The Daily Stream: Watch The Rise And Fall Of Angel

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Angel"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Joss Whedon is problematic. Let's just leave that there, so it hangs over everything I'm going to say. Without getting into a debate about the art versus the artist, I have mixed feelings about writing this, but with that said, Whedon was not the only creative involved in this series, which ran from 1999 through 2004. A whole lot of people worked on it, and their work matters to me. One of the reasons I picked this series is that I both love it and have issues with the ending (and I won't spoil that for you). 

"Angel" was, of course, a spin-off of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," following the character of Angel (David Boreanaz) — the vampire with a soul who was Buffy's love interest, and left after finding out that they couldn't be together. He killed a woman of the Romani people many years ago (an outdated term is used for them in the show), and was cursed to have his soul returned, allowing him to deal with the guilt of all the deaths he caused. 

Angel moves to Los Angeles, where he meets a half-demon man named Doyle (Glenn Quinn). Doyle gets messages from the Powers That Be in the form of blinding headaches and visions, and Angel takes those and goes to help the helpless. He also runs into Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), who was a snotty cheerleader/sometimes Scooby Gang helper in Sunnydale with Buffy, and is now trying out an acting career in L.A. At the end of season 1, Doyle leaves and passes the visions on to her.

Joining the team are former Watcher Wesley (Alexis Denisof), who helps with his knowledge of demons and magic, Gunn (J. August Richards), a former kick ass street level vampire hunter who goes from not trusting Angel to a beloved member of the team, the empathic demon Lorne (Andy Hallett), who reads people as they sing karaoke (one of the show's more fun devices as Angel cannot sing at all), and later Fred (Amy Acker), a physics student who is trapped in a different dimension for five years.

Why it's essential viewing

There are so many other characters in the mix, including another "Buffy" alum, Spike (James Marsters) who gets a soul like Angel, but is a ghost for quite a bit. There's also Darla (Julie Benz), Angel's creator and former lover (for 150 years), whom he killed on "Buffy." I won't even try to explain how that happens, but it involves an evil law firm called Wolfram & Hart. 

Though the series starts with a crime-fighting team up between Angel and Detective Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm) and a hint of romance between them, it very much feels like the writers saw what was working and what wasn't, and put the focus on Cordelia instead. Her character alone (and Carpenter's performance) is a reason to watch the show, despite the fact that they did her character dirty towards the end. (I'm not getting into what Carpenter said about why that is, but I encourage you to read it for yourself.) 

Cordelia goes from a self-absorbed former rich girl to a powerful and very funny hero. It's the biggest arc, I think, in the Buffy universe (with the possible exception of Anya the demon in "Buffy"), and it's wonderful and wildly compelling to watch. Seriously, I don't want to overstate this, but it feels somehow pure and joyous, the way she retains her quippy sense of humor and her absolute pleasure in still loving the things she loves (expensive clothing, shopping, that sort of thing) while being a power for good. It's something we really didn't see that often back then for women on TV. Either you were a frivolous person who likes expensive things and shopping and is generally a shallow jerk, or you eschewed that stuff (all the while still looking pretty, because of course) and were pure of intention.

Great heights and dark lows

As someone who would drive like a demon (ahem) to get home in time to watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (before the days of streaming) if I didn't have the DVR set up, this show was sort of a revelation. It was more adult, and dealt with guilt and grief in a different way than "Buffy" did. Even the change in Angel's character — less brooding with the sexy puppy eyes and far funnier than he was in the first series — was exactly what I wanted to watch back then. (This is no dig on "Buffy," by the way.)

What is so fascinating about watching this series is tracking its good parts versus its bad. Cordelia's rise is beautiful, and then it's squandered at the end (not giving spoilers). Fred is a lovely character, but her ending is exceedingly odd. Darla's storyline with Angel is heartbreaking and works ... until it doesn't. Lorne is just great and I have no notes, but seeing everyone and everything else rise and fall is wild, and sort of a class on how to do a series, and how not to do a series. It's worth a watch if you want to dig in and have something to compare future sci-fi/fantasy series to. 

Whether or not I've sold "Angel" to you, please just at least watch any episodes with Lorne in them. Wow, I miss that character.