Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not Enough Charisma

I've never bothered to hide my dismay with how Charisma Carpenter's Cordelia character was treated on Angel starting with Season 3. The creators decided to: turn her into a half-demon; stick her on a higher plane in Season 3's finale; keep her suspended there for several weeks until she was returned to earth as an amnesiac; have her memory ostensibly "restored", but in reality had her inner Jasmine demon (the one who took over her body) activated; have her sleep with Angel's son Connor (the closest thing to incest without actually being incest); have her turn into a Beast Master and kill Lilah; give her a demon pregnancy where she gave birth to her Jasmine character in short order (with a lot of this going on during Charisma's real pregnancy, where she was forced to think of her own baby several times a day in terms of being demon spawn); put her in a coma for several weeks at the end of Season 4 and well into Season 5; and finally kill her off after she put Angel on the right path in "You're Welcome".

In this Wikipedia entry about Cordelia Chase, author Jennifer Crusie is quoted as saying, "...at this point that the Mutant Enemy Productions writers evidently lost their minds". Although she wrote this apparently in the context of the Series 3 finale where Cordelia was taken up into the heavens, that statement could apply to just about everything that happened to Cordelia in Angel from that point on.

There's a huge number of online articles that have been written about the series creators' decision to kick Charisma Carpenter off of the show. Naturally, the facts are presented a little differently in each article. Since I don't have first-hand knowledge, I can't possibly pick one out and call it the definitive article. Also, there's a certain element of "he said, she said" as each party presented their sides of the story. So with that, I'll just grab excerpts of three articles that appeared to be the most informative.

The first one is a from an interview that series producer Joss Whedon gave to TV Guide Online.
TV Guide Online: Why was Charisma's name removed from next season's cast list?

Joss Whedon: Mainly because we felt like we had taken that story — just like Buffy for seven years — about as far as it could go. The Angel/Cordelia [love story] had gone pretty much as far as we wanted to take it. Their romance was definitely not a popular move on our part, and I think with most fans. It just seemed like it was time because we were revamping the show, and then paring it down... it just seemed like a good time for certain people to move on. Not completely, obviously. I'm hoping that we'll get Charisma to do some episodes as Cordelia sometime during the year. She's a new mother, so, like Sarah [Michelle Gellar], I'm waiting to hear what her schedule is like. But it just seemed creatively like... I once said that I finally got to tell the story of Buffy that I tried to tell in the movie, and I did it with Cordelia. Which was the story of someone who was completely ditzy and self-involved becoming kind of heroic. But the way the series was different from the movie was that I didn't know where you go from there. So, I felt like we spent seven years playing that very arc, and it had played. Like Buffy itself, it's time to look at something new."
Whedon also went on to hint that Carpenter's plans were somewhat up in the air because of her pregnancy, and that she might have been a victim of budget cuts.

I never cared for the part about "we had taken that story....about as far as it could go." I could have figured out a hundred different entertaining directions to take her character and kept her on the show. Charisma Character was a vital part of Angel. Just look at all of the series DVD's that have her pictured prominently on the cover. As far as the Angel/Cordelia romance not being a popular move on their part, whom did the producers poll, seven-year-old boys who go "ewwww!" when two people kiss on the screen? I've written before that romances don't have to kill a series. If handled correctly, a relationship can be a great source of stability for characters, which allows the creators to get on with the rest of the show.

To me, the decision to let go of Cordelia sounds like a combination of the writers going absolutely idiotic with their story lines and not being able to extricate themselves from the mess they created, and Joss Whedon getting bored with Cordy after she turned into Saint Cordelia. I've read in several places that network officials wanted Season 5 to be more "story of the week" rather than one convoluted story arc. I can't help but think that the executives looked at the disaster that killed off Cordelia and didn't want to have to live through that again.

Here's an excerpt to an interview Charisma Carpenter gave to Femme Fatales, apparently just before Angel was picked up for Season 5.
Carpenter here discusses her feelings about this storyline and, in a surprisingly candid manner, her opinions on the state of Angel and its future. Still, it's admittedly difficult to get past her opening salvo: "I want to get laid or go back to being ditzy. I never thought I would say that. I used to beg for deeper and more poignant story lines, then I got it, and I kind of want to go back. Well, not exactly go back, because that doesn't seem realistic, but I'd like to recapture some of that Cordelia."

snip

"Femme Fatales: How do you feel about Cordelia's relationship with Connor?

