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October 06 2014

The Hole in the World: Why "Angel" is better than "Buffy". Entertainment Weekly celebrates Angel's 15th anniversary with a retrospective about the beloved spin-off series.

"the show never quite gets as bad as Buffy at its worst (“Beer Bad” comes to mind)" -- of course it comes to mind; that one is constantly showcased as the Worst Buffy Episode. It's getting old.

I do agree Angel was philosophically richer. It explored The Mission from an existential lens. Why we fight, why we must fight, even when there is no ultimate victory.
I always felt like Angel was the redheaded stepchild of Whedon's shows. It never got the praise of Buffy or Firefly, nor was it critiqued as much as Dollhouse. It's always treated as, "Oh yeah, it's there and entertaining."

Which, I think is more than that. I wouldn't say its my favorite of the Whedon-verse shows, because I really can't pick one, but I will say it features my favorite characters in the Whedon-verse. Not to mention, it was more introspective than Buffy ever was.

What I'm trying to say, I think its nice to see Angel get attention because it deserves it. I mean, any show that can go from the hilarity of "Smile Time" to break your heart in "A Hole In the World" has to be somewhat amazing.
No mention of Wesley? I felt his story was one of the more profound arcs in AtS (and maybe the entire 'Verse).
Wesley's arc is my favorite. Alexis does a great job in Spin the Bottle of reverting to his old Wes persona and we can really see the evolution. That episode has one of my very favorite scenes where Wes threatens Gunn ("I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me") where you can see just how dark he has gone and then he reverts to his old self.
I always felt like Angel was the redheaded stepchild of Whedon's shows. It never got the praise of Buffy or Firefly, nor was it critiqued as much as Dollhouse. It's always treated as, "Oh yeah, it's there and entertaining."... I think its nice to see Angel get attention because it deserves it.


I agree. I think Angel's the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine of the Whedonverse. The Original Series and Next Generation would receive praise and attention, while Voyager and Enterprise were ripped apart. But Deep Space Nine was always "just there". It's nice that since leaving the air both Deep Space Nine and Angel seem to be slowly but surely gaining the respect of geeks and tv critics.
I've always preferred Angel to BtVS, but I think part of that might have been I was older than most when I started watching either, (having been out of HS for a few years), and could relate better to the idea of trying to figure out life without the structure (as Hellish as it could be) of HS. But I don't think I would have liked Angel as much as I did if I hadn't had Buffy and all that history behind it. The show probably doesn't get the accolades as it does because it is seen as an extention of Buffy.

Agreed with above commentors: Wes's arc is one of my favorite in all of the Whedon 'verse.
Ahem, Angel definitely did get to the depths of Beer Bad, and worse. Internet dating subterranean tree demon?
But I don't think I would have liked Angel as much as I did if I hadn't had Buffy and all that history behind it. The show probably doesn't get the accolades as it does because it is seen as an extention of Buffy.


I'm not sure if this was Joss, David Greenwalt and Jeffrey Bell's actual intentions, but I've always looked at Buffy: Seasons 4-5 as a sequel to Buffy: Seasons 2-3 starring the core four. And I look at Angel as a direct continuation of Buffy: Seasons 2-3 starring the supporting characters from those years.

I know that in theory Angel was supposed to be able to stand on its own, and I think to some it certainly can. But so many characters, themes and storylines carry over to Angel and episodes like Amends and Gingerbread contain so much foreshadowing that it definitely feels like a continuation to me. Not to mention that over the course of the entire series Angel contains more references to Buffy: Seasons 2-3 then you can shake a stick at. That dream sequence where Spike's having sex with Buffy in Angel's bed even uses audio of Buffy's dialogue from The Prom. That alone, I'm sure, went over the heads of viewers who had only watched Angel.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2014-10-06 19:51 ]
I should mention that I liked Beer Bad, (but it was a silly episode). It had that scene with Willow scamming Parker for his horrible treatment of Buffy and I *loved* that. But Buffy had a greater ratio of silliness to epic than Angel did overall, IMO. But I think a lot of that was due to figuring out what worked and what didn't as most of the silly episodes (The Pack, Bad Eggs, Go Fish, etc.) were in the first seasons. By the time Angel was in the works they figured out the kinks so it was a much smoother ride from S1E1.
Interesting theory, JesusSavedIno1. I might add Anne to your theory: showed up once each in BtVS S2 & 3, then came into her own on Angel and actually showed up in the finale. In fact she kind of sets the tone for the final ep. That's a character arc to rival Wesley's, though less broody and almost entirely off-screen.

