to Pieces” better than “Sense and Sensitivity.” I find the former to be really, irredeemably lame.

    But I mostly agree with your analysis of “Sense,” actually, even though I really enjoy the slapstick and humor of the ep, especially the exchanges between Kate and Angel in this ep. The ep tries to do too much, yes, but it’s still fun to watch.

    “Rm w/ a Vu” is the first really excellent ep of the series. Cordelia’s character will continue to deepen and expand in the coming seasons.

    I think your analysis of the series at this point is right on. It takes almost the whole first season to shed the anthology style as its primary narrative mode, but by the last couple of eps this season, the arc begins to emerge.

  3. Morda

    “Angel’s first season is very much a demonized take on the struggles facing twenty-somethings (or two-hundred-and-twenty-somethings)”

    I understand what you were doing here with the writing but – because I am as die hard a fan of Joss as anyone else – I have to point out that Angel is, I think, 243 at this point…In vampire years at least. It’s not important for a cultural observer like yourself but it did stick out for me whilst reading your review.


    I’m sure many fans have already informed you of this, but “Angel” takes the length of its premiere season to really evolve into a show worthy of true (Buffy-seperate) recognition and acclaim. You’re very right in saying that the show isn’t that great at this point because, well, it isn’t. But greatness will come, I assure you. If nothing else, Angel is without a doubt the best spin-off TV’s got going for it. (Yes, yes I know Frasier was spun off from Cheers but Angel is better than Frasier, okay?)

    There’s a two parter/crossover thing coming up late in the year which, I think, represents this change better than any other episode(s). I think it’ll be fairly obvious what I’m talking about when you reach said point.

    That said (Referring to the less than stellar first season), one of my favourite episodes of the entire show is coming up next – I Will Remember You – and lets just say you’d better have a tissue box at the ready…Erm, for crying not that, you know, other thing 😛

    I’m not a fan of procedural shows (In fact I’ve signed many petitions to have CBS obliterated from existence…That was a joke by the way) so I’ve never really seen Law and Order (I know it’s NBC, before anyone says anything). Anyway, even though I had no context for that youtube link I still found it hilarious. I like Kate as a character (I’m one of the only fans who does) but I just don’t think Elisabeth Rohm is a particularly competent actress. She’s too…I don’t know. She’s just too something.

    • Jbucksnb

      Kate would be a better character if there was some completion to her arc, but (SPOILERS) her departure from the show is a huge letdown, as joining the Fang Gang always seemed like a more logical conclusion. Instead, we’re left with the suicide attempt with no real followthrough; it’s like she tried to kill herself, didn’t, and then disappeared.

      • Morda

        I know you’ve put the word spoilers there to stop Myles reading it but I still think you might have gone a bit overboard with the spoilers. You’ve pretty much just layed out exactly what happens to Kate throughout the show.

        That said, I do agree with what you wrote.

    • Gill

      I just don’t think Elisabeth Rohm is a particularly competent actress.

      Agreed. I didn’t recognise the show the clip was from – American procedurals all blur into one for me – but I did notice she mis-phrased the line as she say down dreadfully, so it sounded almost as if it was being read from cue cards. She was utterly unengaging in Heroes too, though by that stage in the show virtually nothing was redeemable and both remaining viewers had pretty well lost the will to live.

      • morda898

        Haha, true. Heroes is awful. I can’t believe how badly that show turned out. The first season was incredible and then it was like bam, bam, bam – We now suck. I guess Heroes is the absolute cautionary tale for what success can do when it rushes directly to the heads of the producers in charge. Although Glee might one day edge it out.

    • AO

      I like Kate’s character too, especially in relation to where the other characters were at this point in the show. She definitely has her rough edges and hasn’t yet found her way, but that’s true of everyone. I think that at heart she’s a good person and in my first time watching I really looked forward to seeing which way the show would take her.

      • Eldritch

        Maybe SPOILER
        (Just trying to be careful.)

        The thing I like most about Kate’s character is how Whedon/Greenwalt used her to break the usual trope of the hero and female falling into a romantic relationship. I won’t deny there was some sexual tension between them, but the series didn’t turn them into “Castle” or “Bones” or even “X-Files.”

      • Eldritch

        Right. She’s the normal person, who doesn’t get into the supernatural.

    • belinda

      I love Angel, but Frasier was pretty fantastic in its early seasons too. Apples and Oranges.

      And I had absolutely no interest in Kate either. I don’t know whether it’s the actress or the writing of the character, but man, was she a buzzkill.
      She’s definitely part of the reason why I bailed sometime after mid season.

      And I blame Kring for Heroes’ quick descent into suckdom. It’s remarkable how a showrunner can pinpoint so quickly what the strengths and weakness of his own show are – then proceed to amplify the weak and eliminate any remnants of the strong.

