Friday, June 10, 2011

Angel - Why The Ho-Hum?




I've often wondered why I'm not all that interested in the title character of Angel. I always thought it was a natural consequence of Angel having the thankless task of keeping the narrative together, not to mention how he had to be the straight guy to an endless stream of "funny guys". David Boreanaz was perfectly cast as Angel and consistently put in solid performances week in and week out. By a wild coincidence, on the same day that I started my previous post, I stumbled across this short YouTube video that I've embedded above (via Sci-Fi Australia; h/t Whedonesque) where Joss Whedon seemed to give me the definitive answer to my question. According to Joss: (I made a few minor edits for readability),
"Angel was a different beast from Buffy from the start, and one that I had sort of difficulty getting my head around. He was going to be somebody who was mean and dark and alone and [would] help people, very much in the noir. And the noir aspect was always the sort of thing I could define Angel in a way that Buffy never would be. Buffy was a musical, Angel was a film noir.

Angel was hard for me because he's a hero.......He's clearly....he's got a long coat and great hair and he's a man and he's tall, he lives forever, and he's tortured, ..... and I didn't know how to write him. I had a little bit of trouble with that because those are the guys....they would beat me up. We spent a lot of time sort of taking apart the idea of that hero. But luckily that really helped the show because it made it exciting and it made it different every year. Every year we reinvented the show trying to discover...what it was we doing with it. And at the same time, David.....he's great at self parody. He's great at...kicking himself to the curb, and yet then getting back up and being extraordinarily compelling. And so he never had a problem with the fact that we would just....break the show apart every chance we could because I wanted to tear this hero down because only then did I understand, when he got back up again, why he was a hero."
Joss has said in the past (probably several times) that struggles in the writers' room will often show up on-screen. His classic example was how his team of (I believe) all-white writers had a difficult time figuring out how to deal with the African-American character of Charles Gunn (played by actor J. August Richards). Mutant Enemy handled things by having his character wander somewhat aimlessly around throughout most of the series, trying to find a niche for himself. It never occurred to me that Joss et al had similar problems with the character of Angel. Why create a separate show for a character that you simply can't figure out?

Noir versus Musical Comedy. In a recent post I touched on how writer Jennifer Stoy, in her essay "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine' : Wesley/Lilah and the Complicated (?) Role of the Female Agent on Angel", discussed the unresolved tension in the Angelverse between noir and the superhero ethos. Joss touched on this in the YouTube video, but perhaps couched this conflict in slightly different terms, with noir on one side, and "musical comedy" on the other. Clearly it seemed as though Joss was pairing up the noir and superhero elements into one tidy package.

I've always been acutely aware of how I've never wanted to spend much time thinking about Angel's gypsy curse and his search for redemption, (which can make reading collections of essays about him in Angel-themed books somewhat of an excruciating experience for me). I'm so uninterested in the subject matter, I've never felt motivated to write about this aspect even though I feel like I'm leaving a gaping hole in this blog. Paradoxically, I've always been fascinated by the broody, heroic, avenging creature-of-the night aspect of his character, which I'm well aware couldn't have come up from out of nowhere.

I guess I'm stumbling around and trying to say that Whedon and Boreanaz were brilliant at, first, establishing the fact that Angel was a mythically heroic character, then spending most of the rest of the series assuring us that he was actually surprisingly a lot like an Average Joe, who had his own faults and foibles just like the rest of us. Probably the best example of this building up and breaking down of his character occurred very early in Season 1 in when Spike delivered his wickedly funny dialogue in "In the Dark" about Angel, "the big fluffy puppy......prancing away like a magnificent poof" after rescuing the damsel in distress. I also admit that the unlikely "Couplet" out of Season 3 is my favorite episode of the series precisely because I love David Boreanaz' portrayal of the guy who was having a hard time measuring himself up against the even more impossibly heroic Groosalugg.

The best I can say is that while Mutant Enemy was somewhat neglecting and/or otherwise making fun of Angel's superhero ethos, it really killed my motivation to spend much time thinking through the implications of the most basic aspect of his character, where he's the cursed Vampire With A Soul. The first time I viewed the series I hardly thought of Angel at all. It took subsequent viewings for me to really appreciate David Boreanaz' performances and what Mutant Enemy was able to brilliantly bring to the table.

Idle Thoughts. For someone who's not all that interested in the Vampire With a Soul, I still seem to write an awful lot about souls in general. Although I had noticed some contradictory aspects of Angel's soul, I probably wouldn't have spent so much time on the subject if I hadn't have been so obsessed with what happened to Fred's soul when Illyria took over her "shell". By exploring the possibilities concerning Fred's soul, it opened up a whole new can of worms for me about everyone's souls in the Angelverse.

I could never find any other way to write about this, so I'll force it in here. Last summer, one of my sons was horribly sick with bronchitis, and he was running out of things to watch on TV. He's the only one of my three sons who's shown any interest at all in Angel, so I decided to show him "Dad" from Season 3. My criteria for showing him that episode was that I wouldn't have to spend a lot of time bringing him up to speed on the plot, and I thought that the mindless action sequences would help him take his mind off his misery. Naturally, my son was terribly bored throughout most of the episode, but he noticeably perked up for this scene when Linwood Murrow, Lilah Morgan and Gavin Park made their appearance. I can't remember his exact words, but my son said he really liked the lawyers in their office setting, and he implied that the scene provided a good contrast to the action sequences. His reaction also validated my initial thoughts that Linwood, Lilah and Gavin really were fun to watch; their characters only suffered in comparison to Season 1 and 2's Holland Manners, Lilah Morgan and Lindsey McDonald.

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