I liked Angel a lot. It established its own identity early on, and was relentless in reinventing itself. I can't think of any other show that's been as fearless in killing off or damaging major characters. The overall plot arc felt very consistent, but that arc took the viewers through some wild territory.
I was struck from the first episodes how Angel would be different from Buffy. Even the editing of the shows is unique, with Angel's rapid, jarring flashback scene transitions. More than that, the overall look of Angel is much darker than that of Buffy - only to be expected when the main character can't come into contact with sunlight, of course. Overall, the series also felt emotionally darker... Buffy wasn't exactly a relentlessly upbeat show, but it seemed to have a greater share of comic characters and situations, while Angel had just enough relief to keep viewers from getting too depressed.
The structure of the story arcs also felt different. Buffy was fundamentally formulaic, although it had a lot of flexibility within that formula: every season had a Big Bad who had to be confronted and stopped. It didn't seem like the first season of Angel even had a Big Bad; each episode was more "monster of the week." Later on, when it got serial, it got VERY serial. Even the most plot-heavy Buffy arcs still felt essentially episodic: you could have missed an episode or two and still been able to follow what was happening. With Angel, though, most episodes contained crucial developments, and you'd quickly be lost if you missed a couple.
- Favorite character: would you believe Wesley? When he first appeared midway through the first season I never would have thought he'd even be on the short list. That character went through amazing evolutions on the show, becoming almost unrecognizable by the end.
- Favorite dialog: "What happened to you, man?" "I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me."
- Favorite headquarters: While I have greatest overall appreciation for Wolfram & Hart's building, the coolest design was Angel's original apartment.
- Favorite big bad: Has to be Drusilla and Darla. The "big bad" thing isn't quite as direct in Angel as it was in Buffy, though.
- Favorite villain: Skip is awesome.
- Favorite one-shot villain: I'm going with the evil puppets.
- Favorite weapon: Wesley's John Woo-style silver-bullet pistols.
- Favorite crossover moment: Actually, I really like Andrew's appearances in Season Five. Coolest overall would be Faith's return to help battle Angelus.
- Favorite finale: They were all pretty good. Finale for the third season (Cordelia ascends while Angel sinks) was particularly powerful.
- Favorite flashback: It's about five seconds long, but I like the one with Spike in Italy during the 1950's.
- Favorite Ally: The police woman from the first few seasons. I was bummed that she disappeared.
- Favorite nickname for Angel: "Mr. Bumpy-face."
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Bottom line: I think I might enjoy Buffy just a tiny bit more than Angel, mainly due to its good humor. I think it's interesting that, in both cases, the main title character is one of the least interesting characters: they seem to exist mainly to draw together an intriguing team and to push the action forward.
So where do I do from here? In the immediate future, after I finish with Cowboy Bebop I'm planning on completing my trip through Whedon's oeuvre with another pass through Firefly and Serenity. Long-term, I'm intrigued by the Buffy Season Eight comics, though I'll probably wait for them to be collected before picking them up.
Has all the time spent watching these two series been worthwhile? I'd argue yes. They've been great entertainment, epics unlike anything else I've seen on television. I enjoy the whole mythology they've given me... there's something I find inherently exciting about a wholly-realized alternate world, and Whedon did a great job of pulling it off and making it coherent. Plus, to be honest, the show holds a lot of currency in the nerdy circles I travel in, and it's always gratifying to understand the inevitable references that pop into conversation.
We've finished with the underworld. The next stop is the stars...