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May 09, 2003
OPINION
Filtering 2: Electric Boogaloo
by Daniel Erenberg

After spending three years attempting to perfect the writing staff of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon had to start all over again with the brand spanking new spin-off Angel. Angel was a darker show than Buffy and has spent four years now doing its best to shy away from its mother's shadow and become an entity unto itself. I think it took less time with Angel to build a writing staff devoid of really mediocre writers. I'd chalk it up to experience on Mr. Whedon's part. He had three years under his belt already when season one began.

Season One - Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Tracey Stern, Jeannine Renshaw, Jim Kouf.

In season one, Angel was what it was: A Buffy spin-off.

Much of the first year of Angel was written by Buffy staff writers that were defecting over to the baby show for an episode or two. David Fury came in and masterfully penned "Lonely Hearts" and "Parting Gifts", Douglas Petrie checked in with "In The Dark", and Magic Jane Espenson chipped in "Rm w/a Vu".

Meanwhile, former Buffy staffer David Greenwalt was running the day-to-day operations. Greenwalt didn't do a lot of writing in season one, but he did a fantastic job in getting quality out of his other writers and the show as a whole.

One of the new staffers was Tim Minear, who would become by far the best Angel writer. In the first year he wrote some episodes that interestingly dealt with Angel's past ("Somnambulist", "The Prodigal) and was the only writer to ever make me give a crap about Kate Lockley (in "Sense and Sensitivity", and "The Prodigal" again).

Jeannine Renshaw came in for season one and wrote some interesting stuff as well.

Tracey Stern was on the staff and wrote two decent, yet uneven, episodes ("The Bachelor Party", "Eternity").

Legendary television writer Howard Gordon (who had previously worked on Buffy's "What's My Line Part One" with Marti Noxon) came in and penned two wonderful episodes, "Hero" and "Expecting".

Finally, Jim Kouf came in mid-season and wrote a work of art called "Five By Five".

Season Two - Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Mere Smith, Jim Kouf, Shawn Ryan.
Major Additions-Mere Smith, Shawn Ryan.
Major Subtractions-Tracey Stern, Jeannine Renshaw.

Joss did a great job in refining both the writing staff and the show in the second season. He best decision was bringing in Mere Smith.
Mere Smith (currently dating Stephen S. DeKnight) was a rampant Buffy fan and poster on the Bronze Posting Board who met Joss Whedon at a Bronze Posting Board Party during season two of Buffy and, three years later (lucky girl), she got a job writing for Angel. So well liked was she by Joss that he even directing her first offering "Untouched". Smith contributed three other episodes in season two that were equally good, and she remains a prominent member of the staff to this day.

The other major addition to the staff was Shawn Ryan who was something of a disappointment. He spent most of his time in season two co-writing episodes and wasn't back the following year, leading me to believe that his halves of the episodes weren't too impressing.

Meanwhile, both David Greenwalt and Tim Minear were doing the best work of their respective careers. Minear wrote perhaps the single best sex episodes of the year, including "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been", "Darla", "Reunion", and "Epiphany".

Season Three - Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Mere Smith, Jeffrey Bell, Scott Murphy, David H. Goodman.
Major Additions-Jeffrey Bell, Scott Murphy, David H. Goodman.
Major Subtractions-Jim Kouf, Shawn Ryan.

Season three was great. Don't get me wrong here. But, the success was largely due to the returning scribes rather then the new ones. Joss made three additions in the third season and, while one of them (Bell) was quite successful, the other two were not. Let's start with the good.

Jeffrey Bell came in with a burst of glory, writing four amazing episodes by himself and two equally amazing ones with Mere Smith by his side. He really mastered each and every character, especially Cordelia (in "That Vision Thing") and Wesley (in "Billy", "Forgiving", and "A New World").

In addition to the smart decision of adding Jeffrey Bell to the staff, Joss also added two atrocious writers called Scott Murphy and David H. Goodman who each wrote two of the worst episodes in the history of Angel.

Murphy came in and wrote the uber-mediocre "Carpe Noctem" and my least favorite all-time episode "Provider" (Gosh, that sucked), which is the "Beer Bad" of Angel.

Goodman entered the staff with the boring "Dad" and followed that up with "Double Or Nothing" which erased two and a half years of character development in order to get to a woefully lame punch line.

However, Greenwalt, Minear, Smith, Bell, and Joss together redeemed the season, contributing absolutely no bad episodes among the five of them. Greenwalt especially was brilliant in season three giving us "Sleep Tight", "Tomorrow", and two other fine episodes.