Spike's poetry slam in the finale is a sequel to BtVS S5, though...


Let us say that Buffy, the series, is about growing up, whereas Angel, the series, is about being grown up. Two different goals, two different outcomes, and should therefore be judged on two different scales.

I prefer Buffy, though that may be because I'm still on the younger end of the age range. That said, Angel has the best speeches.
I don't know why we can't just enjoy both shows without going to the "better than" place.
It was worth the pain. Beer Bad contained some of Xander's greatest lines.

Nothing can defeat the penis!


XANDER: And was there a lesson in all this huh? What did we learn about beer?

BUFFY: Foamy.

XANDER: Good, just as long as that's clear.


(Buffy walks up to a van and sees the Neanderthals inside. She bangs on the windows getting their attention.)

GILES: Whose van is that?

XANDER: I dunno. Wasn't locked.

I might add Anne to your theory: showed up once each in BtVS S2 & 3, then came into her own on Angel and actually showed up in the finale.


I also feel that Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Darla, Drusilla and Harmony were all deeper characters on Angel and really came into their own there. They got great use out of Faith and Spike too.

My favorite random reference to Buffy: Seasons 2-3 was in Waiting in the Wings when Angel and Cordy leave Summer Glau's dressing room after being possessed. Cordy wants to go back in to get more information when Angel says, "Look, I've been possessed by the spirits of old lovers before. Never goes well."

I don't know why we can't just enjoy both shows without going to the "better than" place.


I hear you. I love Firefly, Angel and Buffy: Seasons 2-5. Besides being amazing shows, without them I would never have gotten into comic books, genre shows or serialized television. They really broadened my horizons when it comes to entertainment.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2014-10-06 20:29 ]
@JesusSavedIn01: You missed one.

No, beer bad. Bad, bad beer... What the hell am I saying?
There seems to be no neutral ground for "Beer Bad". Everyone just hates it or loves it. I personally belong to the latter group.
A:tS is the "Riley" of Whedon's shows: steady, never outright terrible or offensive, a pretty good boyfriend who was often overlooked.

B:tVS is the "Angel" of Whedon's shows: ground-breaking, emotionally searing, and I'll just say it: it will break your heart.

... and I think that might make Dollhouse the "Spike" of the Whedonverse: Controversial.

(chiming in that I too love "Beer Bad." I don't understand the hate that episode gets; it's no "Where the Wild Things Are" -- now that episode is the nadir of the entire Whedonverse)
No mention of Wesley? I felt his story was one of the more profound arcs in AtS (and maybe the entire 'Verse).

alexreager | October 06, 17:40 CET



If you notice, the article is only very mildly spoilery. I am glad there isn't a whole lot of discussion of specific content of the series. My son is finally watching the series, and does not want to be spoiled.

This is the kind of article that discusses the series without revealing too much. As such, I can print it out without the comments afterward, and hand it to him.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2014-10-07 00:43 ]
Of course Angel is better than Buffy. Never a question.
dottikin, I think that means that Firefly is Joyce: beloved, homey, and taken away much too soon.
I wish social media would stop pitting these shows against each other. I enjoyed, actually loved, both, and took away different things from them. If I stripped Buffy and Angel to their spine, as I would an acting scene, I'd say that Buffy was all about the weight of responsibility and Angel was all about the quest for redemption. Both were super valuable to me as far as introspection quotient goes, and also fabulous entertainment. I could never have asked for more.
"If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show about becoming, then Angel is about something far more challenging: existing."

Nailed it.

Also don't get why Angel is so underrated, it would still be one of my all time favorite shows if it wasn't a Buffy spin-off.

But I have to say that the lows on Angel are worse than on Buffy, I find "She" much worse than "Beer Bad".
I love AtS but I'd never consider it better than BtVS. It simply wasn't as groundbreaking and nowhere near as consistent. It had some amazing highs but also some incredible lows and I think you can tell it wasn't plotted and mapped out the way BtVS was (with Joss knowing Willow would turn evil back in S2, Joss knowing Buffy would die in S3, Joss plotting Dawn's arrival also in S3, Joss telling Kristine Sutherland at the start of S4 that he planned to kill her off in S5 etc). The series, at times, felt really all over the place and there's story lines/plot points that feel picked up and dropped at random (Dru shows up for two episodes in S2 and is going to be a "big player in town" and then just disappears without so much as a word never to return again? -- letdown) and characters that disappear without it barely being mentioned in passing (Kate's departure). It just never felt as carefully constructed as BtVS and whilst the Big Bad formula may be repetitive it at least gives each season a solid destination to head towards whereas AtS meandered quite a bit. I just could never shake the feeling that they were basically making it up episode-by-episode.

