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'Angel' gets a new life

Baby gives 'Buffy' spinoff a fresh supply of story lines

From the Chicago Tribune
By Allan Johnson
Tribune television reporter
April 11, 2002

Previously on "Angel": The vampire-with-a-soul (played by David Boreanaz) can only utter "Connor," his baby son's name, in devastation. The child has disappeared into "the darkest of the dark worlds" with Angel's archenemy Holtz (Keith Szarabajka); the dark world's entrance closes when a lightning bolt thrusts an advancing Angel back.

When the WB's supernatural action series returns from hiatus Monday (8 p.m. on WGN-Ch. 9), fans will probably expect Angel, the 300-year-old blood-sucking detective, and his associates to mount a rescue attempt. Well, whatever fans expect, they're in for a surprise.

"They will never save the baby. The baby is gone forever," says David Greenwalt, who co-created the show with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon.

However, "there may be another form his son might take," Greenwalt teases. The latest development adds to what has already become a fascinating third season for "Angel."

"We kind of had a breakthrough," Boreanaz says. "A lot of people counted us out in a lot of areas, but we stayed the course and knew where we were going. All you can do is hope for the best, and we planted a good, solid story line now that we can really run with, rather than us being all over the place."

Improves with age

The "Buffy" spinoff could arguably be the season's most improved series, given the strengthening of the supporting cast and the Angel-is-a-daddy story line infusing the series with a potent new punch and much-needed direction.

This surprising comeback is surprising, considering "Angel's" fate was up in the air last season when "Buffy" went from the WB to UPN. Rather than allowing "Angel" to go also, the WB kept the show because it appeals to the desirable young-male demographic. The network paired it on Mondays with "7th Heaven," the wholesome family series and the network's highest-rated show. "Angel's" ratings haven't capitalized on its strong lead-in ("Angel" averages 4.3 million viewers, down from "Heaven's" 7 million-viewer average), but the series flourished creatively after the breakup with "Buffy."

"The show was connected to `Buffy' because of the same kind of story lines," says Boreanaz, 32. "We felt that we were strong enough when we were still associated on the same night with `Buffy.'

"People are going to say, `Do you feel like you're a stronger show because of [the split?]?' We are stronger because our characters got better and we just matured as a show."

A giant step forward

A lot of that positive feedback comes from the Connor story line, which Greenwalt calls "a big step forward" for the series.

"For me, the [Angel] metaphor is, `I may be eternal, but I have no future, I have no tomorrow,'" Greenwalt says. "And the fact is, having a child is almost as good as him becoming human." The sense of purpose for the character was vital for the show to survive, according to Kathryn Thomas, associate director for Chicago-based media buyer Starcom Entertainment.

"I think everybody was getting the feeling that Angel, as he is the eternal man, if he doesn't have anything to shoot for, and he can't experience love, what are you going to do with him?" she says. "So yes, they are definitely trying to give him a reason for being, which is what the baby has done."

Thomas does throw up a possible red flag: "You're always concerned when a series brings an infant or a baby into the story line, because it begins to feel like Scrappy Doo [joining the "Scooby Doo" cartoon series]; sort of the beginning of the end."

According to Boreanaz , however, the baby being replaced by "another form" isn't happening because there was a fear of him becoming annoying, a la Scrappy. Rather, the "new" Connor is part of the natural growth of the series, he says.

The growth of the show is predicated on the fact that Angel can't be a happy camper, Greenwalt says -- and not just because the reformed vampire is under a Gypsy curse that gives him a soul, which is his penance for centuries of evildoing.

Plenty of pain

With six episodes left this season (Greenwalt says the WB will pick up the series for a fourth season, but whether it remains on Mondays or moves to another night in the fall is unknown), the producer promises the vampire's propensity for pain will continue, especially in the four-episode season-finale arc that concludes May 20.

For instance, Angel's season-long attraction to his half-demon psychic friend, the headstrong Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), will come to some "fruition," Greenwalt promises; he also promises Cordy's new demon powers will manifest themselves in ways "you would not believe."

"Actually, [the relationship] will be incredibly painful," Greenwalt says. "The promise of niceness will be there before it all turns horrible, because it's Angel."

Copyright 2002, Chicago Tribune

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