20th Century Fox presents
Angel: The Complete Fifth Season (2003-2004)
Angel: Is that what you think you are, a hero?
Spike: Saved the world, didn't I?
Angel: Once. Talk to me after you've done it a couple more times.- David Boreanaz, James Marsters
Stars: David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, J. August Richards
Other Stars: Andy Hallet, Sarah Thompson, Julie Benz, Juliet Landau, Adam Baldwin, Mercedes McNab
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, strong action violence)
Run Time: Approx. 956 min.
Release Date: 2005-02-15
DVD ReviewAfter four seasons, Angel had faced countless demons but couldn't conquer low ratings. Despite a faithful following, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off consistently ranked in the bottom half of the WB's line-up in terms of total viewers. Never mind the show had performed consistently in at least four different time slots; not enough new viewers were tuning in to watch the adventures of brooding detective/vampire with a soul Angel (David Boreanaz) and his ministers of grace Wesley (Alexis Denisof), Winifred "Fred" Burkle (Amy Acker), and Charles Gunn (J. August Richards). At the last minute, creator Joss Whedon and his team were able to wrangle another season, and the franchise known as the Buffy-verse earned a stay of execution.
As a condition of the renewal, the creative team was asked to make some changes to lighten the show up and make it more accessible. Gone was the ambitious, exhilarating, non-stop storytelling of Season Four, which turned off some with risk-taking plotting, in favor of less serialized plots and a confusing new premise—Angel and Co. are handed the keys to the offices of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, the source off most of the evil occurrences in the series' first four seasons. The new set-up allows for bright shots in an office building environment (the glass is even "neco-tempered" so Angel won't go up in a poof of flame). One important cast member left the show (Charisma Carpenter as the sunny Cordelia, a holdover from Angel's Buffy days who had been with the show from the beginning) , and new characters were introduced, including another souled vamp, Spike (James Marsters), despite the fact that he kind of exploded in flames in the Buffy finale (he's back as a ghost), and the supposed-to-be-sultry-but-just-kind-of-bony Eve (Sarah Thompson), the crew's liaison to the Wolfram & Hart Senior Partners, a group of unseen, other-dimensional demons. So... Angel is actually working for them? See why the premise makes no sense?
The new standalone format takes some getting used to following two full seasons that were basically one long, ambitious story arc. In what seems like a radical overreaction to the fans who complained (oh so wrongly, in my opinion) that seasons three and four weren't as good as the previous two, Season Five starts off with a series of episodes that aren't just standalones (as was much of the first two seasons), but very simple ones at that. The stories are very basic, usually with no B-plot to help move along the action. Thus we get snoozers like Unleashed, about Angel helping a young woman (Jenny Mollen) come to grips with a new affliction—lycanthropy. Except it's all just long, awkward talking scenes, and werewolves alone aren't enough to carry a 42-minute story (or at least, not this werewolf, and not this story). Or there's Hell Bound, a Spike-centric installment that deals with another spirit haunting the halls of Wolfram & Hart, the malevolent Pavayne (Simon Templeman). Suspenseful scenes of Spike wandering through the darkened office and encountering the ghosts of "The Reaper's" tortured victims (like Mr. Ow There Is a Huge Piece of Glass in My Eye) have less impact when that's is literally all that happens for more than half of the episode. Angel, a show that used to excel at weaving together multiple plots over the course of an episode and an entire season, doesn't do standalone very well.
Luckily, strong writing can sometimes redeem mediocre plotting, as is the case with Life of the Party, a bizarre installment from The Tick creator Ben Edlund that deals with the ramifications of telepathic demon Lorne (Andy Hallet) missing out on too much sleep while planning the office's big Halloween party. Lorne, the flamboyant, green-skinned series regular, works best in small doses (as evidenced by the fact that his episode is about event planning), but seeing how his emotional overflow affects the rest of the cast (Gunn marks his territory, literally) is amusing. And the slow-paced The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco, from executive producer Jeffrey Bell, is, at least, something different—a tongue-in-cheek ode to old Mexican wrestler movies.
And quickly enough, the writers seem to get the hang of things, and begin to tell stories that weave in a bit of episode to episode continuity while building on ideas from previous seasons (and even series—Damage deals with fallout from the Buffy finale), while again bringing character development to the fore.
From Episode 7 on, Season Five is at least as consistent as any other year (even if I would still have preferred another continuous arc). In Lineage, Wesley's father shows up to see his son, about the same time robotic ninja assassins descend upon the firm. Sure, the ninjas are silly, but watching Wes deal with his daddy issues provides a nice reminder of the changes he has gone through since showing up as a freshly scrubbed Watcher during Season Three of Buffy, and writer Drew Goddard (who was a fan before he was hired) can always be counted on to put lots of details from past episodes into his scripts. Destiny, in which Spike unexpectedly regains his corporeality and he and Angel race to fulfill a prophecy about a vampire becoming human, kicks off a nearly incomprehensible, pieced-together arc featuring a popular old nemesis, and even if the episodes don't make sense until the end of the season (and only then if you think really hard), they're still compelling as they unfold.
Harm's Way places the spotlight on Angel's secretary Harmony (Mercedes McNab), who began life as a minor comic character on Buffy, got turned into an inept vampire ("Harmony has minions?") and eventually migrated to Angel and became a regular (likely in an effort to fill the gap left by sarcastic Cordelia). It's an amusing take on the behind-the-scenes nuttiness at a demon law firm, even if it is really just a lark. Soul Purpose is good for some weird dream sequences when Angel is infected by a hallucinogenic dream demon sucker thing, while Why We Fight flashes back to World War II as Angel and Spike battle it out with Nazis conducting a demon experimentation project (which isn't as stupid as it sounds).
