Monday, March 1, 2004

Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

The boys like to wrestle. And on the surface it might look like a bit of a mismatch. Diego-san is one of larger cats I've ever seen. His tail alone is big enough to strangle a goat, and with his impressive black coat and massive paws he's just this side of qualifying for a bear status. Thompson is more typical tabby cat size and with his missing front left leg his balance is just a bit tilted toward his right side. But he's solid through and through while Diego is a lot puff and hair. And Thompson has the neck of a football player (perhaps to compensate for all the weight that's placed on his front leg). Picking them up I'd almost have to guess that they're about equal weight despite their disparate appearances.

Watching them play fight is endlessly entertaining. They'll recklessly tear around the house and things like furniture and stairs are mere inconveniences rather than obstacles. When one catches the other they'll roll around in a ball and paws will be swatting as ears are being bit. The other night I was being an interested spectator to the spectacle when I saw Diego-san use a heretofore unseen tactical maneuver. While in the middle of a lengthy stare-down Diego suddenly took his right front paw and swatted Thompson's left front paw from underneath him causing Thompson to tumble over like a house of cards. It was brilliant if not a tad unfair- taking advantage of the opponent's weakness.

Making the adjustment from the usually sedate existence Mr. Max and I settled into the last few years to having two energetic playmates who seem to think everything that exists in the house exists for their entertainment purposes (shoelaces are to be chewed, running and sitting water is to be swatted, bags and boxes are either to crawl into or to chewed to bits) has been at times trying. They say that change is hard but it's not so much that as adjusting to different personalities and missing not quite getting the same blank and ornery look Mr. Max would give me whenever I did or said something he knew was more for my sake than his.

Yup, being a follow up to a one in a kind original is no easy task. And this is what life has been like for TV's Angel during its entire five year existence. Being a spin-off of the most creative and imaginative TV series ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel has at times had a difficult time finding its own place in this world straddling the line between enhancing the forever non predictable Buffy storyline while at the same time trying to assert the show's own identity.

I've been making my way through the first three Angel seasons on DVD. Much of the first season I didn't watch for the very reason that I felt it could never live up to the standard already established by Buffy. And indeed the first season is wildly uneven as the show tries to balance Angel's brooding nature (he's a vampire with a soul for Chrissakes meaning he's eternally tormented by all the damage he has wreaked) with Cordelia's bubbleheaded enthusiasm and Doyle's geeky exterior that hides something much greater underneath.

Doyle's sudden death helped focus the show even though the character played by the late great Glenn Quinn is one of the most fascinating (and believe me that's saying a lot) ever in the Buffy universe. By season two as we learn even more about Angel's shadowy past it's easier to appreciate the artful storytelling of the man behind all this Buffy stuff- Joss Whedon.

This season Angel has really hit its stride with some truly memorable episodes- including the heartbreaking death of Cordelia, the revelation of the role Angel and Spike played in World War II (Spike was a Nazi!), and the episode where due to an evil spell Angel is turned into a Muppet. I can't imagine any other episodic television series expanding and playing with the medium as wonderfully as these three episodes (and all season really) of Angel have done. So the news that the WB has canceled the series is as maddening as it is sad. This is a series where we want to find out what is going to happen next to the characters because the show's greatest strength is that we never quite know- and thus the journey itself is exhilarating. Losing the last vestiges of the Buffy world is difficult at best- sort of as balance jarring as the loss of a limb- and it feels like losing a great love, being able to find something else to help you move on, only now to lose that as well. In other words it would make a good story for Angel.

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