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review added: 2/12/03



Angel: Season One
1999 (2003) - 20th Century Fox

review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Angel: Season One

Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B

Specs and Features

990 mins (22 episodes at 45 mins each), TV-14, full frame (1.33:1), 6 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), Digipack foldout packaging with slipcover, cast and crew filmographies, audio commentary (with Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt) on City of..., audio commentary (with Jane Esperson) on RM w/a Vu, 4 featurettes (Season One Overview, I'm Cordelia, The Demons and Introducing Angel), cast biographies, still galleries, scripts for Five by Five and Sanctuary, animated program-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (15 chapters per episode), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

A vampire with a soul... the very concept defies the nature of the supernatural. A creature whose sole purpose is to kill, with a conscience, love and grief. Cursed with a soul by gypsies to punish him for the murder of their princess, Angel now atones for over a century of murder and death. But one moment of pure happiness will cause him to revert to a monster. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel found true love, and a fleeting moment of happiness that almost destroyed the world... and sent him to Hell. But for reasons unknown, Angel was returned to our dimension. He knows he can't be with Buffy, so he turns to Los Angeles: a city of lost souls searching for a purpose... and a saviour.

Angel is Fox's spin-off to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Think of it as the Deep Space Nine to Buffy's Next Generation. It's the darker, moodier, red-headed stepchild of the series that spawned it. Grab a few of the lesser used characters and toss them into a new situation and bingo... you've got a wholly new, and almost wholly different, show. What IS the same is that the writing is still, for the most part, top-notch - better even that Buffy: Season One. You're also treated to some of the best dialogue in the business, as well as great production and lighting design. Can you jump into Angel without ever having seen an episode of Buffy? Sure you can. All of the important information is given as quickly as possible. But keep in mind that several episodes of Angel: Season One tie into episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season (which is not yet released on DVD), either continuing the plot or leading into the plot of various episodes of the parent series.

Compared to Buffy, Angel has always been considered the more cinematic effort, best illustrated by the shift to widescreen-only broadcast in the third season. But Angel: Season One is presented on DVD in the original US broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 (which is the producer's preferred ratio for this season). And the episodes look great. This release is part of a new breed of DVD-before-syndication releases, like Malcolm in the Middle and 24. Because they're brand new, the pristine masters really shine on disc. Little to no grain or artifacting is present here, and this is a definite improvement on the solid, over-the-air signal from my local WB affiliate. You've got deeper blacks and a solid step-up in overall detail here. The fact that some discs only carry 3 episodes each allows for a higher video bit-rate overall, and it really shows. You're not going to see much TV on DVD that looks this good.

Audio-wise, while Buffy tends to only put its musical cues into the surrounds, Angel uses the Dolby 2.0 Surround palette to its fullest. Sound effects float in your rears better than in some 5.1 mixes, so I don't think anyone will be disappointed. As is typical for TV, dialogue plants itself in the center channel and suffers no audible distortion issues.

The extras on this set are more of a mixed bag. Once again, Joss Whedon delivers a stellar and hilarious commentary on the first episode, City of..., joined by Angel's show runner and co-creator David Greenwalt. As with most great commentaries, the participants find creative ways to rip on each other while giving you solid information and amusing behind-the-scenes stories. Jane Esperson really tries to bring you some good information on her commentary for RM w/a Vu, but aside from a few amusing stories and insights into real-world inspiration, most of the time she's describing the scene, or wrecking future season plot twists for you. So those who are spoiler-phobic, you're advised to steer clear.

There are 4 featurettes included, each lasting about 5 minutes. I'm Cordelia and Introducing Angel are fairly EPK in style, with a few interview clips and generic series background. For those not baptized in Buffy lore, these clips do give a quick overview of the character's prior history, so they serve a purpose. Season One Overview and The Demons cover some actual production information, but again in a fairly light, EPK style. Frankly, most of The Demons is spent going "Yup, that one was cool...!" The featurettes on the Buffy DVD sets are much more in-depth. I'm sure this is more of a symptom of first season jitters. Thankfully, Season Two (due in September) promises more of the meat we're looking for.

Rounding out the extras are set blueprints, around 30 still photos (mostly promotional shots) and the scripts for Five by Five and Sanctuary. I'd just like to say that the blueprints are fantastic idea. They really help you get a sense of the layout of the environment. I really wish more TV DVDs sets would include these.

Angel is one of the best shows on television, bar none. Unlike Buffy, which has seasonal arcs, Angel features one long, continuous plot-line, which started about midway through the first season. Sure, there's still self-contained episodes, but the series just gets better and better. We've seen how many overlooked TV shows seem to gain more of a following after they're gone. But if you jump on board for Angel: Season One on DVD, I'm positive that you'll start tuning into the WB every Wednesday at 9. Love it before it's gone, and you'll have that many more happy DVD sets on your shelf.

City of...
Lonely Hearts
In the Dark**
I Fall to Pieces
RM w/a VU
Sense and Sensitivity
The Bachelor Party*
I Remember You**
Hero
Parting Gifts
Somnambulist
Expecting
She
I've Got You Under My Skin
The Prodigal
The Ring
Eternity
Five by Five**
Sanctuary**
War Zone
Blind Date
To Shanshu in LA


* Episodes that lead into Buffy: The Complete Fourth Season
** Episodes that lead in from Buffy: The Complete Fourth Season

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com




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