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IMAGE: "Angel"
Justin Lubin  /  The WB
David Boreanaz, right, battles an evil-doer as Angel.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/12/2004 4:19:14 PM ET 2004-04-12T20:19:14
COMMENTARY

The sun’s starting to creep over the horizon, and, six weeks from now, “Angel” is most likely dust. Instead of launching a flashy ad campaign to tout the show’s new, accessible — yet still imaginative and often fantastic — direction, the WB pulled the plug.

Yes, Web sites like SavingAngel.com and SaveAngel.org have mounted an unprecedented fan-led effort to keep the show on the air, with an arsenal of full-page ads in industry trade mags and a “Save Angel” billboard plastered on the side of a truck. But even while rumors persist that the WB will reverse its decision or another network will pick up the show, the series’ final six episodes are slated to start running April 14.

It’s easy to appreciate fans’ inability to let Joss Whedon’s “Angel” go quietly into rerun heaven. Some of the sting of last season’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” finale was lessened by knowing that the characters would continue to fight the good fight on “Angel.” But now that the “Charmed”-gets-renewed-and-“Angel”-doesn’t network went all Mister Pointy on the lovable vampire and his team, audiences are about to be completely Jossless for the first time in seven years.

For a variety of reasons, legions of Buffy fans simply didn’t feel compelled to follow the exploits of Angel, whose show spun off in 1999. Understandable. When it launched, “Angel” was a far different beast than the bright and cheerleadery Slayer that sired it.

Angel (David Boreanaz), a formerly despicable vampire now cursed with a soul and seeking redemption, spent many of the show’s initial episodes — indeed, seasons — brooding, lurking in the shadows, and letting out depressed sighs. Over the years, Angel served up Batman-style, whirl-kick justice, saving downtrodden denizens of L.A. from demons, but never really got close to anyone. As a result, the audience never really got to know the guy either.

But “Angel” has turned a creative corner. Whedon and Co., and fans,  got the word of the show’s death just as it hit its artistic peak.

Evil, Esq.
It’s somewhat appropriate that “Angel”’s execution came at the hands of a high-powered corporation; since the show’s inception, the characters’ biggest nemesis has been slick demonic law firm Wolfram & Hart. Today, Angel and his merry band of demon hunters are in charge of the formerly (and possibly still) wicked firm, fighting evil from the heart of the beast. They’ve traded their dank vintage hotel for a sleek steel-and-glass office building, complete with magically tinted windows so Angel and the other vampires no longer have to slink around in the dark.

When it comes down to it, the show’s really not about the titular vamp — not entirely, anyway. In typical Whedon fashion, the supporting cast is even more interesting than the lead. Team Angel is as fleshed out as anything Joss came up with in the Buffyverse. Which makes sense, since a good chunk of the crime fighters (and crime fightees, for that matter) made their way to L.A. from Sunnydale.

Countless characters have contributed to the show’s ability to transcend standard horror fare: “Buffy” holdover Cordelia, who recently emerged from her mystical coma to fight at Angel’s side one last time; formerly nerdy Watcher/demon-hunter Wesley; street-fighter-turned-superlawyer Charles Gunn; bright green empath and lounge singer Lorne; and cute-as-a-button science geek Winifred “Fred” Burkle — who, thanks to recent events, will no doubt play an important role in the final episodes.

Even bit players add a welcome jolt of energy, like executive assistant-slash-evil-vampire Harmony and demon Skip, who looked like he was pulled from Clive Barker’s nightmares, but talked like the skater-boy next door.

The show’s true gem, though, is a certain bleached-blond vampire with a Billy Idol sneer and penchant for saving the world. The addition this season of James Marsters’ Spike to the team has helped elevate “Angel” to “Buffy”-level appointment television. On the “Buffy” series finale, Spike finally became the hero we all knew he aspired to be, by sacrificing his life to save humanity. And now, he’s back.

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Reformed-evildoer Spike – as he comments on the action with a bemused indifference, then gleefully joins in the fight – has given “Angel” a rush of new blood, both hilarious and heart-wrenching. And Spike’s oil-and-holy-water moments with Angel have finally allowed Boreanaz the opportunity to show a biting sense of humor, rather than a constant wounded puppy pout.

Big themes, big payoffs
Whedon scores biggest when he deals with mythic themes, sweeping, poetic stuff like love and death, betrayal and redemption. Over its run, “Angel” flirted with those weighty themes, but it also had its share of missteps. Connor, we’re talking to you.

In the third season, Angel and fellow vampire Darla had a baby, who was prophesized to become an important piece of the cosmic puzzle. But Angel barely got to know his infant son; the boy was swiftly snatched by a time-traveling victim of Angel’s murderous days. Later, son Connor returned, all grown up (thanks to years spent in a rapidly moving dimension), instilled with a seething hatred for his father.

During his stay at dad’s place, Connor — in a move that drew shudders of revulsion from longtime fans — romanced Cordelia, the woman who acted as his surrogate mommy just a year before. OK, it was Evil Cordelia, but that clicking you heard was the sound of longtime fans turning off their televisions in disgust at the sight of those two in bed together.

America’s hate affair with whiny, annoying Connor kept the entire plotline from gelling. And his relationship with Cordelia was more revolting than all the buckets of blood and guts that the show spilled over its five-year run.

But now’s the time to bid good riddance to bad characters. If you left during Connorgate, get thee back to your TV. As producers wrap up this smart, rich, and completely real world, the remaining episodes will no doubt be as inspired and memorable as “Buffy” was at the top of its game.

The end
The plot begun just as the WB yanked the show is as heartbreaking, fulfilling, and well conceived as any on television.

In the recent “A Hole in the World” episode, written and directed by Whedon, an ancient demon took over Fred’s body, destroying her soul in the process.

The slow-motion heroics of the often-splintered team as they instantly dropped their petty differences and banded together to try to save Fred still generates goosebumps. And it was all the more powerful because they failed.

“She’s gone,” says Gunn. “And she’s not coming back.” People have died and returned over and over again in Whedon’s world, but this time, we believe him.

Odds are “Angel” is gone as well. And damned if it wasn’t a corporate suit that killed this vampire, signing off on the show’s demise with a pen that might as well have been a wooden stake through the heart.

Brian Bellmont is a writer living in St. Paul, Minn.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints

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