Thursday, 5 September 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.12 - 'A New Man' & ANGEL, 1.12 - 'Expecting'

Thursday, 5 September 2013
Giles: You know what gets me? This is what gets me: twenty years I've been fighting demons. Maggie Walsh and her nancy ninja boys come in; six months later, the demons are pissing themselves with fear. They never even noticed me.

You can tell Buffy the Vampire Slayer's moved into the new millennium: Giles (Anthony Head) has upgraded his landline from rotary dial to a cordless. "A NEW MAN" was exactly the sort of episode I seem to enjoy the most: disposable fun with witty lines and enough narrative space to fill with entertaining character beats. It wasn't clear what Jane Espenson's story was actually about for awhile, as it spent time developing Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Riley's (Marc Blucas) fledgling relationship—as they both grew closer and tested each other's limits, while questioning each other's history. Buffy's more "experienced" when it comes to slaying monsters, and for a second I thought that was intended as an analogy for their sexual history; until I remembered Buffy's only slept with Angel, and, somehow, I doubt muscled Riley's still a virgin. Or maybe he is, because he spends an awful lot of time hanging around with his male friends in a high-tech basement.

I was happy watching this episode saunter along, touching on what's happening in the character's lives, not actually doing much beyond that. Giles's outrage at not being included in the gossip about Riley and The Initiative was great to see; as was his unexpected hatred of his Initiative counterpart, waspish Professor Walsh (Lindsay Crouse). The ongoing situation with Spike (James Marsters) as Xander's (Nicholas Brendan) bone idle housemate is still making me giggle, and it was nice to be reminded that Willow (Alyson Hannigan) has found a new pal in fellow witch Tara (Amber Benson) as they're now practising magic together—in light of their telekinetic moment in "Hush" with the vending machine.

However, once the real story began I was sold on the sheer amusement of bookish Giles being transformed into a super-strong Fyarl demon by his arch-nemesis Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs)—who, incidentally, was given one of the funniest ever BtVS moments when he was introduced stepping out of the shadows to 'monologue' to the departed Giles, calling attention to himself in the process. The story was beautifully simple from the moment Giles realised he'd undergone a metamorphosis overnight; having to cope with his inability to interact with the human world without destroying things, and realising he appears to be speaking gobbledygook to everyone except Spike. If I'm being picky, the story and most of its ensuing problems would have been prevented if Spike simply told Buffy's gang what's happened to Giles, as I didn't buy the thin excuse for Giles preferring not to get her involved... but that is a minor quibble.

While it wasn't anything truly special and a few moments felt rushed, "A New Man" was diverting and consistently entertaining hokum. Head was the funniest he's been as a clumsy demon losing his humanity, I really like Buffy and Riley as a couple, and the show's doing a good job making us note the differences of approach between Team Buffy and Team Riley when it comes to dealing with Sunnydale's supernatural infestation. The Initiative were given a shadier feel this week—particularly when Professor Walsh was seen entering a restricted area to step through the mysterious 'Door 314'. (Unfortunately, I think I've been spoiled about what/who is inside, but that's the problem with reviewing an episode of television that's 13-years old.)

written by Jane Espenson | directed by Michael Gershman | 25 January 2000

Wilson: This is a private club. Featured word: private.
Angel: Hey, you don't talk to me, I'll kick your ass. Featured word: ass.

Similarly silly to "A New Man" was Angel's "EXPECTING", where Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) went on a date with the seemingly perfect Wilson Christopher (Ken Marino), only to wake up the next morning heavily pregnant with a belly full of baby demons. For awhile, I had strong feelings of deja vu watching this episode, until I realised Torchwood used the same basic idea for "Something Borrowed" (how ironic) eight years later. Angel wasn't the first to cover this topic either, as the idea of a woman getting pregnant by supernatural means stretches back decades—most notably with Rosemary's Baby.

Ever since Doyle died and necessitated the adoption of BtVS's Wesley (Alexis Denisof) into this spin-off's urban world, the stories have become goofier and more amusing to me. I'm always told Angel rapidly improves after this first season, so I'm interested to see if that means darkness and light strike a better balance, or if the show just embraces the fact it's just BtVS without academia and with more testosterone. But for now, I'm happy to watch the La La Land version of BtVS, although "Expected" would have been more fun with Buffy getting pregnant, too—seeing as she's in a relationship with a man who wouldn't be the father, and it would affect her vampire-slaying duties. But hey, Howard Gordon got there first and it's an Angel story.

Is it worth recounting the plot of "Expecting"? It all played out as you'd expect, although I liked the twists Wilson just the surrogate for a hideous Haxil Beast, and that Cordelia wasn't the only woman Wilson and his friends have been impregnating around town. But for the most part this hour was funny but predictable fare; with a comic pregnancy inspection (melting hypodermic needle!) and Cordelia's mothering instinct working overdrive. It was also good to see the return of Cordy's ghost housemate, Phantom Dennis (passing her Kleenex), and Wesley continues to make me smile. The scene where he confronted the enormous Haxil Beast by raising his fists like a Victorian boxer was a hoot.

written by Howard Gordon | directed by David Semel | 25 January 2000