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Angel: Season One

It's the way the world of television works: Take a phenomenally popular TV show — in this case, Buffy the Vampire Slayer — and create another show featuring one of the main characters. The results are often embarrassing. But sometimes, as with Joss Whedon's spin-off Angel, the result is arguably better than the original product. David Boreanaz stars as the broody vampire-with-a-soul, fated to walk the earth fully cognizant of the horrors he's wrought and suffering for his sins. He's moved to Los Angeles (the City of Angels — get it?) where he's operating as a sort of cross between Batman, Kolchak, and Spenser, roaming the dark streets and protecting the helpless from various thugs, demons, and vamps. Atmospheric, intense, and very funny, Angel is unique in that it kicked off when Whedon and his Mutant Enemy production company were at their creative best — Buffy had been on the air for three years and the crew's writing chops were at their peak. From the very first pilot episode, Angel had style, pizzazz and a solid sense of place. It's a darker show than Buffy, owing as much to Frank Miller's Dark Knight as it does to it's progenitor, with a complex, tormented hero at its center. The first season introduced Angel in his new environs, an L.A. that — unbeknownest to most citizens — is overrun by the undead and various supernatural bad guys. In the pilot episode, Angel runs into Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), an acquaintance from Sunnydale and saves her from the clutches of an evil blood-sucker ("I finally get invited to a nice place with no mirrors... and lots of curtains.... Hey, you're a vampire!") and he gets help from a half-demon named Doyle (Glenn Quinn) — so, naturally, of them become his office-mates at "Angel Investigations." The first season offers some fun cross-overs, like when Spike (James Marsters) comes to town (his rooftop commentary on Angel's interplay with a nubile almost-victim is one of Marsters' better moments), Faith (Eliza Dushku) drops in for some rumble-tumble conflict, and we get the requisite Buffy/Angel reunion. Among the highlights — although there isn't a bad episode in the bunch — are "Expecting," where Cordy finds herself hugely knocked up with demon babies after a one night stand, "War Zone," where Angel first encounters Gunn and his gang of vamp-killing vigilantes, and "She," where Angel battles Bai Ling as a demon princess from another dimension. 20th Century Fox's Angel: Season One DVD set is gorgeous, with a beautiful, multi-fold box holding all six discs and offering rich, crystal-clear, full-screen transfers of all 22 episodes. Disc One includes commentary by creators Whedon and David Greenwalt on the pilot episode "City Of..." and Disc Two includes a commentary by Jane Espenson on "Rm w/a Vu." As with the commentary on the Buffy discs, these are smart, informative, and fun to listen to. There's a nice Season One overview on Disc Three that includes interviews with the creators and cast members, plus a still gallery and cast-and-crew notes. On Disc Five are complete scripts for the episodes "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary" (which this reviewer was unable to access using the on-screen instructions — whether this was the fault of the discs or the player is unclear). Disc Six offers three featurettes: "Introducing Angel," in case you just stumbled onto this DVD set and decided to spend 60 bucks on a whim without having any idea where the character is or what the show's about; the ultra-short featurette "I'm Cordelia," a cute introduction to the character, covering her past on Buffy, and "The Demons," which examines all the first season's baddies. The six-disc set is a must-have for fans of the show, with only two tiny caveats: The fold-out case, though very pretty to look at, is unwieldy, and while the commentary tracks are easily turned on by simply popping over to the main menu and then starting back up where you left off, they can't be turned back off with the same ease — you have to go all the way back to main menu and restart the episode over again, which is very annoying.
—Dawn Taylor

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