Saturday, January 16, 2010

Body Switching

About a month ago I saw some early Season 3 episodes for the first time since April of last year. One of the episodes I'd deliberately missed in the re-runs was "Carpe Noctum", where Angel's body was taken over by Marcus, the frail and elderly evil inhabitant of the retirement home located across the street from a fitness club.

This episode ran with two strikes against it the entire time I was originally viewing it. First, I hate Freaky Fridayish body-switching comedy shows, since they seem to run with the same script over and over again. The worst aspect is "I'm being set up and nobody believes me." Second, I'm one of those people who has a "Grandpa having sex" hangup, and the entire time I saw David Boreanaz (almost) having sex on Wesley's desk, all I could think of was the distasteful image of old man Marcus jumping Lilah instead.

I did catch bits and pieces of the episode on TV later on, and I gradually realized that I was approaching things from a completely wrong angle. Instead of focusing on the characters, I should have been focusing solely on David Boreanaz' marvelous acting performance as the Wild and Crazy old guy having the time of his life.

"Carpe Noctum" was framed by how it was becoming necessary for Angel to address Fred's increasing puppy love for him. All he had done was be the handsome man who rescued her from the wicked Pylea dimension, just like any old fairy tale prince would do. I haven't put much thought into this, but I suppose you could make a comparison between Marcus and Angel's body-switching performance and Angel's switches between being the happily-ever-after handsome hero and his real-life persona of being the tortured vampire-with-a-soul.

Fred was the only person who took up Angel's offer to go to the movies with him, an event which took on tremendous importance for her. Fred got carried away with the concept of going on a date with Angel, while Angel, in a much more subtle way, was getting a little too comfortable with leaving the shades of gray behind and settling into the simpler world of a black and white hero. Regardless, Fred's retelling of her evening out with Angel was one of my favorite scenes where Wesley, instead of getting annoyed with her constant prattling, seemed to rather enjoy her eccentricities, somewhat like an indulgent father with a toddler.

To go off on a real tangent, I had done a post last September, "Ages and Stages", where I tried to come up with the correct ages of the human characters of Angel. I wanted to come up with a similar post about how the undead appeared to be products of very specific points in time, but I doubt I'll ever get around to writing it up. Regardless, I've often thought that if I didn't know any better, at certain times I could guess Angel was a baby-boomer who was about 5-10 years older than myself, making him specifically a child of the 1950's. I'm saying that solely based on certain pop references of TV events that would have been remembered and appreciated more by my older siblings than by myself.

One reference was the 1963 Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament, when Angel was reminiscing with Fred's dad about Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in "Fredless". Another reference was Lorne Green from Bonanza, when Lorne finally revealed his real name in "Belonging".

"Carpe Noctum" has another such cultural reference from a baby-boomer's prime movie-viewing days, where it featured Angel's excitement at the prospect of watching the Charlton Heston double feature with Fred featuring 1971's The Omega Man and 1973's Soylent Green. Just as a sidenote: even though both movies were initially released in theaters (I think), both were staples of TV viewing for kids throughout the 1970's.

To belabor the point a little bit further, although I realize that someone who had been born before the 1950's would know about these cultural references, Angel's enthusiastic reminiscences would be more appropriate for someone who enjoyed seeing these movies when he was either a kid or an extremely young adult. If Angel acted any older, he would have been more excited by a double-feature of 1958's Touch of Evil and 1959's Ben-Hur. I attribute a lot of Angel's cultural identity to the relative ages of the writers and producers of the Angel series. (David Boreanaz, who was born in 1969, would be a little too young to appreciate these references unless he had older siblings to guide him through.)

David Boreanaz' near-sex scene with Stephanie Romanov was a shear joy to watch. I particularly liked the part where Lilah Morgan was finishing her drink, with her gorgeous legs stretched provocatively to the edge of Angel's desk. Boreanaz was hilarious with his lounge lizard "Oops" when he blocked her exit, and Romanov was equally funny with that coy and innocent look on her face that she gave in return.

I'd speculated before that Lilah didn't have many chances to have sex, and she certainly seemed pretty eager to get things going with Angel. There are numerous references to how Lilah didn't think of herself as being particularly evil, and by extension, didn't see herself as Angel's natural mortal enemy. If you really want to stretch things a bit, perhaps she considered Angel to be a natural ally who needed to be shown the correct path. I've also noted in the past that Lilah seemed overly sensitive at times at the thought that Angel might actually want to kill her. If Lilah thought about it for just a second, she shouldn't have been shocked at all that anyone would want to kill her for the way she treated people in the line of duty for Wolfram & Hart. If you take it a step further and realize Lilah might have had a secret crush on Angel, her feelings of hurt would start to make sense.