And I think AtS had the really unfortunate luck of a lot of behind the scenes drama effecting the quality of the story. For instance, there's no way that Xander or Willow would ever die and then no other character even mentions it or grieves for them like the way Cordy was killed off in You're Welcome and nobody but Angel even reacted to their supposedly best friend, um, dying. Or Elisabeth Rhom choosing to leave in S2, or Julie Benz becoming unavailable towards the end of S2 hence the Angel/Darla arc reaching it's conclusion prematurely, or Charisma's pregnancy changing the plans for S4 etc.

It's also just a personal thing as I feel the stories in BtVS just resonate with me more. I find Buffy in particular to be a much stronger and more relatable protagonist than Angel, even if I love him too. BtVS explored the rites of passages of growing up and the trials and tribulations of young adulthood whereas I feel AtS started off trying to catch that realism and then quickly become bogged down in a supernatural soap opera with the stories becoming more and more far-fetched and less 'ordinary' or grounded. I feel that's one of the big reasons BtVS is more beloved.

I do really like AtS and I think it's a great show. I agree that it's underrated and should get more love. I certainly prefer it to Firefly and it's a better show overall than Dollhouse (I'm not going to even bother comparing it to AoS as I don't even consider AoS a Joss Whedon show) but better than BtVS? Never.
I'm sorry, but Buffy above all else, haha. I watched Angel from the beginning, kind of skipped a few of the middle seasons. But I own the box sets of both shows. Season 4 of Buffy was the season I disliked the most. The first 3 seasons were a masterclass, and the later seasons dealt with a fair number of adult issues. And I was just so glad they didn't kill her in the series finale, ala Xena ;(. I too, saw Angel as a continuation of Buffy, until really about the 3rd season when they stopped having the crossover eps. The fact of the matter is if you watched Angel, having not watched Buffy, and missed all that back story and history of all the characters (that started on Buffy), you couldn't fully appreciate their growth and change. A Hole in theWorld was 1 of the most chilling, surprising, and saddest episodes of the series, doing Fred like that :( But I did grow to like Illyria. The whole Angel-Cordy-Connor storyline was just too ridiculous, really kind of put me off the show for a while. Tuck.
I'm with vampmogs. Although I adore Wes and Connor, two of my favourite verse characters, BtVS is the stronger show and was executed more consistently/coherently. AtS suffers for me from them never really addressing Angel's hubris but just repeating it or skirting past some of his more grey choices with the barest flinch. Angel's struggle for redemption and to be a hero as a souled demon is a great story but they don't ever seem comfortable balancing his darker choices with his heroism fully. They show both but also try to separate them too much. And, although Wes' arc was great start to finish, I don't think other AtS characters are as consistently well served and obviously as well considered in their individual arcs from beginning to end. Spike's and Willow's BtVS journeys in particular were epic. Some of that obviously was due to the behind the scenes complications mentioned. AtS also wasn't helped by S5 being so weak, not that S7 of BtVS was the strongest season either, but the finale was so unearned in the sense of getting the characters to it believably and so unheroic with a pile of questionable decisions it just wasn't a great note to end it on for me. I will definitely rewatch it alongside BtVS when I get to S4 though.
Nope. I taped Angel, and enjoyed it.
I watched Buffy in real time because I couldn't wait, also taped it, and always re-watched it at least one time before the next week.
I didn't do that with Angel until season 5. And re-watching the whole series? Buffy, uncountable.
Angel, maybe once or twice. And had to force myself through by the third season. Until Season 5. Then it got the Buffy treatment.
And please, Beer Bad is far superior to any of the nonsense that Angel got up to in the later arcs. "Give mama some sugar" indeed.