And anyway, a WWII vampire adventure won't seem odd after you watch Smile Time, perhaps one of the most sublime episodes of television ever produced. In this Edlund-penned outing, Angel and Co. investigate odd occurrences surrounding the titular children's television show, and, to make a long, trippy story short, Angel is turned into a Sesame Street style puppet. He's made of felt and everything. And he has to battle these other, murderous puppets that want to suck away kids' lives through the television. Really, it's just the best thing ever. And You're Welcome, which wraps up Cordelia's story, is nearly as good. Charisma Carpenter was a large part of why the show worked as well as it did, and she gets her fitting sendoff after spending most of Season Four possessed by an exotic black woman/people eater/benevolent god thing.
From episode 15 on, the show mostly abandons the one-off format full a full on mini-arc after something unusual happens to Fred in the melodramatic, affecting A Hole in the World. There are more surprise guests, more episodes to wrap up lingering plot threads (including Angel's relationships with both Buffy and his son Connor), and a new baddie (played by Firefly's Adam Baldwin, the third cast member from Whedon's sci-fi series to pop up as a villain on Buffy or Angel), all leading up to Not Fade Away, the epic series finale that ends on an absolutely perfect note. In the Angel universe, it doesn't matter if you find redemption, it only matters that you keep fighting.
The WB's meddling aside, Season Five is generally a success, and viewers agreed by making it one of the most-watched. Yet despite good numbers, the network canceled the show citing an overall "aging" schedule, in favor of fresh new pilots that remade Dark Shadows and Lost in Space. Except neither show got picked up, and the WB started the season with no strong dramas to deliver Angel's faithful five million viewers. The time slot replacements, The Mountain (canceled) and Jack & Bobby (all but canceled) just aren't cutting it. Morons.
Finally owning this season on DVD is bittersweet—every season of Buffy and Angel is available on DVD, but that also means no more are coming. Still, consider the fact that the former was a show that, by all accounts, never should have existed, let alone have become a cultural phenomenon and spawned a spin-off that might be even better. When it comes to smart TV, I'll take when I can get, and when that's a combined 12 seasons and 254 episodes, I can't complain too much.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Angel is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks great. Colors and detail come off well, and black level looks very solid (a boon for a series with many dark scenes). The only thing that gives away the TV-level budget is a slightly grainy look.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
|DS 2.0||English, Spanish, French||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 2.0 audio is good, with strong, clear dialogue and a wide front soundstage that features strong stereo separation for sound effects and score. The surrounds are pretty subdued, but do support the score and carry some ambient sound effects and the score.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 330 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by writers, directors, and actors on seven key episodes
Packaging: Book Gatefold
- Gag reel
Fans will want to check out the seven commentary tracks, each of which features some nice background information about the filming of the final season. I particularly liked the ones with participation from the actors, who seem to be having the most fun. Tracks can be found on the following episodes: Conviction (with series co-creator Joss Whedon), Destiny (with director Skip Schoolnik, writers David Fury and Steven DeKnight, and actress Juliet Landau), Soul Purpose (with episode director/actor David Boreanaz, writer Brent Fletcher, and actor Christian Kane), You're Welcome" (writer David Fury, actors Christian Kane and Sarah Thompson), A Hole In The World (Whedon, actors Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof), Underneath (director Skip Schoolnik, writers Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, and actor Adam Baldwin, and Not Fade Away (co-writer/director Jeffrey Bell).
There is also a nice selection of featurettes. Though the episode it references is on Disc 4, Disc 1 includes the Hey Kids, It's Smile Time featurette (7:00) on the making of the infamous puppet episode. It's a nice behind-the-scenes piece (with interviews with writer Ben Edlund and the puppeteers, and even, uh, the puppets, who seem less evil in person), but too much of it is simply footage from the show. Disc 4 has Angel 100 (5:35), a retrospective filmed during the party for the series 100th episode, which was about two weeks before the show was canceled, like, thanks, WB. Disc 5 has the self-explanatory Choreography of a Stunt (6:06), with stunt coordinator Mike Massa (Angel's stunt double) falling out of a building (from the episode Shells).
The rest of the bonuses are on Disc 6. There's To Live and Die in L.A.: The Best of Angel, (8:53) an interview with Joss Whedon featuring discussion of his favorite episodes from seasons one through four. He doesn't say much of substance, and I much preferred the top ten countdown on the Buffy Season Seven set. Halos and Horns: Recurring Villainy (9:23) features character insights from familiar baddies like Julie Benz (Darla), Juliet Landau (Drusilla), Christian Kane (Lindsay), and Stephanie Romanov (the late, lamented Lilah Morgan).
Angel: The Final Season (27:14) is a year five overview with commentary from the entire cast and most of the writers. It isn't much more than an episode-by-episode, plot point by plot point summary, but it's a nice look at what they were trying to do with the year as a whole. Finally, Angel Unbound (6:11) collects the best gags and blown takes from the entire run of the series. Gag reels are my favorite extra, and this is a good one.
The packaging matches that used for other releases in the series, and is quite nice-looking, though if you haven't seen the episodes before and are trying to stay spoiler-free, maybe take the discs out with your eyes closed. There is also a booklet that provides brief episode descriptions. With the way the extras are spread around, it would have been nice if it listed the bonus materials for each disc as well.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsI suspect the WB is sorry they canceled Angel now (as, I don't know, all their new dramas crashed and burned), and most anyone who watches this outstanding collection of episodes will agree it was a dumb move. Season Five wasn't Angel's best year, but it still goes toe-to-toe with anything on television, no mean feat for a spin-off of another silly show about vampires.
Joel Cunningham 2005-03-03