      • Becker

        Personally I think the problem with Kate was the actress. She’s this energetic sweet fun person, but her acting just comes off flat and monotone. I thought maybe it was just the way she was playing Kate, since Kate is a cop, maybe she was going for Joe Friday – just the facts-type delivery, but that carried over into the other shows she did as well. As I really like her, I hope one day she finds the role that really works for her.

        • Jac

          Kate is fine compared to my most disliked character and actress in the whole Whedonverse


        • Seán

          I’m kind of surprised everyone finds Elizabeth Rohm to be a terrible actress. I thought she was great throughout her run on Angel – very believable and sympathetic too even though she *SPOILER* turned into a pesky antagonist of Angel at the end of this season and most of the first*END SPOILER*.

      • Becker

        Somehow I skipped over the “you bailed” part. The show became awesome just over halfway through the season so you bailed at just the wrong time. 😦

      • Denita

        If you bailed mid-season one, you missed one awesome show. I’ve always thought “Angel” was a better series than “Buffy” was.

    • greg

      Angel’s a lot older than 243 by now. Don’t forget – he spent hundreds of years in that Hell dinmension when he got sucked into the portal through Acathla.

  4. Jbucksnb

    “Rm” is easily one of my favorite Angel episodes. It plays creepy alongside funny really well.

    The transient ghost, Phantom Dennis, is one of my favorite characters in the series! (especially with a loofah)

  5. diane

    Aside from any questions about the series trying to find its place, throwing stuff at the wall, etc., there are a number of excellent episodes in the season, and the next two up are both top-rate (even if one is also a bit schmaltzy). There are a few more stumbles along the way, but more excellence intermixed, and from episode 16 or 17 on, the quality is pretty much in place.

    That’s not to say that it loses its anthology feel at that point, but it starts laying the foundation, especially in terms of expanding the ensemble cast with a number of new recurring characters. By season 2, the anthology feel is thoroughly gone.

    Around that two-thirds point in this season, there is a pair of two-parters (one in Buffy, one in Angel) that constitute the most significant cross-over of the season. At that point, I think that Angel is fully detached from its roots in Buffy, and establishes its own identity solidly and permanently. Then the season finale, which is superb, sets events in motion that define the arc of the rest of the series.

    While I understand your perspective on Sense & Sensibility, it does set the groundwork for Kate’s character arc. There will be a lot of fallout from this episode.

    Also, I’m pretty much with you on Fall to Pieces. It’s very, very creepy, and establishes that Angel can go to some very dark places. The creep-factor will get stronger.

  6. Becker

    Other than “Rm”, I think this was the weakest part of Season 1. For the most part, it’s all uphill from here.

    I loved “Rm” and not jut because it’s one of the only episodes I had any actual impact on. (The song in the flashbacks is sourced from one of my CDs)

    You have fallen into a trap that can only happen looking back at the show. But good on getting the reference. I grew up in NJ and never would have gotten the “West Hollywood” line if I hadn’t moved here in ’98. But, the joke doesn’t reference any lesbianism, but is the father wondering if Angel is gay.

    I never thought to much about Angel not being the center of the show at this point. I don’t think you’ll be thinking that for too much longer.

    • Gill

      You’re that Becker?

      ::bows in awe::

      • Jack_Kay

        Who do you think he is??
        Christophe Beck or something..

        You were a writers-PA right Becker?
        Though that is amazing to be able
        to say they sourced “You Always Hurt the One You Love” from a cd of yours.

        I actually used that song subconsciously in a short film I made, and years later re-watched Angel to discover that’s where the song had been subliminally planted in my (sub)consciousness and therefore thought it a poignant and effective song to use.

        Bravo to you. 🙂

        • Becker

          Before I worked on Angel I got to be a bit well known on the old Bronze, mainly as the co-planner of the first Buffy Posting Board Party* and for a drinking game called BGoD (Becker’s Game of Death). So that’s probably more likely where the bowing comes from that the fact that I was a PA for two years. The song/CD came about because they got the permission to use it at the last moment and didn’t have the song and I brought it in the next day.

          *The PBP was initially done as so many people on the Bronze (circa late ’97) seemed to be RL friends, but no one had met yet. Blade announced he wanted to have a party someone for everyone to meet and I joined up with him. We grabbed a few more people for a committee and that eventually became the PBP in Beverly Hills. 100 fans/guests came and a chunk of the cast and crew. $25 per person and no VIP green rooms or special set ups for them to do signings. They just showed up and ended up in the middle of the crowd. David B, Aly, Nick, Tony, Seth, Joss & Kai, Marti, Ty King, Sophia and Jeff (then Buffy stunt double and coordinator) and a couple of other people came. I had to back out of planning the later parties, but they got bigger and bigger and ended up raising a lot of money for charity. So that was a big deal for a lot of people.