[ edited by Xane on 2014-10-07 16:02 ]
...there's story lines/plot points that feel picked up and dropped at random (Dru shows up for two episodes in S2 and is going to be a "big player in town" and then just disappears without so much as a word never to return again? -- letdown)...Elisabeth Rhom choosing to leave in S2, or Julie Benz becoming unavailable towards the end of S2 hence the Angel/Darla arc reaching it's conclusion prematurely


Season 2 had a TON of scheduling conflicts. Besides the actresses playing Drusilla, Darla and Kate not being available for as long as they were originally intended to be, they also intended Faith took appear a lot more that season. Also the actor from Office Space who played nerdy software billionaire David Nabitt was supposed to continue in a larger recurring capacity, but he too became unavailable and was written out. I still love Season 2, but it must have been frustrating behind-the-scenes for David Greenwalt that year. Juliet Landau was going to return as Drusilla in Season 4 and rule over Hell-A with Angelus, but she became unavailable again. And Groo was going to return towards the end of Season 5, but when they heard that Angel was being cancelled Jeffrey Bell scrapped those plans to focus on tying up loose ends (like Connor).

I've always respected Elizabeth Rohm for coming back like she did. When Law & Order hired her she could have easily said, "I'm on a more popular show on a bigger network now. See ya." and had the first season's finale be the last we ever saw of Kate. But instead she flew back and forth between New York and LA on five or six different occasions so that David could write her out of the show. That was really cool of her.

I think you can tell it wasn't plotted and mapped out the way BtVS was


I agree with you there. I always got the feeling that Joss planned out the majority of the following three seasons of Buffy during the second half of Buffy: Season 2. While I think he was open to new ideas and characters that came up along they way, I believe his plans for the core four (and Joyce) were pretty much set in stone at that point.

Whereas, I think I remember hearing that after finishing Season 1 David Greenwalt (and later Jeffrey Bell) had a very loose plan in place for Seasons 2-6 of Angel. Each season they would detail their ideas for that year to the writers. They would then have the writing staff and Joss pitch their ideas to the room for the characters, storylines, etc. for that year and David/Jeffrey would then add in and run with the ideas they liked. Tim Minear even mentions in the commentary for Season 3's Lullaby that Darla being pregnant (a pretty significant plotpoint for Seasons 3-4) came about from an off-color joke he made in the writers room at the beginning of Season 2. I look at seasons 2-5 of Angel as a creative writing jam session between a group of really talented writers with Greenwalt and Bell guiding things and keeping it coherent. It's really impressive to me that by the time the show ended most of the loose ends had been tied up and any plotholes made along the way were smoothed over. Especially since it had two different showrunners with two completely different writing staffs crafting the story.

I remember Joss saying that due to the collaborative nature of the show (and resulting vibe in the writers room) being a member of Angel's writing staff was his favorite experience at Mutant Enemy. Between the pressure of showrunning Buffy and (during his time as Tim Minear's co-exec) the stress of knowing from the start that FOX could cancel Firefly at any moment, that sure makes a lot of sense. He said in an Entertainment Weekly interview last year that he wants to join Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s writing staff when he finishes Age of Ultron. After the pressure and stress of making the Avengers films, I hope he has fun at his new gig. After the monster success he's had lately he deserves to be able to just kick back and enjoy the writing without worrying about any of the business stuff.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2014-10-07 17:57 ]
It must have been a difficul transition when David Greenwalt left the show after Season 3, with Tim Minear going over to Firefly and Joss split between three shows, but I think that Season 4 of Angel came out fine (except for the whole Cordelia thing).
Angel has and always will be, my favourite Whedonverse show. I am older than probably most fans when I started watching Mutant Enemy shows and that may account for it. Angel was my show.

I was sad to see the end of BtVS but the cancellation of Angel still leaves me with a bitter taste. I could easily re-watch 'Chosen' quite soon after it aired, but found it too painful to watch 'Not Fade Away' for months.

I don't like comparing the shows but I do get annoyed when Angel does not even get a mention when discussing Joss' work.
I think that Season 4 of Angel came out fine (except for the whole Cordelia thing).


In terms of Cordelia's arc in Season 4, and Connor's arc too for that matter, they were tough for me to take when it originally aired. But I think they work better in retrospect after what was done in their guest appearances in Season 5. If Cordelia had stayed in that coma and not gotten to reconnect one last time with the rest of the characters, then it would have been a waste of a great character. With her appearance in You're Welcome though she gets the closure she richly deserved. Cordy still had more life in her as a character and didn't need to be written out. But having that closure in You're Welcome makes the Jasmine arc (and the great thematic ideas it had about free will vs predestination and how far is too far to bring about peace) work better for me. I can watch it now knowing that Cordy isn't sent to the "room above the garage" never to be seen again like the older brother on Happy Days. Cordy (and Charisma Carpenter) deserved better than that.