Charisma Carpenter -- It's weird; my stomach totally turns. I like him as a person and everything, and I like working with [Vincent Kartheiser], but I don't like my character being with him. It's icky to kiss someone when you're pregnant [Carpenter was two weeks from giving birth at the time of this interview]. It's got to be icky for him, too. But if Angel and Cordelia got together, that would be a big snorefest, so what else were the writers going to do?"
I like what Carpenter wrote about "..wanting to recapture some of that Cordelia". She claims that she begged for "deeper and more poignant story lines", and see how she was rewarded? Why couldn't the writers continue with how she was developing in Season 3, particularly with "Billy", when she became more confident and mature, but didn't lose any of her razor-sharp wit? As for the rest of Season 3, she maybe mellowed out a little too much, but that would have been easily fixed with one or two sharp lines of dialogue per episode.

I also like how Carpenter apparently didn't like having her character sleeping with Connor, because it really was weird. I think the creators liked to continually push the envelope and challenge the audience, but they needed to make sure the audience stuck around to see how things played out. If you cross over the line too far, you run the risk of losing a substantial part of your audience for good. The only reason why I stuck with the series was because I knew Wesley Wyndam-Pryce would continue on through most of Season 5. If I was watching Angel for the first time, I honestly think I would have abandoned the series somewhere in mid-to-late Season 4.

In this interview, Carpenter also echoed the thoughts that a romance between her and Angel would not have been a popular move. I'm glad she seemed to change her mind by the time she gave this interview with IGN TV.

Finally, after finding out she would not be returning to Angel's Season 5, Carpenter told the Boston Herald.

Fans were shocked when they learned that Charisma Carpenter, who stars in this weekend's ABC Family movie "See Jane Date," would not be returning to the WB's "Angel" for the show's fifth season.

The actress - who played the hilariously frank Cordelia Chase for three seasons on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and for four on "Angel" - was equally stunned.

'`I was not prepared," Carpenter said in a phone interview. "I don't think you're ever prepared for that kind of situation. Seven years, that's a long time. I started that show. To not be finishing it is a pretty big deal for me. They went back to work on July 24 . . . On that day I thought, `Oh, today is officially my first day of unemployment.' "

Last spring, Carpenter returned to "Angel" just 10 days after giving birth to her son, Donovan, and spent two long days on the set, wrapping up the season. She said she is absolutely willing to return to the series to provide closure to her character's story arc and bring the beloved Cordy out of the coma in which she remained during last season's finale."

What's frustrating is that I could not find any articles I seemed to remember that more clearly described a dispute regarding Carpenter's willingness to return to the series after the birth of her son. I swear I read in one place that the creators felt forced to write her character out of the show because Carpenter wouldn't give a definite return date. Carpenter then countered that she did everything she was asked to do and even returned to the set, as mentioned in her Boston Herald interview above, ten days after the birth of her son. Regardless, it's a cruel world, and Carpenter didn't fit into Whedon's plans.

A case could be made that Cordelia simply would not have fit into Wolfram & Hart because she was too idealistic. Here's my stock answer again; the writers can write whatever they want. Cordelia could have very well have been seduced by the amenities just like everyone else in the Angel Investigations team. She could have run the business operations or the marketing departments. All I know was there was a big gaping void in Season 5 where there should have been a strong female character. Instead, we were left with sugary-sweet Fred, the odious Eve, and the ditzy, albeit highly-entertaining, Harmony.

I've also wondered, was Charisma Carpenter too good for the show? What I mean is that her character of Cordelia Chase dominated just about every single scene she appeared in, and easily upstaged David Boreanaz' Angel many times as well. At Cordelia's peak, I think the writers had a wonderful time with her character and fed her a lot of good lines. If they wanted her character to recede so other characters could come into the forefront, would Charisma/Cordelia have been in danger of just withering on the vine? At that point, was it just better to eliminate her character altogether?

Does a show's creators have a duty to keep around a popular character? In spite of my disappointment with the loss of Cordelia, I say, no. Creators need to be given a chance to execute their artistic vision. If we don't like their vision, we can stop watching the show, pure and simple. The worst thing in the world is to watch a TV show that consistently plays to the lowest-common denominator as dictated by network executives and focus groups. Despite the loss of Cordelia, I still really enjoyed Season 5. I thought James Marsters was brilliant as Spike, and I was delighted with the return of Christian Kane as Lindsey McDonald. Angel had always been blessed with many wonderful actors, and the headcount needed to be reduced periodically.

Although I believe the creators had a right to drop Charisma Carpenter from the show, I, in turn, have a right to say that the series suffered from her loss, and that I was disgusted with the brutal way they they decided to dispatch her character. Fans want to be able to look back fondly on a discontinued series. The producers' treatment of Cordelia left a permanent sour taste in a lot of peoples' mouths that simply cannot be ignored.

Idle Thought. I found out about a month ago that the delightful actress who played Kira the Seer in Charmed was Charisma Carpenter! I don't pretend to be up-to-date on these things. I remember her well, because usually I don't care for overly-buxom actresses constantly falling out of their costumes. Carpenter was so funny and so talented, I liked her in spite of myself.

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