From ClickTV. Reprinted here without permission.

Sleek Angel offers viewers a tragic hero with real bite

By John Crook
© TVData Entertainment Features Syndicate

cover story photo
Charisma Carpenter and
David Boreanaz

Forget those callow youths of Dawson's Creek, Popular and their ilk. Many female viewers are getting their kicks this season from an older man.

A much, much older man. As in two centuries, plus.

Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff that airs after its sister show Tuesdays on The WB Network, has been one of the few real success stories in an otherwise humdrum season. The series, which stars David Boreanaz as a crimefighting Irish vampire with a soul, frequently has equaled and even surpassed the ratings success of its predecessor.

It also has given a career boost to its star, David Boreanaz, and co-star Charisma Carpenter, who has proven herself a deft comedy performer.

For the uninitiated - whom Buffy fans regard with admirable pity and, in many cases, offer to lend their well-thumbed Buffy companion volumes - Boreanaz's character was introduced on Buffy as a vampire who formerly had been a carefree lad in 18th-century Galway until he was bitten by the vampiric Darla.

At that point, he became one of the most evil creatures on Earth until he fed upon a Gypsy girl. Her family responded with an appalling curse restoring his soul, so he would feel remorse for his vampiric crimes.

To help atone for his sins, he tried to help vampire slayer Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and eventually fell in love with her. Complications, as they say, ensued, leading to the two characters parting at the end of last season.

The spinoff, which debuted last fall to strong ratings, found Angel moving to Los Angeles and opening an agency to help lost souls. Assisting him were struggling actress (and former Buffy nemesis) Cordelia Chase (Carpenter) and a demon mentor named Doyle (Glenn Quinn).

"Separating Buffy and Angel has opened up a whole range of new possibilities for my character, now that he is in Los Angeles and meeting all these weird new people," Boreanaz says on a Paramount sound stage during a break in filming. "On Buffy, Angel was focused almost entirely on helping Buffy and being with her, but now that they are apart, he has a whole new set of challenges and issues confronting him."

The new show also has offered new opportunities to Carpenter, who provided the real glue while the show was trying to find its legs last fall. Her Cordelia is a shrewdly written and deftly acted combination of pluck and mind-boggling shallowness.

"I hope Cordelia doesn't become more grounded, because (her flightiness) is what makes her so much fun," Carpenter says with a laugh. "She is so superficial, yet she has these catastrophic visions. She's put into these horrible situations, and her perspective on them can be very funny."

Those visions, which send Angel on his weekly missions, originally were channeled through Doyle, who was written out last fall. The departure of Quinn fueled a variety of wild rumors of substance abuse and/or a huge ego clash with Boreanaz.

Buffy creator Joss Whedon, who created Angel with David Greenwalt, says Doyle was scheduled to be snuffed from the get-go.

"Doyle was an interesting character," Whedon muses. "We had always wanted to shake things up by getting rid of Angel's mentor, by setting up someone you'd assume would be there the whole time and then killing them. It was going to be really surprising, but unfortunately, everybody knew about it a couple of months beforehand.

"It keeps the audience on their toes, because it keeps them from feeling "safe' in the world they are watching. There are different scenarios that could play out. Characters have been killed and brought back: "Oh, look, he had a twin brother!' But we decided to hold firm to that idea (of killing him off)."

The action-oriented Angel brings in a larger male demographic than the more emotionally complex Buffy, and Whedon says he enjoys flexing different muscles with the new show.

"Buffy has such a warm center with all these friends and the school setting, and it's hard to drum up someone who might actually die," he says. "With Angel, we can make things really scary, and that's been fun. When I watch some of the scenes that are shot, now and then some of the stuff even startles me."

That doesn't mean that Angel is merely a chop-socky-fest. Its doomed hero carries more than his share of emotional weight, and Boreanaz says he relishes flashback opportunities to show what his character was like before the vampire's bite.

"Those scenes are a lot of fun to do and a challenge, too, because - well, it's not easy doing an Irish accent,"he says dryly. "It's nice to have a chance to show where the character came from and how he's evolved since his life changed so dramatically all those years ago. But I also would love to do a '60s flashback: Angel in the Haight district of San Francisco!"

As for Whedon, whose two brilliantly scripted shows seem doomed to be marginalized simply by their genre, he says he is resigned to reaping accolades from critics and a cold shoulder from the Emmy voters.

"I went in with that sophomoric title that wears its silliness on its sleeve," he says of Buffy. "The fact that we've been treated with such respect was a great surprise and delight to me. Ultimately, the rewards are right there.

"But do I covet the awards? Yes."