Once again, Angel's crew was slow to figure out that something was wrong with Angel, similar to how Wes and Cordy were slow to figure out that something was dreadfully wrong when Angel started to sleep over 20 hours per day in Season 2. It was quite the contrast between the slowness of the Angel Investigations team to figure things out and the quick-wittedness of Marcus-turned-Angel, for how he was able to reason things out and go with the flow with remarkable ease. One terrific example was where he mistakenly thought Wesley was gay. This scene could have come off as being horribly cliched, but the creators and the actors were able to bring a certain freshness to the moment.

In Wesley's defense, I think he was the first to catch on that something was seriously odd about Angel, and he did solve the problem relatively quickly. Wes just seemed to keep his suspicions to himself as he started keeping track of Angel's odd behaviors.

The only explanation I can give for the Angel Investigations team being a bit slow on the uptake was that Angel had been unusually chipper lately, particular at the beginning of this episode. He was still basking in the glow of being Fred's hero, and she had given him somewhat of a new lease on life. When Angel showed up with Marcus inside his body, the AI team might have taken his behavior as a natural progression while he continued on his journey to apparently becoming more of an extrovert.

When the gang finally did figure things out, they made a lovely entrance together into the retirement home when they rescued Angel. This scene was all the more poignant because about a dozen episodes later, the gang would be broken up when Wesley was expelled from the group.

I know I've talked about this way too much, but that is precisely why I love early Season 3 so much. The core group was sensational, (Angel, Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Charles Gunn and Fred Burkle). In my opinion, the series really took off when Fred was added to the team, and the creators really should have kept everyone together throughout the duration of the series.

Closing Thoughts: I've noticed that the "vintage Cordy" moments from Seasons 1 and 2 were getting fewer and fewer by early Season 3. One magnificent throwback moment occurred in the fitness center when Cordelia started interviewing the muscle men, even going so far as to ask for their phone numbers.

Another magnificent "vintage Cordy" moment occurred off-camera when Cordy went ahead and had "the talk" with Fred about her forbidden love for Angel. In Fred's words, "Cordelia explained it to me. She said you'd probably just screw it up."

I appreciated how Angel and Cordy were free to ask questions and move around relatively unimpeded at the health club without people questioning their credentials and otherwise trying to kick them out. It helped the storyline move along much more quickly.

One slight irritation was the depiction of the retirement home as being somewhat like the insane asylum in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", complete with a male version of Nurse Ratched. Seriously, threatening the residents and withholding phone privileges? I've received plenty of phone calls from Alzheimer's sufferers in my working and personal lives, and I sometimes prayed that their phone privileges would be revoked, which of course never happened.

When I first started watching the series, the Wolfram & Hart players were Lilah Morgan, Gavin Park and Linwood Murrow. I liked Lilah and Gavin and enjoyed their interplay, though I never cared for Linwood. On subsequent viewings, and particular in contrast to Lilah's scenes with Lindsey McDonald and Holland Manners, I could finally recognize just how weak her scenes were with Gavin and Linwood. I should be a good little reporter and try to find the link, but I do remember reading or hearing on a podcast that Stephanie Romanov thought it was a mistake to try to bring in Daniel Dae Kim to replace Lindsey as her new foil. (Not that she thought he was a bad actor. She just felt that the producers were trying to set him up as the next Lindsey.) Romanov even stated that Kim seemed to be intimidated by her when they first met! To be honest, I liked Gavin best when he was terrified of Lilah!

I thought the gratuitous Buffy crossovers were getting tiresome by this point in Season 3 (Cordelia: Buffy's alive!). I remember on first viewing thinking I was missing quite a bit by not having seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now I know that I really wasn't missing that much until Season 5 when Spike hit the scene. Wow! Was I ever confused by that amulet thing, and I'm still confused!

When I first started watching Angel on TNT late last March, I honestly didn't notice much of anything about the video quality. The more I watched the series, the worse the video quality seemed to be getting. I caught part of an episode earlier this week where the video quality was probably the worst I'd ever seen. I'm fearful that if TNT doesn't solve their problems, the series might soon become unwatchable.

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