Although BUFFY THE VAMPIRE has already received the anthology treatment four different times (with at least one more on the way), ANGEL has been singularly ignored by publishers. Sure, there are official viewing guides, some of them (especially the one by Kenneth Topping) excellent, but this isn't the same as getting a host of unofficial takes on the show. And to judge by the collections of essays, the folks who do the best job of writing about the show are writers, not academics or scholars (even though my own background is aggressively scholarly and oppressively academic). It isn't surprising that the best anthology on BUFFY is SEVEN SEASONS OF BUFFY, edited by the same Glenn Yeffeth who edited this new ANGEL collection, nor surprising that this volume happily comes up to the same high standards of that volume.
The great problem with anthologies is that they are of necessity uneven. Some essays are simply going to be better than others. Luckily, there are virtually no truly weak essays in FIVE SEASONS OF ANGEL, and a number of very strong ones. The twenty-one essays overlap to some degree, conflict with one another from time to time, sometimes cover subjects that I would have preferred left uncovered, and take up most, if not all, of the potential themes of the show. No one who loves ANGEL can fail to find this collection utterly fascinating, and no fan will fail to gain new insights into the show's characters and storylines. I was grateful that Conner, my least favorite show got scant mention, and saddened that more was not done with both Fred and her transition into Illyria (a plot line that contained scads of potential for the Season Six that was not to be, a season in which producer Jeff Bell revealed that Willow as to guest star and cast a spell that would allow what remained of Fred to escape from within Illyria, allowing Amy Acker to play a permanent double role).
I hesitate to start mentioning specific essays, for most are quite good. Dan Kerns, who was the Gaffer on ANGEL for the final three years and the Best Boy for the first two, brings a host of fascinating behind-the-scenes details in a highly humorous fashion. Nancy Holder has a great essay on how Spike on the final season of ANGEL differed from his previous incarnations on BUFFY. I'll mention only two more. I belong to those who believe that as much as Angel, Cordelia was the thematic heart of the show, in that she showed how even shallow, petty, and self-absorbed people can fulfill their potential and become not only good but genuinely heroic. I also believe that the dismantling of her character at the end of Season Three, its bizarre transformation in Season Four, and nonuse in Season Five (except for a wonderful one episode reappearance). I understand that some real world issues entered into her being written out of the show, but that doesn't lessen her essentiality in the show. Laura Anne Gilman gets at the heart of her story in her essay on Cordy entitled "True Shanshu." And Jennifer Crusie expresses sentiments precisely like my own (hunt down my old reviews of the ANGEL DVDs if you doubt me) in "The Assassination of Cordelia Chase."
The only two things that I really miss in the collection are an essay that deals with the character of Gunn, who was to me always one of the most underutilized characters on the show, and a lot more on Fred/Illyria. Some might complain of the absence of material on Connor, but for me that is one of the strengths and not one of the weaknesses of the collection.
Any BUFFY or ANGEL fan is going to love this collection. While there is now only one anthology dealing with ANGEL (a situation that will hopefully change), at least it is a good oen.