Season Four - Joss Whedon, Stephen S. DeKnight, Mere Smith, David Fury, Jeffrey Bell, Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain, Ben Edlund.
Major Additions-Stephen S. DeKnight, David Fury, Elizabeth Fain, Sarah Craft, Ben Edlund.
Major Subtractions-David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Scott Murphy, David H. Goodman.

The beginning of season four of Angel was an uh-oh situation. There was quite a bit of inner turmoil behind the scenes. Co-creator and show-runner David Greenwalt left the show in a huff to create his own show "Miracles" that was swiftly cancelled by ABC. Angel's best writer Tim Minear also left the show to become the show-runner on Joss Whedon's brilliant new show "Firefly", also swiftly cancelled by FOX (see "You Can't Take The Sky From Me"). Meanwhile, disappointments Scott Murphy and David H. Goodman were also booted from the show, and the writing staff was in need of a major overhaul. Added to the regular staff were Buffy staffer Stephen S. DeKnight, Buffy mainstay David Fury, and writing team Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain. They each had to write a load of episodes.

DeKnight came over from Buffy and blossomed into a quite brilliant writer, penning the season premiere "Deep Down", the wonderful "Apocalypse, Nowish", his directorial debut "Inside Out", and three other fantastic episodes.

David Fury, one of Buffy's staples that had previously written at least one episode of Angel a year, joined the staff full-time in season four, writing four really good episodes including "Salvage" and "Peace Out".

Craft and Fain, newbies to the Buffyverse, also came in and amazed me with their wonderfully twisty dialogue. They really nailed the voices of the characters in each of their five episodes, especially the Angelus-centric "Soulless".

Also, Ben Edlund came off of the cancelled "Firefly" at the end of the year and wrote the uneven "Sacrifice". I expect great things from him in season five (which we shall find out if it exists on May 12), as he is a witty and creative writer (and creator of The Tick).

Tim Minear came back at the end to write the season finale "Home" which will have aired by the time this is posted, but is not returning next year. Word has it though that David Greenwalt is.

Angel, the character and the show, has persevered through many hardships and setbacks to become a true champion.

Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone and hankers constantly for the hour of eight P.M. to nine P.M. on Tuesday nights. You can contact Daniel on daniel@slayage.com.
Latest Comments

Woohoo! Just heard Ultimate Drew(Goddard) is indeed going to be full-time writer for Angel next year. Fury is still in negotiations, Jane Espenson is off to The Gilmore Girls(good for her though I will miss her) and Drew G becca Kirscher most likely not going to Angel...again woohoo!

Posted by: ally on May 16, 2003 06:25 PM

Hey Bitch!

Tim Minear wrote "Hero," not that titty-sucker Howard Gordon! Credit where credit's due, motherfucker. R.I.P. Doyle.

Peace,
CHESTER

Posted by: Chester The Retarded Bachelor on May 16, 2003 01:26 PM

I have to cast a dissenting vote on Tim Minnear. On more than one occasion, he has written episodes the main purpose of which has seemed to be to ruin character and story continuity. The worst example of this - and the moment that wrecked the show for me - was when Angel locked the lawyers in the wine cellar in Season Two. When the putative hero of your story chooses to participate in a mass lynching, a line has been crossed and I can't follow. I think the Powers That Be at the show understood just how grave the implications were for Angel's character: there's no other reason why they would have gone so far out the way to give a line to the Host - "Those lawyers were slated to die anyway" - which served no purpose other than to give Angel the moral equivalent of "Get Out of Jail Free" card. This is the one glaring example in Joss's work where a character was allowed to avoid responsibility for the consequences of his actions. As such - and particularly given the terrible place that lynch law holds in American history - it is Joss's greatest failure. he approved it, but Minnear wrote it, and I do not applaud the author of that scenario.

Posted by: wwolfe on May 13, 2003 06:11 PM

My angel writing dream team for 2003-2004

Joss, Mere Smith, Drew Goddard, Steve DeKnight, Doug Petrie, Greenwalt, Jane Espenson and David Fury.

Hopefully we will be so lucky as too have all these talented writers on board on one show. I wish Tim Minear could stick arouynd but he's got bigger fish to fry so go Tim!

Posted by: ally on May 13, 2003 05:00 PM

you know what nicole- i hope you are right too- joss-penned episodes are by far the highlight of any season- whether it be angel or our beloved buffy!

Posted by: Chrissy on May 13, 2003 04:12 PM
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