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The stirrings of greatness.,
This review is from: Angel - Season 1 [DVD] (DVD)
Angel is for me the 2nd best of three great shows created so far by Joss Whedon (better than Buffy but not quite as brilliant as Firefly). I don't honestly know how many people like me consider Angel to be superior to its parent show, and it is of course a rare spin-off regardless of individual preferences in that it's even held in the same light as the original. It's certainly a lot darker, and I think what clinches it is that the characters are that much more mature than in Buffy - though that's not to say that the show lacks humour or levity.
This first series reminds me a lot of the first season of the X-Files, not so much in terms of content (though the supernatural similarities are of course obvious), but in the way that where later seasons are more about continuous plots and long-running story arcs, this first season is made up mainly of stand-alone episodes, which makes the overall plot less gripping than in later years but also makes individual episodes more obvious.
For a start the gang at Angel Investigations is much smaller than in future series, consisting initially of Angel himself, Cordelia Chase (who's exactly the same person she is in Buffy, at least to start with) and a new character, the half-demon Doyle, who receives visions from the "Powers That Be" which guide the gang to those in need of supernatural assistance (apologies to those who know all this already).
Various Buffy regulars make appearances here and there in the series (and one joins the Angel Investigations team for the long-term), but Angel easily steps out of its older sibling's shadow and becomes a very different animal. The key factor in this seems to be the backdrop of Los Angeles - while the villains (with the exception of unethical law firm Wolfram & Hart) are the usual array of demons and vampires, the city poses a very different set of problems from the smalltown troubles of Sunnydale, and is all the better for it.
This is probably the weakest season in a consistently excellent run, but that only reflects the quality of later seasons, and season 1 is packed full of some of my favourite individual episodes, not to mention being essential if you're going to fully appreciate anything that comes later.
A quick word of warning to those altogether new to the Buffyverse - deep and comprehensive knowledge of Buffy isn't necessary for understanding what's going on, but a basic awareness of the main players definitely helps - also, if you're going to watch both shows, then it's probably useful to know that plotlines from this series run roughly parallel to series 4 of Buffy and you'd probably benefit from watching the two concurrently.