Postmortem: Angel

(Warning: spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.)

First there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it was good. Then came its spinoff series, Angel. Not a sequel but a companion piece: set in the same universe, and mostly at the same time. Same creator, some of the same characters. Two stories, separate but linked, running in parallel.

I can hardly think about Angel without comparing it to Buffy. They’re similar in many ways: similar dialogue and humor, same crazy twists and sudden deaths, same general idea of kill-evil-monsters-for-Good. But they’re also very different, and it took me a while to figure out why.

I think, fundamentally, the difference is this. Buffy is a show about growing up, a journey from adolescence to adulthood, a bildungsroman. Because it shows life through a youthful lens, the hopes are brighter, the evils are darker, the line between them is clearer, the romances are more dazzling, the battles are more dramatic.

Angel, on the other hand, is a show about adults. It’s not a journey. It’s about figuring out what “good” and “evil” actually mean. It’s about exploring the vast, messy gray area between them. And it’s about understanding our purpose as human beings.

That’s all oversimplifying, of course. The distinctions aren’t as clear as all that. But that’s the basic vibe that I got.

And Angel does do an excellent job of grappling with these difficult questions. For instance, what does it really mean to be “good”? Is it about heroism, bravery, virtue – or is it about helping the most people, by any means necessary, even if you soil your hands in the process? And why, exactly, do we fight? Do we fight to win – or do we fight because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s our purpose, even if victory is impossible? These are adult issues, and they’re handled in an adult way.

Angel also has great characters (like every other Joss Whedon work I’ve ever seen). I give them props especially for taking three of the least likable Buffy characters – Angel (boring), Cordelia (shallow), and Wesley (prissy), and making me love them as much as anybody on television. The original characters are good too – Gunn’s cool, Fred is amazing, Lilah and Lindsey make you root for them in spite of their evil, and Ilyria is, well, Ilyria.

Oh and Connor sucks, but then everybody knows that already.

Gotta mention, too, the series finales. As I said in my other review, Buffy‘s finale left me flat. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Angel‘s finale, on the other hand, was incredible: by turns touching, hilarious, ass-kicking, heartbreaking, and wise. This won’t mean anything if you haven’t seen the show, but Ilyria’s final line to Wesley – “Shall I lie to you now?” – is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard in a story.

The last line of Buffy, spoken after a great victory, is: “What are we gonna do now?” Full of hope and possibility. By contrast, the last line of Angel, spoken in the middle of a great battle, is: “Let’s go to work.” This says a great deal about the difference between the two shows.

All things considered, I have to say I like Buffy better. The quality’s not as consistent as Angel, and the lows are lower, but the highs are definitely higher. No Angel episode can compare with Buffy’s “The Body,” “Once More With Feeling,” or “After Life.” (Oh, and Angel has more torture. Like way, way more. Really could’ve done with a little less torture.)

Nevertheless, Angel is an amazing show, and I recommend it to anybody. Even if you’ve never seen Buffy, you can pick it up without much trouble.

Anyone else seen Angel? What did you think?

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