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Into 3rd season, `Angel' has finally found a voice

Posted on January 9, 2002

Two things initially attracted "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" executive producer David Greenwalt to doing a spinoff show about the slayer's love, the vampire-with-a-soul Angel.

"Angel did something incredibly dark in the pilot -- drinking blood after someone was already dead," Greenwalt says. "Also, the detective, Kate [Elisabeth Rohm], was so deep into her job that she had become a coke whore."

If neither of these plot points sounds familiar, it's because neither one ever happened. The first "looked great on the page, but not on film," Greenwalt says, and the second didn't fit with "the show we wanted to do."

On a creative high

Figuring out just what that show was took a while too. But now, midway through its third season on the WB (8 p.m. Mondays, WGN-Ch. 9), "Angel" has hit a creative high, balancing its supernatural, demon-hunting elements with well-shaded characters and a strong dose of humor.

That the show has blossomed away from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which famously switched networks (to UPN) before this season, is only partly a coincidence.

Greenwalt attributes the show's creative growth to the cast and writers becoming more comfortable with the characters. "It takes time to find [the voice of] a show, and we really have found it," he says.

"Angel" was first planned as an anthology, with the soul-cursed vampire (David Boreanaz) doing a good deed each week with help from his friends -- the opposite of "Buffy's" character- and mythology- driven stories. "Then we found out we were better at dealing with people," Greenwalt says, and midway through its first season, the series began moving toward its current form.

Fans of the show have been aware of this growth all along, but staying with The WB has allowed "Angel" to escape its predecessor's shadow and succeed on its own. While its audience is small by the standards of the Big Four networks (about 4.6 million viewers a week), the show draws the young viewers the network seeks.

"I knew in my heart of hearts that we wouldn't follow `Buffy' to UPN, and David [Boreanaz] and I both felt good about it," Greenwalt says. "To see this year, the nice gradual building [of an audience], and to get promotion from the network -- that might not have come had we stayed tethered to `Buffy.' "

Despite the acrimonious network switch, Greenwalt remains close with "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon. Their production offices are in the same building, and each serves as a consultant on the other's show.

The story arc in which Angel and his ex-lover Darla (Julie Benz) conceive a child -- something that shouldn't be possible for vampires to do -- was something Greenwalt, Whedon and co-executive producer Tim Minear worked out in the months before the current season began. The group, which also includes "Buffy" executive producer Marti Noxon, has regular talks about long-range plans for the show.

Whedon wrote and directed the 13th episode of "Angel," which will air some time early this year. Greenwalt isn't saying much about it, except that the script from the man who wrote the musical "Buffy" "involves ballet."

"Like the show wasn't `gay' enough already," Greenwalt says with a laugh.

Characters still developing

The most appealing aspects of the show for Greenwalt are that Angel is "the world's oldest twentysomething," with all the potential for drama and comedy that phrase implies, and that the template Whedon set down for the characters allows them to continue developing.

He cites Cordelia, played by Charisma Carpenter, as an example. She started off as the embodiment of the rich, pretty, popular girl everyone hated in high school, but now is saddled with debilitating visions that alert Angel, Wesley (Alexis Denisof), Gunn (J. August Richards) and newcomer Fred (Amy Acker) to coming dangers.

Angel has noticed the change, too, and he finds himself with ever- growing feelings for Cordelia, which is something of a sore spot among some of the show's fans, who seem to prefer the doomed true- love relationship Angel and Buffy once shared.

According to Greenwalt, it's "only natural that she and Angel would have feelings for each other when they work in such an intense situation." The budding relationship, and Angel's fierce protection of his new son, speak to his becoming more human.

Rick Porter, Zap2it.com

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