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From Thestar.com


Buffy spinoff Angel continues to thrive

By Rob Salem

Monday 2 February 2004, by Webmaster

Feb. 2, 2004. 01:00 AM

Gilmore Girls all talked out Buffy spinoff Angel continues to thrive


Sometimes you jump the shark. And sometimes the shark jumps you. And sometimes you’re smart enough to just stay the hell out of the water, sit on the beach and read a good book.

The American networks’ mid-winter "sweeps" period gets off to an early start this week on the youth-skewed netlet, The WB, with Very Special Episodes of two successful signature series, Gilmore Girls and Angel.

The first is a classic example of a once-great show that has now "jumped the shark" (Internet-inspired terminology for "past it"). The second is a spin-off series that started off inside the shark, and has somehow managed to muscle its way out again and swim off to bluer waters.

Gilmore Girls, (tomorrow night on WPIX at 8 and KTLA at 11, Wednesday on Global at 9), kicks off what is ostensibly a two-part story, linked only in reality by the dubious return of Milo Ventimiglia’s broody Jess, who left an entire season ago to be spun off into his own series, which somehow never quite got around to actually getting made.

Angel, a series spinoff (from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) that did succeed, against all odds, celebrates that fact, and its recent, fifth-season rejuvenation, with a thematically pivotal 100th episode (Wednesday at 9 on WPIX, 10 on CKVR and midnight on KTLA) that also brings back an absent friend, resolving once and for all the final fate of Charisma Carpenter’s comatose Cordelia Chase.

But first, the bad news. Once one of the funniest and freshest hours on the dial, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls has recently degenerated into a chatty snoozefest, having bantered itself inextricably into a creative corner.

The relationship at that show’s heart, between quirky iconoclast single mom Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her quirky, over-achieving daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), has been torn asunder by the latter’s relocation to Yale, leaving much of their signature snappy patter to be crammed into unlikely cell-phone exchanges and unrealistically frequent weekend visits home.

At the same time, there has been an apparent downplaying of the other eccentric residents of Star’s Hollow, and an over-playing of the otherwise fabulous Kelly Bishop as Lorelai’s high-strung mom, and the ultimate playing-out of the once stoically unknowable coffee hunk, Luke (Scott Patterson) ...

Newly named Warner CEO Jordan Levin addressed the show’s creative decline last month at the recent TV critics’ confab in L.A.

"We’re transitioning the show to this new model of Rory being in college," he began ("transitioning," "new model" - network suits do tend to sound very much like motivational speakers).

"I think there’s two ways you can tackle that. One way is you continue to live in this TV reality where nobody ages and nothing ever changes and nothing ever happens, which I think is tougher and tougher to ask audiences, especially younger audiences, to suspend disbelief with.

"They buy these characters and they view them as real, and they have goals, and you want to see them try and fill those goals. But in doing so, I think we were very conscious of the fact that that was a transition for the show ... a transition period that was a bit rocky."

That’s three "transitions," and not a single suggestion of what the show might be transitioning to. Which is, of course, the problem. A problem that bringing back Jess, that foul-tempered, delinquent Kerouak wannabe, ain’t gonna solve (particularly not when his so-called "reunion" with Rory takes an episode and a half to get to, and lasts all of maybe 20 seconds).

On the other hand, his return does finally bring into the fold his errant mom, Luke’s much talked-about ditzy sister, Liz, perfectly embodied by ER’s Kathleen Whilhoite, who may, if we are lucky (and the show’s producers are smart), stick around in Star’s Hollow for a season or so.

If only to give Lorelai someone to talk to.

But enough doom and gloom. Time to talk vampires, demons and lawyers, and the unlikely fifth-season beyond-the-grave resurrection of Angel, this week celebrating its centennial episode - the magic number required for five-night-a-week "strip" syndication, in other words, residual money, the Big Ka-Ching.

The show has benefited greatly this year from the focused attentions of its creator, Joss Whedon, who, with the conclusion of the originating Buffy and Fox’s unconscionable cancellation of his visionary sci-fi series, Firefly, is now devoting his full attention to Angel, transferring the action to a law firm of the living dead and adding that fan-favourite Buffy biter, James Marsters’ Spike, to the already eclectic mix.

I mean, is there another writer on the planet who could come up with a line like, "The dead nuns we can deal with, but the firm’s out $10 million in bail costs ..."? Or another show even remotely capable of accommodating it?

"I do feel there’s a new energy this year," Whedon acknowledges. "You know, just coming off with kind of a new paradigm, the idea of putting them in the heart of evil and making it look really nice ... obviously, bringing in James and shaking up the cast a little bit ... having the mission statement of making the show accessible to people who haven’t seen it before really kept us on out toes."

"I’m having fun kind of going back to the original Spike," allows Marsters, "which is really kind of a weird thing to say, because the character got a soul, which would have made me think I’d be going in a whole new direction. But I am enjoying not being `whipped’ anymore.

"And so I can go back to, you know, what the character kind of did originally, which is go up to the lead of the series and say, `Hey, you’re going to die. You’re a fool,’ and just be the grit in the wheel that way.

"I’m enjoying myself and this cast like never before ... and I think that’s showing in the work, too."