Connor's arc in particular works better when (thanks to Origin and the series finale) we see that there really WAS a good kid underneath that whiny little sociopath. It's one thing to have characters repeatedly say, "He's good, just twisted by circumstances beyond his control." It's quite another to actually see him as a well-adjusted and noble young man. It makes his arc in Season 4 play much better and more tragically on repeat viewing. His scenes with Darla in Inside Out and with Angel in the season finale bring me to tears now. That didn't happen the first time around.

That's something David and Jeffrey were pretty good at, in my opinion. Pretty much anything that I didn't like the first time around was usually smoothed over by another writer by the time the show ended. It's almost as if every season started with David or Jeffrey telling the writers, "Okay, what past missteps do we have to fix or explain. And what characters and subplots still need closure." With the exceptions of Drusilla, Buffy and wherever those cyborgs from Lineage came from I feel they accomplished that.

Even the series finale. While I still enjoyed at the time, it felt like a great two-parter in need of a part three. But over the years I've come to love it. It was thematically true to the series. And while the characters' arcs didn't end up where I wanted them to, they ended where I NEEDED them to. Even the questionable things that Angel does to merely delay The Apocalypse works for me. By having Lorne openly question the murder of Drogyn, and then be forced to muder Lindsey in cold blood, it gives the group's sacrifice a bittersweet quality. And it allows the audience to form their own individual opinions as to whether Angel did the right thing or (like fallen heroes Holtz and Jasmine) went too far.

I've always felt that Jeffrey Bell, in case the series didn't get that sixth and final season (which would have been awesome), made some interesting parallels to the ending of Season 5 in his script for The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco. I think that Tezcatcatl represents Wolfram & Hart's Apocalypse. He can never be stopped completely. Every 50 years he WILL return to kill off humanity and end the world. And someday he WILL succeed. But stopping him isn't the point. Even if it's just delaying the inevitable, every time champions postpone his plans it gives the world and its inhabitants 50 more years. 50 more years of living, and loving, and trying, and failing, and trying again. 50 more years of hope.

It doesn't matter whether Angel, Illyria, Gunn, Lorne and Connor die (like Numero Cinco's brothers) or live to see everyone they love die and grow bitter because of it (like Numero Cinco himself). Maybe they're just the latest in a long line of now forgotten champions who have delayed the Senior Partners' plans. Maybe they too will someday be forgotten, just like Numero Cinco and his brothers exploits against Tezcatcatl and The Devil's Robot were. Or maybe their suicide run will become legendary and inspire other champions to rise up and further delay Wolfram & Hart's plans. It doesn't matter. What matters is that they've given the world the most precious thing in existence. Time.

Note: I partially reused some of my comments from EW.com for this. It was just easier than completely rewording everything.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2014-10-07 20:16 ]
To me, it was always clear that Angel is the better show. I love them both though, so I don't generally care which show people like better.
I don't comment here often but I feel strongly about this subject and it's actually one that I've had before with some friends. Both are good shows, but for me Buffy will always win out because it had more soul and heart. It was more consistent and feels better crafted.
What I love about Whedon shows the most is the whole adopted family. A group of random people who find their ways together and end up being a loving makeshift family.
Firefly did this really well and Buffy isn't that far behind.
You can tell and feel that the characters on Buffy love and care for each other deeply. If you strip away the monsters, and the slayer and magic, the characters on Buffy would still work. They would still hang out, confide in each other, be best friends. They would still be intimately involved with each other.

I never felt that companionship on Angel. There were glimmers and stand out moments (A Hole in the World will always be one of the best Whedonverse episodes to ever exist) but the characters never felt like family, even though that was what they were going for. If you do the same and strip away the monsters and magic and leave behind a group of completely normal people, I can't really see any of them sticking together. They would go their own ways, maybe run into each other every now and then and share fond memories but otherwise remain former friends. They always just felt like random people who just always ended up in the same room together.

Buffy always felt more put together as a show. I always felt more thought was put into not just story lines, but the very words the characters would say. Things could get dramatic but everything had meaning, where as I always felt Angel was just slapped together from a handful of cool ideas that was topped off with some melodramatic flair.
Even the outright silly, comedic episodes were handled better in my eyes. Constraint does wonders in comedy. It's the difference between The Wedding Singer and Jack and Jill if I'm allowed to throw out an Adam Sandler shout out. I felt like Angel teetered more towards Jack and Jill than not. Not that Buffy was without it's faults mind you.

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