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From Bostonherald.com


Angel’ raises the stakes with familiar faces in new setting

By Amy Amatangelo

Wednesday 1 October 2003

Back from the brink of cancellation hell, ``Angel’’ returns for its fifth season tonight at 9 on WLVI (Ch. 56). But can the series survive its latest incarnation ?

At the end of last season, Angel (David Boreanaz) and his cohorts were given the keys to the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart, effectively changing the series’ premise. That means new sets, the arrival of familiar faces and the departure of beloved characters. Most missed is Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia, who remains, perhaps indefinitely, in an off-camera coma. Also gone, but not really missed, is Angel’s son, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser), who found happiness as an ordinary boy in last season’s finale.

The two-part season opener (which concludes Oct. 8) was written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon. Whedon’s trademark wit is evident in both hours. Even the throwaway lines are a hoot. When Angel picks up the phone at Wolfram & Hart, he hears an automated recording, ``You have reached ritual sacrifices. For ghosts, press one or say `Ghosts.’ ’’

Boreanaz is still the star, but clearly WB is banking on the arrival of ``Buffy the Vampire Slayer’’ refugee Spike (James Marsters, who joins the cast) to bring new viewers to the spinoff. That’s why, despite the sharp humor, the fifth season starts off shakily. The main characters spend too much time on exposition.

If part one is only above average, things pick up remarkably with the arrival of Spike, who carries next week’s episode. Marsters has created one of television’s most memorable and heartbreaking characters. What a delight that the end of ``Buffy’’ didn’t end Spike’s journey. The verbal showdown between the two vampires with souls is well worth the wait.

``The vampire slayer both men loved, both men lost. Oh, I could sell that to any studio in a heartbeat,’’ Lorne (Andy Hallett) announces. One wonders . . . how long until the show is called ``Angel & Spike’’ ?

Mercedes McNab reprises her role of bitchy high school girl turned pouty vampire Harmony. McNab, an old pro at Whedon repartee, is a welcome and hilarious addition.

cw-2But let’s sink our teeth into some things that aren’t quite right. Tonight’s premiere has the gang going into the courtroom to litigate a case, something viewers never need to see again. There’s no need for ``Angel’’ to go all ``Law & Order.’’

And though the show is often able to present outrageous plot twists as facts (Connor going from infant to teenager in a matter of months comes to mind), there’s one involving Gunn (J. August Richards) that is too forced and stretches the credibility factor.

Sarah Thompson as Eve, Angel’s liaison to the senior partners at Wolfram & Hart, is the other major problem. Thompson is supposed to be sexy and mysterious, but she’s annoying and comes across as a teenager playing naughty dressup. The series should fire her fast.

Even with these quibbles, ``Angel’’ remains one of television’s most engrossing dramas. Let’s hope the series, which has consistently struggled in the ratings, doesn’t turn to dust.