Thursday, 10 October 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.17 – 'Superstar' & ANGEL, 1.17 – 'Eternity'

Riley: These spells, these really work? I mean, can you really "turn your enemies inside out"? Or "learn to excrete gold coins"?
Anya: That one's not so much fun.


Alternate universe stories are often fun, so "SUPERSTAR" certainly had appeal. In this hour, diminutive geek Jonathan Levinson (Danny Strong) had cast a spell making him a paragon in everyone's eyes around the world. It was confusing he wasn't doing something completely different than hanging around Sunnydale, if he was so revered around the world, choosing to just replace Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) as leader of the so-called Scooby Gang, but otherwise this story worked well. I particularly enjoyed how it didn't explain anything right away, so from the start Jonathan was a charlatan the regulars couldn't see through. (A fun creative flourish was amending Buffy the Vampire Slayer's opening credits sequence, with Jonathan inserted in various heroic poses.)

However, I wish BtVS had done a better job laying the groundwork with Jonathan's character. I vaguely remember him from "Hush" recently, but was genuinely surprised to realise he's been circling the Scoobies since way back in the first season! Maybe I just have a bad memory (there are too many TV shows swirling around my head), but I found it hard to find a dee[er level of joy in seeing Jonathan become a 'master of the universe'. The whole episode still worked on the level of a zero becoming a hero, but I'm certain "Superstar" would have been better if I had an attachment to Jonathan beforehand.

What worked really nicely was seeing how inadequate Buffy was in this Jonathan-obsessed world, as The Slayer was relegated to The Sidekick and patronised throughout the episode. All of Buffy's greatest achievements were now attributed to the wonderful Jonathan, so it was easy to feel sympathy for the show's heroine being taken down a peg or two. I also liked how Jonathan wasn't a clear villain, just an opportunist in way over his head—where the price of fame and sleeping with Swedish twins, was the emergence of an ugly demon which would break his spell once slain.

Overall, Jane Espenson's "Superstar" wasn't as special as it might have been, because the logic of the story was hazy, and for some reason Danny Strong hadn't left an impression on me (maybe I'm under the reverse of this episode's spell?). But it was an entertaining hour that I had fun with--mainly for the smaller character moments, like Riley (Marc Blucas) siding with Buffy when she explained her crazy theory about Jonathan being a deceiver; or that Jonathan's relationship advice to Buffy actually made sense, in the aftermath of her boyfriend sleeping with her enemy in last week's "Who Are You?" Not the smoothest of episodes in conception and execution, but one that delivered good entertainment.

written by Jane Espenson | directed by David Grossman | 4 April 2000


Cordelia (to Angel): Angelus may not be the most relaxing company, but at least he's honest. Shouldn't I expect the same from the *not* evil version of my friends?

In this week's Angel we met a true superstar in the shapely form of Hollywood siren Rebecca Lowell (Tamara Gorski); a showbiz idol of Cordelia's (Charisma Carpenter) whose life is saved when Angel (David Boreanaz) prevents her getting hit by a car. What follows was a weak "romantic episode" that mixed in elements of Notting Hill (Angel's unaware of Rebecca's celebrity, which she finds refreshing) and even The Bodyguard (Angel briefly becomes Rebecca's protector), but ultimately didn't work because Gorski is an awful actress. I could almost see the strings pulling her wooden head around in her earlier scenes, although to her credit she did improve over the hour. Seeing as this episode was partly about people playing roles in their lives, her odd performance may even have been intentional on some level. Oh, who am I kidding? She was as bad as her subsequent IMDb filmography confirms.

And yet, as I was mentally preparing to write a savage review and slap a one-star rating on "ETERNITY", the final act clawed back some dignity. I never expected this story would involve the return of Angel's soulless alter-ego, Angelus, who was temporarily reborn when Rebecca made the mistake of slipping a "happy pill" into Angel's wine glass during a late night tête-à-tête. Consequently, before you could paraphrase The Incredible Hulk by muttering "don't make me happy, you wouldn't like me when I'm happy...", Angelus was soon tearing up the screen. He threw Rebecca around her luxury apartment, cut the power to the building like all clichéd villains do, threw the useless Wesley (Alexis Denisoff) across the room into a crumple heap, gave Cordy some hilarious home truths about her atrocious stage acting, and... well, then he was knocked unconscious and awoke the next day bound to a bed by metal chains. For shame.

It was a great end to a very weak episode, as Boreanaz is so much more entertaining as Angelus that I appreciated the surprise. I also loved that moment when Cordy managed to convince Angelus that a bottle of tap water had been blessed by a priest, thus proving she can act. A great moment.

Sadly, nothing can erase the vast majority of this episode's poorness, but a little Angelus goes a long way. It also reminded me that Angel's curse is directly tied to him achieving bliss, which is something that wasn't clear to me until this episode. I assumed Angel's gypsy curse had been erased the moment he returned from that hellish dimension Buffy sent him to between season 2 and 3, but clearly not. Oh well, at least now we know that whenever Angel gets a little tedious you just have to slip the eponymous hero a pill to get the party started.

written by Tracey Stern | directed by Regis Kimble | 4 April 2000
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