          • Jack_Kay

            Ah I see.
            That makes more sense.
            I think I missed out on a lot of the Bronze stuff… I’m not sure why.
            I remember its existence, but maybe as i was about 11 (circa 97) and had yet to discover Buffy seeing as it didn’t premiere on the BBC in England until New Years Eve 98! – then I kind of missed the true Bronze era.

            And I don’t think I really remember discovering the Internet side of the Buffyverse (i.e. Spoiler pages, fan pages, forums, bad-quality downloads (mainly of OMWF’s musical numbers), episode guides write ups and any other info I could find) until around end of season 3/beginning of 4 when I was about 13/14 in about 2000.

            Maybe one of the reasons I have such a love of the post-high school seasons is because I was much more proactively involved in the web communities and geeky activities surrounding the Buffyverse during their airing periods (I love the high school seasons too of course).

            Plus I was in the UK so couldn’t really be rocking up to parties in Beverly Hills… Sadly.
            All sounds very fun though. & it’s so good you got to be part of all that in such a big way.

      • Becker

        I maybe if I am who you think I am. See reply below to see if I am right.

    • Anna

      There is a ‘Kate is lesbian’ ,eh, allusion in this episode, her father thought she was ‘leaning the other way’ before he saw her with Angel. The West Hollywood line is from The Prodigal, which I think helps make Sense & Sensitivity better in hindside.

      I didn’t think much about Angel role at this point either, I think they wanted to develop Cordelia and Doyle more at first, since Doyle was new, and Cordelia fits better for the 20-something stories. Although you could think of Angel as a 20-something since he was 26 when he died and pretty much stayed at the same emotional level until about half-way season 2.

      Anyway the second half of the season is much more Angel-centric so I guess that balances it out.

      • Becker

        Ah, I’m probably going to do a crash run through Angel this weekend to get caught up. I haven’t watched in a very long time and am getting iffy on details. So I don’t remember that illusion. Though on L&O, that line just seemed so tossed in out of no where as there was absolutely nothing that made you think that was coming previously. My mom was pissed. (She was an L&O fan, not an Angel fan)

        • Anna

          Arg, I meant ‘make S&S better in hindSIGHT’ not hindside.

          I am kinda suprised how S&S isn’t very liked apparently, I love it, I think it’s very funny, and I also rather like Kate, I think her later reactions are understandable and realistic, although kinda annoying too.

    • Denita

      I never thought Angel was the center of the show-it was the ensemble cast that I liked about the series. In fact, the other characters held more of my interest than Angel did.

  7. Gill

    Another very good review, Myles, and it’s a real struggle to avoid spoilers. I particularly like your statement: loneliness defines who Angel is, especially after having left Buffy behind, and so he logically meets people and associates with people who are, to some degree, like him. – if you think of Whedon’s primary concerns, about the importance of the self-chosen “family group” as opposed to blood relatives you can see the bringing-together of a set of loners as an essential first move, much as he did in Firefly.

    he really isn’t at the center of his own series when there’s not a crossover involved, is he?

    I think the priority at this point was to establish the strong ensemble work – Whedon always builds a team, whatever he starts out thinking he’s doing. And Angel will become very central in some upcoming episodes. I think Bachelor Party does some important work in establishing Doyle’s character and engaging our sympathy for him – the fact that he is such a liminal character, neither human nor demon, will become an important element of his character arc.

    Rm w/a Vu is certainly one of the strongest of the early episodes, with In the Dark, and, like it, both emphasises the links to Sunnydale and other aspects of the past and establishes the essential difference of the show. There will be some rocky bits yet, but most fans consider IFTP and S&S to be amongst the weaker episodes of the show.

    They were still experimenting with genre at this point, and only fully found the tone a little later on. But there’s important grounding being laid for the remaining four and a half years.

  8. AO

    “part of the fun with a new series is that sense of uncertainty about just how it will develop. It keeps us watching weak shows longer and, in the case of Angel, it keeps us watching good shows more intently so that we can discover the moment when they become great.

    We’re not there yet, but I think the show is nonetheless in a good place.”

    Another very enjoyable review, and I liked this part especially. Based on my conversations with other Buffy fans, it seems that there are more than a few who gave up on Angel in S1, or refer to it as “bad”.

    When I first watched it then it was purely for enjoyment, rather than analysis, but I definitely felt the same way. The show was finding it’s way, it had some very interesting possibilities and part of the fun was watching what it would try. Some of what it would explore would turn out to be dead-ends, but as it would go on to have a very clear direction, then I appreciated that early on it seemed to take we viewers along in the process of finding itself.

