Thursday, 20 June 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.2 – 'Living Conditions' & ANGEL, 1.2 – 'Lonely Hearts'

Thursday, 20 June 2013
Willow: Happy hunting.
Buffy: Wish me monsters.

Cher's lyric "do you believe in life after love?" was a cute nod to Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) life as she struggles to adapt to U.C Sunnydale, and "Believe" is the favourite song of her infuriating roommate Kathy Newman (Dagney Kerr); a cheerful student with bad pop-culture taste (the greatest insult in the Buffyverse), who labels the contents of their communal fridge and irons her jeans. (Who doesn't iron jeans? Just me?)

"LIVING CONDITIONS" was a surprisingly enjoyable and rather funny episode, with most of the events affecting Buffy coming from a human level. There were cloaked demons with burned faces and luminous eyes with a mystery that would eventually lead back to Kathy in a surprising way, but for the majority of its runtime "Living Conditions" found pleasure in Buffy's reaction to someone so diametrically opposed to herself. Naturally there was the problem that Buffy leads a double-life as The Slayer, which creates an immediate distance when she's sneaking out in the early hours, but just in general Kathy was something of a nightmare to live with. She was also a huge stereotype, but a peppy performance from Dagney Kerr helped keep things moving along.

As I said, this episode contained quite a number of solid laughs; such as The Simpsons-esque moment when Buffy's eagle eyes watched in horror as Kathy spilt ketchup on her sweater from a large burger, or the student next door complaining about the noise when Buffy and Kathy had their noisy showdown. The big twist that the demons weren't after The Slayer, but were chasing after Kathy (who was essentially a naughty teenage runaway from their ream) was a fun way to subvert expectations. It's just shame we never really got to know Kathy before her true identity was revealed—but, wow, what a way to do it with that astonishingly graphic shot of Buffy ripping her face off! (The make-up this season already feels a cut above what's come before.)

Overall, while this wasn't anything special and probably won't be remembered for very long, it was light-hearted fun watching "Living Conditions" and I enjoyed the sense of focus--although the show needs to decide on how Giles (Anthony Head) is to be involved without it appearing odd he's hanging around campus. Can't he just get a job as the librarian? I'm also not sure about Buffy getting another potential love-interest in Parker Abrams (Adam Kaufman), but I guess the idea is viewers are supposed to be kept guessing which one Buffy will pick to replace Angel in her affections.

written by Marti Noxon | directed by David Grossman | 12 October 1999

Doyle: Great idea! Calling cards. It's not like you have a signal folks can shine in the sky when ever they need help, you know?

It takes awhile for new shows to find themselves, and Angel takes a backwards-step in "LONELY HEARTS"; the first half of which was almost unwatchable and terribly slow, before slightly improving when the emphasis was taken off the characters and onto the simple pleasures of chasing a body-hopping demon around the city, helped and hindered by a sexy cop.

Angel's detective agency is a naïve business venture at the moment, which doesn't have much appeal. Doyle (Glenn Quinn) receives a generic vision of a nightclub from 'The Powers That Be' and somehow that's enough for Angel (David Boreanaz) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) to correctly deduce it's the club D'Oblique and head over there to hand out calling cards and generally behave like novices. At first it seems that a creepy guy is targeting young women, using D'Oblique as his hunting ground, until a twist reveals it's blonde would-be victim Sharon (Lillian Birdsell) who's the real threat—a twist Buffy the Vampire Slayer did years before in its pilot's opening scene. Still, the follow-up twist that the enemy is really a parasite that explodes, Alien-like, from its victim's chests, looking for a host body that won't decay around it, just about took the edge off things. The episode got marginally more entertaining once the gruesome stuff took over, but that's not a good sign for the show itself.

The best thing about "Lonely Hearts" was the introduction of Kate Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm) as a second-tier character; initially appearing to be a single woman Angel meets at D'Oblique during his investigation, who's later revealed to be a detective who mistakes Angel for a murderer. Röhm had a nice rapport with Angel and actually got to spoke without making incessant wisecracks like Doyle and Cordelia (which still feels like a very Buffy-like thing to be doing, for a show that's supposed to be more adult). Some light research before writing this episode reveals David Fury originally wrote a script called "Corrupt" with a focus on prostitution, where Kate was a drug addict, and that sounds more interesting than this Buffy-toned outing.

"Lonely Hearts" wasn't a total dud, because the pace did pick up for the last twenty-minutes, and I grew to like Kate's character as a contact for Angel as he starts his business, but it's very clear Angel isn't fully-formed as a TV show yet. Angel isn't even licensed as a P.I? He has a grappling gun? Is the Mutant Enemy production still unable to shoot fight sequences without using painfully obvious stunt doubles? (In one shot, cameramen are even seen lurking in the corner of a shot! Is this amateur hour?) Doyle's visions also fee like a lazy way to kick-start plots, too.

written by David Fury | directed by James A. Contner | 12 October 1999