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08.17.04
Johnny Butane
8:00pm,
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An appendage of:

 
DVD: ANGEL: SEASON 4 (UK)

Get the set!6.3.04
By
Jamie Poole

THE SHOW :

In my humble opinion, it’s fair to say "Angel" is the finest show in television history.

It has all the elements for a great show: drama, action, fine acting, sharp writing and a mishmash of all the genres that gives it a distinctly original flavour. With the sad end of the show in site, I felt it was time to review the fourth season of the show on DVD.

The show is about Angel, a vampire with a soul who is redeeming for his past sins along with a group of private investigators (Gunn, Wesley, Fred, Conner and Cordellia). Think of "The X Files" clashing head on with the Ghostbusters and your halfway there.

The rich history of the show, and the arc based stories that it relies on, is both this seasons greatest strength and weakness simultaneously. If your new to the show, don’t buy this. Go buy Season One and work your way up to this. But if you’re a regular, then your in for a treat. It’s thoughtful, deep and dripping with class and oozing with the rich character development you have come to expect from this sharp writing team and talented cast. This season is akin to a novel, each episode a chapter in a long term storyline, following many twists and turns right up untill the satisfying conclusion.

This season is a lot darker, in tone and look, to the previous seasons, and it works.

Season Three was one of the most dramatic television shows I have ever seen. I had to watch each week; the twists kept coming and I was so involved in the characters, you could not help but feel their pain and joy and all the other emotions in this broad spectrum of a show. The big bad, Holtz, was not a villain at all, merely a wronged victim of Angel’s past, and you empathised with both the “hero” and “villain” of the piece, which is a rarity. It also backed the Angel writers into a corner. How do you top that? The challenge was called; the gauntlet thrown down. Did they answer this challenge?

You bet your ass they did.

Originally, watching this season on television was a bit disorientating. It was designed more to be watched all at once, and the weekly breaks worked against it. You will not appreciate it’s brilliance untill you can watch it fairly constantly. And now, thanks to DVD, you can.

After things are tied up from season three’s cliff-hanger finale in the season opener, “Deep Down”, things start to go wrong. The gang try to “rescue” Cordellia from a heaven dimension where the Powers That Be sent her to in Season Three. They eventually do that, but all is not right with Cordy, and it seems something came back in her body…add to that, a hellish beast, looking like the Devil himself, bursts forth from beneath the earth and readily kicks the whole gangs ass, it looks like this may be THE apocalypse. The arc concludes with Jasmine, a former god, coming to earth and promising to free the world of all pain and suffering, at the cost of our will. The delicious irony is that the greatest force team Angel has ever had to face is one of benevolence…

"Angel" does so much right this year, and so little wrong. I will attempt to iron out the kinks before moving onto the oasis of quality that was "Angel: Season Four".

One major problem is Cordellia’s character. The actress, Charisma Carpenter, became pregnant during filming (wonder who was serving the crew’s “refreshments” that day?). Not literally of course, but it presented the writers with a problem which they obviously struggled through, as the writing of Cordy becomes fairly poor. The writers seem to give up about half way through, as does Charisma, sleep walking her way through the typical arch villain set up for her character. Connor is supposed to be a really conflicted character but, despite the odd likeable moments and by no means the fault of the actor, comes off as a fairly dense, easily manipulated character (though it could be argued, rightfully perhaps, that was due to the young man’s upbringing). It still does not endear him, however. Gwen Raiden is a fairly uninteresting generic tough chick character, but does lend to the enjoyable episode “Players”. The only other problem is the series structure; the only way people could truly appreciate the greatness of this series is to have it handy and watch all at once.

The acting is, for the most part, spot on, with honours going to David Boreanaz and Alexis Denisof. Both men have extraordinary range, and go through the gamut of emotions. David is especially enjoyable as the reserved Angel and his evil alter ego, Angelus. Amy Acker and J August Richards have their moments in the sun, too.

Eliza Dushku makes a welcome appearance as slayer Faith, and the two big bads also make quite the impression, especially Gina Torres, who’s sinister smile somehow works in the form of a deity expressing her message of peace (which comes at the cost of a couple of hundred humans a day entering her stomach). Finally, everyone’s favourite witch on Buffy, Willow, makes an appearance to re-soul Angelus.

