By Edward Gross
Wednesday 1 October 2003
The new season of Joss Whedon’s lone surviving series reveals departures, additions and major storytelling changes.
"Angel is definitely a show in evolution," says series star David Boreanaz. "[Creator] Joss [Whedon] keeps it very much that way. He’s got an understanding of where it’s heading, and it evolves into something greater and bigger with each show."
But when pressed for details on the creative coordinates of these new directions in the upcoming season, the show’s creators are still secretive, though the show’s recent trials and triumphs have been very public.
After considerable debate over whether the WB would renew Joss Whedon’s Angel for a fifth season, the network not only gave the go-ahead for 22 more episodes, but showed the ultimate sign of corporate support by moving its top hit, Smallville, to serve as Angel’s lead-in.
The fans were immediately abuzz upon hearing the news. The media applauded the move, and Whedon, too, expressed satisfaction for the support. Angel executive producer and show runner Jeffrey Bell, however, isn’t so sure it was the right programming strategy.
"We’re very different from Smallville," Bell says matter of factly. "Smallville is a very well-done, soapy, high-school melodrama, and we are a more adult, darker show, and there’s not a whole lot of piney love going on. There’s some pining, but not a lot. They have a simple, clean metaphor, and ours is a little darker. And there’s no way we can hold the Smallville lead-in, but I would love for new fans to discover us, because I think we’re a very cool show."
There are between three and four million Angel fans who would tend to agree with Bell, as they have followed the series each time the network has moved the show since it began in 1999. It’s that quality that has kept the show on the air, even after the WB became concerned that the series was failing to connect with a more mainstream audience, "which isn’t easy," Bell admits.
"We’re the weirdest show on television. We have a vampire with a soul, and we’re not camp. People see a rubber mask and think that it’s funny and that it’s camp, and it’s not. We think it’s the opposite of that - mythic emotion, but couched in bizarre terms. We’re weird meat. That’s not for everyone. We’re going to continue to try and tell captivating stories in a bizarre way, but hopefully not in a way that is indecipherable, which I think the fourth season became."
And therein lies the problem.
The character of Angel (David Boreanaz) spawned to life on its progenitor series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a quiet, maudlin vampire who began to pitch in and help Buffy Summers slay others of his kind. Angel, we quickly learned, had a soul because of a Gypsy curse. In retribution for a murder he committed, that soul was given back to him, so he could live with the guilt of all the suffering he had caused, the caveat being that if Angel should ever experience a moment of true happiness, his soul would be whisked away, turning him back into the evil Angelus. Well, that’s exactly what happened when he and Buffy fell in love and finally consummated their lust. He was later restored to Angel status, though not before Angelus could unleash a fresh wave of bloodletting. Eventually, Angel set off to his own series, which in the beginning consisted of standalone adventures, as he, Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) and Doyle (the late Glenn Quinn) set out to help the helpless. Over the ensuing seasons, however, the character line-up changed, as did the show’s approach to storytelling. Eventually, things became more serialized, with short arcs gradually growing in length, and characters and their relationships with each other deepening, while expanding the Angel mythology. This trend continued until each episode of season four was more or less interconnected.
"Last year," Bell says, "we knew we wanted to deal with the Apocalypse. We had been talking about one for three years, and it felt like it was time that we should have one. But when we started, I don’t think we had any idea that the show was going to be as serialized as it became. Entertainment Weekly decided to list what was good and what was bad about the show. What was bad was that if you haven’t watched from the beginning, it’s like coming in at page 262 of a Stephen King novel - and that was an accurate criticism."