Jan 8, 2007

But What About Angel?

I just spent the last two hours reading through the New York Times' archives under the search directive "Joss Whedon."

Most are, at first grudging, then more enthusiastic admissions of respect for Buffy--the enthusiastic ones are dated in 2002, at which point Buffy had been on for five seasons, and had, according to most but not me, passed its peak. (The rest of the articles are bitching about how Firefly is weird, which turns into "Wow, wasn't that show great and isn't it tragic that it got cancelled?" once it got cancelled.)

Suffice it to say, if the Times is on board, I think it is now officially A-OK to say that I like Buffy. I could probably even go so far as to say that I think it is an intelligent and well-written show, a cult classic in the good way, and probably the most influential series of the nineties.

Whew! I was getting kind of tired of the eye-rolling at my dvd collection. I'll probably never convince my parents that Buffy is some damn fine television, but I can talk about it at cocktail parties now without being that weird dork who is talking about Buffy. (Now I can be that cool dork who is talking about Buffy, an important distinction).

But I'm about to plant myself firmly back in weird dork territory, and take a stand that, as far as I can tell, none have taken. My only hope is that one day I can say "I said it first" and buy back any coolness points I am about to lose.

I think Angel is better than Buffy.

I'm not saying I don't think Buffy is good, I would NEVER SAY THAT. But I don't think it's as good as Angel.

I didn't expect to like Angel--or Buffy, for that matter. I got pulled into both shows by James Marsters. Some friends in college sat me down to watch Buffy, saying "you will love this show, and even if you don't love this show, you will love Spike." That was, ahem, in Season 6, so there was a whole lot of Spike to love. Midway through the season, i.e. before the attempted rape and the end of my starry-eyed love affair with Season 6, I taped a five-day Buffy marathon on F/X and caught myself up on the entire series. There was a lot more to love than just Spike.

Those selfsame friends had been talking about Angel, but I felt no particular desire to watch it, though obviously I now trusted their judgment. I thought Angel was the weakest character on Buffy; at any rate, he was as cardboard as the show got. Why on earth would I watch a show named after him?

I gave in and watched Angel out of desperation. I had already seen all of Buffy, Firefly was off the air, and I had just moved to New York and had no friends. I read that Spike was now on Angel, which made it seem significantly more palatable. I'd always liked Cordelia, and unlike most I thought Wesley had potential. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad.

I bought all five seasons within the space of two months. I spent those two months doing little besides watching Angel. And when I finally got a life and regained my sanity and casually went back and watched a few episodes of Buffy, it just wasn't the same.

It took a little while for me to realize this, but Angel is the better show.

Buffy is hailed as brilliant most often because of its metaphor: the Hellmouth/vampire slaying as a metaphor for the pain of being a teenager, Willow's magic addiction as a metaphor for drug addiction, Angel losing his soul as a metaphor for guys who lose their soul when you have sex with them (okay so, to paraphrase Giles, the subtext there was pretty much the text). But the fact is that Buffy, more often than not, is hampered by its need to stay within the metaphor.

Angel has a much grander vision. Season 1 is, for the most part, a series of monster-of-the-week episodes, and something I go back to when I want to watch a single episode, a kind of espresso shot of fun. The other seasons don't allow that.

I tried to watch a single episode from Season 3 last week--I ended up giving up and inserting disc one, because now I have to watch the whole thing. And Season 4, because the two are inextricably connected.

Firefly got cancelled because Fox wanted less arc and more sitcom. Anyone who has seen Buffy rolls their eyes, because Joss Whedon is all about arc. Anyone who has seen Angel knows that anyone who has only seen Buffy hasn't seen anything yet.

There are seeds laid in Season Two that won't reveal themselves until the end of Season Four. That's arc. But unlike Lost, which slowly dribbles out information and basically drove me away because of its unwillingness to give its viewers anything to watch, only things to look forward to, it doesn't feel like seeds are being laid, and certainly not like information is being withheld. I never finished an Angel episode throwing up my hands and saying "Well, goddamn it, what does that mean, and why do we still not know anything about Jack, or what the deal is with Claire's baby, or why Walter's stepdad thought he was weird?"

Instead, I finished an ordinary Angel episode laughing, or thinking about how good the acting was. Information and groundwork was snuck in, and all I had to do was watch an entertaining and intelligent show. And I finished an extraordinary episode marvelling at either the complexities of the plotline: "Oh my God. Really?? And yet, thinking back, I guess that makes sense...oh my God," the complexities of the characters: Angel's really much more interesting than I thought he was, Cordelia rules way more, I'm just going to skip right on over Gunn and Fred since they really aren't all that interesting, but my God Wesley makes up for it, not to mention Lila, Darla, and Illyria among those who do so much with relatively so little screen time.

Over the next while-I-feel-like-it, I plan to analyze/obsess over some of those complexities. If you're like me, a little spoilage won't distress you, but if not, and I've actually managed to convince anyone to watch the show, don't read and ruin it for yourself. I'm going to go home and watch all the Illyria episodes I can squeeze in. Stay tuned.


Ruth said...

Nice! This made me wish I would have joined you on the couch more often during those two months. . .


Cordelia said...

Um...no. I'm too busy watching Angel.

I will, I swear! I just need to start from the beginning and that takes dedication and commitment.

messiestobjects said...

I agree... Angel is a better show in that it's far more operatic, gritty, and horrifying. It's an amazing piece of work.
Buffy was Joss' warm-up. It's awesome, but he was only getting ready for his masterpiece.
Having said that, it's far easier to watch all 7 seasons of Buffy at the drop of a hat. "The Body" is the hardest part emotionally to get through, but it's only one episode. Angel requires fortitude; if I want to watch it, I have to steel myself for 4 full seasons of pain. (Not counting season 1)