If series one was noir, the second had a lighter touch, and the third was a supernatural drama, this series definitely belongs to the horror genre, with a heavy dose of drama, as usual.

This season is a lot darker than those previously, and there are a lot more horror based episodes. The Beast is a demon straight from hell, and tears through the Wolfram and Hart building where his victims resurrect as zombies. Slayer Faith has a tense knock down drag out with Angelus in an abandoned warehouse, and the gang descend upon the Beast only to be handily defeated. The gore and effects come in plentiful as the Beast handily smashes through a whole lot of extras and some of the main cast.

This series is not afraid to tackle big issues, either. The main theme of this series is the nature of free will. This has been done several times by many movies, but never this witty, never this smart and the series never condescends or talks down to it’s audience. Jasmine, a former power, a Power that Was, so to speak, comes to Earth with a message of peace. Only one problem...it is at the cost of free will, and she gets to eat a couple of ( seemingly willing) victims each day for sustenance. Team Angel have a lot of questions to ask them selves...are the lives of thousands of happy, willing sacrifices (considering that Jasmine overtakes free will, they have no qualms or worries about it) worth avoiding wars, murders, rape and pain? Angel decides, reluctantly, that people have to make their own destiny, and that man was made to have free will, and that’s the way they should remain for better or worse. It’s up to people to change, not a deity promising an easy answer. Effectively, as lawyer Lilah Morgan tells them, “You ended world peace. Congratulations.”

As good as the main arch is, the finale, “Home” remains one of the series best episodes. It provides closure for the series, yet sets up endless possibilities for the next season, as, for a reward for ending world peace, Team Angel are handed the keys to the evil Wolfram and Hart. Deciding that they can change the system from the inside, Angel accepts the offer. And the arc to Conner’s story is, albeit temporarily, resolved in a way that is emotionally satisfying as Conner gets the life he deserves due to Angel’s noble sacrifice.

There are other pluses to the season, too. The special effects team really went to work, and produced quality demons, monsters and miscellaneous special effects, such as the reign of fire and amazingly creepy dimension rip in the episode “Apocalypse Nowish”. The fight scenes this season are amazing, they seem to be more thought out, less rushed and generally better shot and edited together, plus the cinematography increased tenfold. Almost every fight feels epic.

This season is a true television novel, and one every fan of the series should digest and enjoy. I could not recommend this higher to "Angel" fans.

EXTRAS:

I was disappointed at the lack of deleted scenes, as a few really good ones were placed on the Season Three DVD. To add insult to injury, the featurettes here don’t really have much depth to them.

The trailers are nothing special, being on every other "Angel" and "Buffy" DVD release.

The featurettes are all fairly disappointing. Far too many clips of the show footage, not enough stock footage and interviews. We get snippets here and there of several sound bytes from the cast, but no where near enough. The best of a fairly mediocre bunch is "Angel and The Apocalypse". Though it is nice to see the whole of the main cast participate, even the lead, unlike another show about a certain vampire slayer…

Things for Fox to try and do in the future : the making of a specific episode, audition scenes, deleted scenes, more interviews, more on the special effects. Will it happen? Doubt it, but I am hoping they will go all out for the next and final "Angel" DVD release.

It’s not a total disaster though, as there are seven commentaries, all fairly entertaining. I say again, it’s annoying to hear about cut scenes that aren’t on the DVD. It makes you wonder what other cool stuff Fox is holding back on. The best of the bunch is Joss Whedon and Alexis Denisof’s effort on “Spin the Bottle”, but the rest are fairly good as well and worth a listen to, although there are the odd patches of long silence on some.

I can’t give this display of extras much, although the amount of commentaries are rather gracious. Let’s hope Fox turns the quality of the extras around for the final year.

OVERALL:

Cerebral, fantastically entertaining show of the highest quality. If you’re an Angel fanatic, what are you doing without it? However, I can’t fully give it top marks because it’s let down by mediocre extras, and I wouldn’t recommend people who have never heard of Angel to buy this before viewing the other seasons, but in fairness, that should be common sense anyway.


THE SHOW :


(5 out of a possible 5 Dracs)


DISC:

2 1/2 out of a possible 5 Dracs


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