  9. morda898

    I’m curious Myles, as to what you think of the actual character of Angel. You’ve given little snippets of your opinion throughout this cultural catch-up but what is your truthful opinion of the eponymous, brooding, vampire-with-a-soul?

    It might seem a bit premature to (potentially) condemn the character at this point seeing as you have another 4 1/2 seasons to go before his arc is over but nonetheless, I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on the main man himself, especially at this stage in the game.

  10. I watched Angel after first Firefly, and then Buffy, and I watched with a friend who was already very familiar with the series. All through season one, for every single episode, he would groan and say, “Ugh, not this stupid episode again.” And afterwards I’d say, “What? That was thoroughly enjoyable! Angel got infected by the talking stick!”

    Now, whenever I watch season one with newbies, I go, “Ugh, not this stupid episode again!”

    I think we old-timers forget that, when you’ve never seen any of AtS before, most of season one is still pretty darn fun. It just seems so — frivolous? — compared with what comes afterwards.

    (Caveats: IFtP and She are atrocious, and 1.18/1.19 are of course amazing.)

    • Oh, and of course I like Rm too. How could you not?

      (On the commentary, Jane Espenson points out that when you create a character, you’re supposed to get residuals every time they appear in an ep… but she never got residuals for Dennis b/c he never “appears”! How much does that suck?)

  11. Nicole

    I love Phantom Dennis. He’s my favorite. Also, the best eps of S1 are yet to come, IMO. They take a bit of time to get on their feet properly and become a really good show.

  12. lyvvie

    ‘I Fall to Pieces’ is super-creepy, especially the hand crawling in her bed and then Doyle’s comment “At least it was just his hands down there…. I wish I hadn’t even thought that”. Eww and ick.

    The doctor played by Andy Umburger is also one of Joss’ hattricks as he played D’Hoffryn Anya’s vengence demon boss in ‘Dopplegangland’ (and also turns up on Firefly) – but it’s kinda hard to notice that one due to all the make-up!

    The episode also gives me a giggle seeing Brent Sexton playing pretty much an identical character to the one he played on ‘Life’.

    ‘Sense and Sensitivity’ is not one of my favourite episodes, you picked out the best bit (Kate’s speech to her father), which is very touching (and well directed/edited) but other than that the episode doesn’t have much going for it… Other than Steve Schirripa aka Bobby from The Sopranos in an absolutely tiny but still Mafia related role.

    ‘Rm w/a Vu’ is definitely one of the best early Angel episodes. Very funny but also great character moments. Love Cordelia leaving peanut butter in Angel’s bed and Angel wandering in to her apartment with his tiny cactus. I’ve said Cordelia is one of my favourite characters and this episode really has some great stuff for her. You say that Angel seeks out people to help who are like him and you can definitely see Cordelia, Doyle and Kate in that category, so it’s nice to see Cordelia reconnecting with old friends (despite hating those friends when she was in ‘Buffy’).

    ‘Bachelor Party’ is a little too self-awarely funny about some of the demon stuff but it’s still a fun episode and it’s nice to have all that backstory on Doyle.

    Looking forward to your next posts Myles, as you say though in your twitter, you have spoilt us!

  13. diane

    There are now quite a few hat-tricks, not counting actors who played the same character in both Buffy and Angel. Carlos Jacott, Andy Umberger, Jonathan Woodward, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Felicia Day, and David Fury (counting two separate roles in Angel).

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  15. Bob Kat

    Hmmm, I really don’t think a discussion of *Kate’s* sexuality qualifies as a joke; time-wise you’re moving the wrong way. Especially since her father knew Angel was a guy when he asked “West Hollywood?” It’s like regarding “Murphy Brown is a fictional character” as a real punchline.

    I enjoyed seeign you express interest in the characters’ future arcs and sayign again you don’t want too many hints. Because I have a very sadistic streak in my humor so I’m imagining your future viewing experience. I guess thta’s why I’m no longer really a fan of Joss; we think too much alike and I can’t stand people who act like me.

  16. mothergunn

    “Well, she never did have any taste. Haha, she’s so nasty.”

    Whedon & Co. are very good at their episode endings and they especially do them well on Angel. They realize that the last things you see and hear in an episode are what are going to stick with you as the credits start rolling, especially when they overlap into the credits like this one does (another great one is coming up soonish; I won’t say what ep but I will say that it involves someone crying accompanied by some thunder). This one is great because it reminds us that Cordy really is a bitch (and that’s why we love her), something that is important in upcoming seasons.

    Is that it? Am I done?

  17. Pingback: Cultural Catchup Project: “Pangs”/”I Will Remember You” (Buffy and Angel) « Cultural Learnings

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