On most occasions, spin-offs are to television what sequels are to movies: an attempt by a studio or producer to fully exploit a popular idea and wring every potential dollar out of a concept. They’re also similar in that they usually mean diminishing returns creatively as well as financially.
A perfect example was last year’s Highlander: The Raven , the spin-off of Highlander that was virtually dead on arrival. This year’s model, however, runs contrary to the rule. Angel , spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer , has David Boreanaz reprising his role of the angst-ridden vampire who departed Sunnydale at the end of last year. At the outset, the question was whether or not the actor, part of the Buffy ensemble, could carry a show on his own. Like Frasier Crane from Cheers (a series creator Joss Whedon says he used as a model in his decision-making process), though, the answer is a resounding yes.
As “City of…” begins, we see Angel rescue a woman from a pair of vampires while barely restraining himself from snacking on her head wound. At this point we get the impression that the show is going to be about a literal Batman rescuing damsels in distress. In other words, a well-choreographed action-adventure with more attention devoted to the fights than the drama. Things abruptly change with the arrival of the human-demon hybrid, Doyle (Roseanne’s Glenn Quinn, here speaking his native Irish), who makes it apparent that Angel’s adventures are going to be a little more resonant.
After some long but necessary (for newcomers) exposition that recaps Angel’s history and manages to get in the fact that Angel has been drinking pig blood to survive, Doyle basically sets down the “point” of the series: while Angel’s been helping people, he has been isolated from them as well. There will come a point, Doyle emphasises, when “one of those helpless victims you don’t care about is going to look way too appetising to turn down, and you’ll figure, ‘What’s one against all I’ve saved? I’m still ahead by the numbers.’” What Angel has to do is truly reach out to those around him and help save their souls and, along the way, possibly his own.
At this moment, Angel elevates itself above its initial impression, nicely adding a bit of substance. His first “subject” is a waitress named Tina who has come to California to become a star, but instead has found herself a victim of a Hollywood netherworld and a ruthless man named Russell, who has more in common with Angel than one might initially think. The amazing thing about this story is that (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Angel actually fails to save Tina, though some solace is found in his literally forcing Russell to take a flying leap.
Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia Chase is nicely inserted into the plot, as Cordy has come to Hollywood to be an actress and she, like Tina, is failing miserably. She ultimately elects to work with Angel and Doyle – until something better comes along, undoubtedly providing a great deal of the show’s comedy in future episodes.
Boreanaz handles himself well in the action sequences (great moment: leaping from a balcony with Cordelia while getting shot in the back), and his awkwardness around other people provides some gentle humour that should help balance some of the show’s darker elements. One aspect of the show whose effectiveness will have to be determined later, is a law firm that apparently represents vampires and demons in Hollywood and work for this very different underworld that Angel’s adventures will take him in to. Based on its premiere, Angel is as close as one can get to a sure-thing in Hollywood, and it’s difficult to beat those odds.