Sunday, April 26, 2009

DVD review - Buffy season 4/Angel season 1 episodes 1

I'll be doing something a bit different now - going back and forth on Buffy season 4 and Angel season 1, watching them as they aired. This way I can experience things as they had been broadcast. As always....

**** SPOILERS ****

B4-1: the Freshman

Synopsis: Buffy's initial trouble adjusting to college life is soon overcome when she discovers the only difference between high school and college is that the mosters are bigger and badder. (written by Joss Whedon, airdate 10/5/99)

I remember the excitement and trepdiation of starting college - going from a small pond to a bigger one. For those not ready, it can be a little of adjustment. This episode tried to capture that feel. There is the contrast of Willow who is prepared and ready and of Buffy who seems to be lost. Add that Willow has Oz while Buffy has lost Angel just emphasizes some of the alone feelings Buffy has. I get all that - I just felt it dragged out. Not even new roommate who snores and worships Celene Dion could help the situation. Buffy finds everyone has adjusted, even Giles who has a female guest and Joyce who is using Buffy's room for storage. It isn't until Buffy encounters Xander at the Bronze does the energy get its feel right. Xander, the energy source - who'd a thunk it? :) It takes his pep-talk and "let's do it" attitude to kick Buffy out of her funk, to find out what happened to Eddie and where the campus-vamps are hanging out. Then it started to feel like the old Buffy again. Big mystery: just who are those guys with the stun guns and camo that took down the vamp at the end? I think we may have the foundation of the season's overall arc. In conclusion: this season opener was like the season 3 opener for me - just so-so and out of the groove a bit.

A1-1: City Of

Synopsis: Newly arrived in Los Angeles, Angel is befriended by a half-demon named Doyle whose visions lead him to a powerful vampire whose next victim just may be Cordelia Chase. (written by David Greenwalt & Joss Whedon, airdate 10/5/99)

For me, this series debut episode was also just so-so. I liked how we started with Angel drowning his sorrows in a bar, harking back to his pre-vampire drinking days of old. He rescues a couple women from some vampires but then has to retreat home before sunrise. His digs are cool - office above and dwelling in the basement. It is a nice set. There he finds Doyle who plays "this is your life" and then tells Angel that his visions will help the vampire on the road to redemption. I wasn't sure where the Tina stuff was going until it led to the Hollywood party where Angel runs into Cordelia. For me, the energy ramped up from this point (funny - Xander's arrival on Buffy and now Cordy here kicked in the shows for me). Charisma just adds a dimension needed to this dark, brooding show. Cordy puts on a good front but truth is she's living in squaller and struggling. I loved her attempts at positive affirmation - remember when that was in vogue? Even she doesn't buy it. That makes her a perfect mark for vampire Russell Winters who goes after Cordy after killing Tina. I love that it takes her a while to realize the truth - she's smart, she just needs to not focus on herself so much to see the truth sooner. Luckily, Angel comes to her rescue as he seeks vengeance on Russell. The vengeance has to wait another day - but boldly he storms into Russell's office and makes him "see the light" (a nice visual of the falling and flaming out LA mover-and-shaker). Of course, the true villains of the season are going to be the law firm of Wolfram and Hart. They should prove to be interesting rivals.


Michael O'Connell said...

BUFFY (THE FRESHMAN): I would offer that they probably (I like to think, as it seems like a Joss thing to do) intended to make us feel lost and out of sorts as this ep went along - to mirror what Buffy was feeling. And I agree - I felt it. Everything here made Buffy (and us) feel like everything had changed. Nice parallel to that feeling after high school. Suddenly, your parents treat you different and start to get on with (get back to...) their own lives now that you're finally grown and graduated. In this case, that was represented by both Joyce and Giles. Like so many students (and apparently unlike her friends), Buffy just isn't ready for the overwhelming experience of college. And this gets proven at every possible turn - from screwing up in class to getting lost to ending up with the Cher-fan roommate (loved that). Joss, in a later interview, even talked about how they chose their shots carefully to make Buffy seem small and dwarfed - with giant buildings behind her, etc. They did really good job, by the way, of showing all the different aspects of college life, from causes to frat party flyers to trying to get into classes on the first day. Brought back a lot of memories. And as if this all wasn't overwhelming enough for her and making her lose all her confidence - here comes a new vamp, and the WORST kind imaginable - the "Mean Girls" vampire! Sunday was perfect! Great casting. That actress had the snarky, superior, evil look down. She made ME feel uncool. And with Buffy off her game, Sunday showed Buffy that she was a freshman in SO many ways - including the slaying part. And taking her stuff? That's just wrong! The last straw. Yes, thankfully Xander returned! Yes, it is odd that that's what it took to bring her back around. She finally gets back on her game, and DAMNIT she kills Sunday! I mean, yeah, that's a good thing, but I was hoping this was a new and really unique arch-nemesis. Guess not! Loved Giles giving into to his guilt and rushing in (too late), the final proof, at the end of the ep, that things were getting, as well as can be expected, back to normal. And yes...who ARE those masked guys, indeed? Hmmm...

