Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" are both great shows, but it's a heckuva lot easier to explain "Buffy's" greatness. High school hell. Girl power. Sarah Michelle Gellar's Season 3 hair.
The appeal of "Angel" is harder to quantify. Sure, you can watch any of the first 109 episodes and come up with a healthy list of attributes: the awesome fight scenes; the noir cinematography; the biting humor; the stylish period flashbacks; David Boreanaz's deliciously evil turns as Angel's evil half, Angelus.
But the demon-plagued Los Angeles of "Angel" is the anti-Sunnydale; it seems to be as gloomy during the day as it is at night, and hope is harder to come by. This is Whedon's pessimistic vision of the world, one where "nothing we do matters," as Angel said in Season 2's "Epiphany." But the entirety of Angel's quote is comforting: "If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do."
If you watch
What: "Angel" series finale
Starring: David Boreanaz (left), James Marsters (right), J. August Richards, Amy Acker, Mercedes McNab, Andy Hallett, Alexis Denisof
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Network: The WB
Season 5 grade: A
Angel's centuries of brooding haven't been for naught; the vampire, just shy of his 250th birthday, has a pretty well defined world view. And in Season 5, the writing team -- great at comedy, great at drama, but sometimes struggling to find the proper balance -- has developed a consistent world view of "Angel," which is why the series sendoff (8 p.m. Wednesday on The WB) will be the first season finale that's not a mild letdown.
This season, Team Angel has taken over the headquarters of Wolfram & Hart, which allows them to fight evil with all the resources of the interdimensional law firm. The spacious W&H headquarters is a breath of fresh air -- I don't miss the dank hotel of the past three seasons one bit -- but it's the writing that has really opened up. This is the best Buffyverse season since "Buffy's" third year, which was also the last time before this season that Whedon had only one show to focus on.
The serial storytelling of Seasons 2-4 wasn't without merit (you can't go wrong with Darla, Drusilla, Faith, Dark Wesley and Angelus), but the writers also made memorable wrong turns (Connor, Evil Cordelia).
The bevy of standalone episodes this season has been refreshing, and, ironically, it has allowed for a more multi-layered season arc, much like "Buffy's" third season. Among the highlights: "Lineage," which introduced Wesley's (Alexis Denisof) dad; "Harm's Way," which showcased vampire Harmony (Mercedes McNab), who is so bad at being bad; "Damage," which brought us up to date with "Buffy's" Andrew (Tom Lenk); and "Smile Time," where Angel is transformed into a cute little puppet.
The series' two most beautifully tragic episodes have been delivered this year. David Fury's "You're Welcome" is a thank you letter to Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia for seven years on "Buffy" and "Angel." "A Hole in the World," written and directed by Whedon, is "Angel's" answer to "The Body," where Buffy finds her mom dead on her couch. Here we see innocent Fred (Amy Acker) die horribly before our eyes, and feel Wesley's pain. As a morbid denouement, Fred's corpse is taken over by ancient demon Illyria, a role that allows Acker to show a darker side (and wear leather). On the plus side, we get to see rival vampires-with-souls Angel and Spike (James Marsters) work together for the first time since both were evil.
"Angel," which has been cruelly canceled by The WB in the middle of its epic story, likely will end on a cliff-hanger that may never be resolved (TV movies have been rumored, but I'll believe it when I see it). That's fine with me. I wouldn't want to see a rushed ending that turns Angel human and reunites him with Buffy, although, given the time it deserved, that's how the show would have ended.
Last year, "Buffy" signed off with sunlight and a smile. "Angel," I'm guessing, will bow out with a starry sky and a Boreanaz smirk, and I suspect it will feel just about right.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.