ANGEL (City Of...) - I came at this first episode from a different perspective, having already seen this show and not just stepping into it right after the end of Buffy season 3, like yourself - but having just watched Buffy 3, I can totally see where you're coming from. It's a little jarring. This is really its own show, and trying to establish itself on its own. It's definitely going to be different. And really, I can see where it has to be. Angel was a great part of Buffy, but at the same time, there was a reason he was always in the background and not a main part of the gang (didn't pal around with them, etc). Angel's over 200 years old - and that's not counting God knows how long he was in hell. I don't know how long he could have stayed hanging around with high school/college kids. They needed to explore him in the grown-up world, and set that up in this show. But don't worry - every new shows take a little time to find its own voice (much less a spin-off), and Angel does. Just enjoy the ride, and I think you'll like where it's going.

That said, seeing this ep after such a long time? I was impressed by what a strong pilot it was. It set things up really nicely. Loved the opening scene, where Angel is faking drowning his sorrows (as we saw when he suddenly "cleared up" right away when the vamps started leaving with the girls), an undercover drunk just there to hunt L.A. vamps. Great fight scene in the alley! Awesome stunt work. And here's a little trivia for you - that first vamp he fought, the one he met first at the bar? That's the now-famous Sawyer from "Lost". I'd totally forgotten! And the dramatic walk-away before the credits, with his coat flapping like a cape as he disappears into the night. They made it clear - this is going to be a super-hero show.

Enter Doyle. I love Doyle! It's the Irishman in me... More interesting trivia - I once got to check out the original script for this pilot, and the "guide" for Angel wasn't Doyle, but was Whistler (remember him?). Interesting. I'm sure that was a network-requested change. And I can't really argue it - like I said before, I'm a fan of the actor who played Whistler, but he's really not that great of an actor - not enough to be a major supporting character on a weekly show. Doyle is perfect - he's that bit of tell-it-like-it-is mixed with comedy, an interesting half-breed demon with a typical Irish weakness for the drink. I like him. And like what he has to say to Angel - he's got to get out and mix with the people if he's going to help them. Love how lousy Angel is at that, as he proved with Tina (I love that actress. Wow, what eyes). By the of my favorite moments is him jumping dramatically into his car to chase the girl and realizing it's the wrong car. Very Joss. Oh, and yes, you hit the nail on the head with Cordy - she shows up and provides exactly what's missing in the show. Brilliant idea, bringing her over. And now she's got so much more depth to her...and once again, we have lots of compassion for her, seeing the situation she's gotten herself into, being poor and not making it as an actress, the prettiest girl at Sunnydale High but just another face on the street in L.A. So Angel has a girl to help - and fails her. Which is enough to get him off his ass and get him back into hero mode, proper. Storming the mansion with the reluctant Doyle. Awesome. Loved his James Bond stuff, sneaking in, to go with his earlier Batman stuff. And loved Cordy's sudden realization that Russell's a vamp - totally hilarious ("No I'm not..."). Awesome fight with him and Russell. And totally loved the finds-his-guts Doyle, almost running, then storming back - only to ram the gate with no luck. Comedy gold. Here again, I thought we were getting a new major villain in Russell. Oops... Guess Angel kept THAT from happening. Ah, and then we're introduced to Wolfram and Hart. The power behind the powerful. I sense we're going to see more of them. And now Cordy gets a job - loved her attitude and take-charge notions. Welcome to real character life, Cordy! You're going to shine. Like this little trio and their detective agency feel. This is going to be fun... But a DIFFERENT kind of fun, of course...

Martin Maenza said...

I see your point about having Buffy on a big campus with big buildings and lots of folks - so she could be the little fish in the big pond. I remember a bit of that going to college, but I was hugely excited to go like Willow. So many opportunities.

I too thought the mean girl vampire was going to be a villain in multiple episodes. Ah well.

I do see your point about Angel, having all those years, so the mature tone reflects that. And the show needed a different feel to it. I am sure I will get into it more as it goes along.

I do like Doyle over Whistler, so I am glad they made the switch. I am sure he'll grow on me too. I like the accent - it adds variety. The trio should make for interesting adventures.