Shiny Shelf


Buffy/Angel DVD round-up

By Mark Clapham on 08 March 2004

A huge stack of Whedon came out on DVD last week. There’s ‘Angel’ season four, a ‘Buffy’ greatest hits, and a selection of character-themed discs.

First up, the penultimate season box set for ‘Angel’, the ‘Buffy’ spin-off that is set to end with its current, fifth, season.

Angel Season Four DVD Collection

The fourth season of ‘Angel’ divides viewers severely, and the new direction that the following year took indicates a certain ambivalence about this season among the show’s creative team. Personally, I loved it. Season Four is everything you know about ‘Angel’, but turned up to 11. Since the series started, there’s been a lot of talk about an apocalypse, and this season delivers it, with an outrageous plot that sees characters switch sides, births and deaths, the sun blacked out and a god walk the streets of LA. It’s all very over the top, almost operatic in its silly, silly extremity. For many, this is where the series went too far, and they lost faith. Foolish them – a lot of the more unbelievable events early in the season have complex reasons behind them which are later explained. In the end, everything is paid off, and the slate left clean for the more standalone episodes of Season Five.

Seven commentaries and a bundle of featurettes and trailers round out the package, which has Fox’s usual high standards of presentation.

With only one season of ‘Buffy’ yet to be released as a DVD box set (and, come to think of it, only one more season of ‘Angel’), Fox have turned their eye to selling cheaper products to viewers who want some ‘Buffy’ on DVD, but not all of it. Yes, they’ve got the hardcore and now they’re after the casuals. Five single discs lead the charge, the first of which features episodes voted for by the fans.

The Best of Buffy

As a primer, you can’t really go wrong with this disc, although the choices may seem a little odd. After five seasons of ‘Angel’, it seems odd to consider ‘Becoming Part One’ as an example of the parent series. It’s a great episode, but it’s a virtual preliminary pilot for the spin-off, filling out Angel’s back-story rather more than it deals with Buffy herself. However, it does cover one of the series major storylines, the Buffy/Angel romance and Angel’s return to evil. If Fox intend these discs to encourage the casuals to sample the full box sets, then the first half of ‘Becoming’ should work nicely – you really need to see the second half of this one. ‘Becoming’ ended the second season of the show, while ‘Graduation Day Part Two’ finished off the third. It’s one of the most spectacular season finales, ending the school years of the show with a cathartic explosion. Among a bevy of arc-heavy episodes, ‘Hush’ is the only high concept show here, famous for its silent gimmick and the series most frightening villains, the Gentlemen. It’s a great concept beautifully executed. We’re back to season finales for ‘The Gift’, the last episode broadcast on the WB Netlet in the States, and a finale of sorts for the series as Buffy goes out in a blaze of glory (of sorts).

It’s a good collection, but is clearly, ‘Hush’ aside, more of an aide memoire for the series’ bigger plotlines than good standalone examples of the show. As such, this is a good purchase for existing fans wanting to relive some highlights of ‘Buffy’, but not for anyone trying to get into the series afresh or enjoy some freestanding episodes. The sole extra on the disc is a preview for the season seven box set, which is a little odd – if you’re willing to buy season box sets, why would you buy this disc?

Also out now are four character discs, containing four episodes each, along with a profile featurette for the star of the disc. The choice of characters is interesting, as it shows where Fox consider the future of the franchise to be, and which characters the company feels are marketable to fans. Here’s a clue – no-one older or not overtly sexy gets a look in.

The Slayer Collection: Angel

Angel is an obvious candidate for his own disc, what with his own series and all that. This disc acts as a primer for that series, hitting all the major beats – his back story in ‘Angel’, his fall back to evil in ‘Innocence’, another Bad Angel episode in ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, and his search for redemption in ‘Amends’. It’s a bit odd not to have either part of ‘The Becoming’ on here, but you get the gist of those episodes from ‘Amends’. Angel’s relationship with Buffy is also mapped out nicely here, from tentative, to mistrust, to betrayal and back again. It’s interesting that the disc is split between malice and moping, with angsty Angel bookending the disc, but two solid episodes of full-on evil Angelus in the middle. Buffy fans sure love their bad boy characters, as the subsequent success of Spike as a character testifies. This is a decent group of episodes for Boreanaz fans, and those who have a particular love for the early years of the show. It also has a bit of a story running through the episodes, providing some degree of unity.

The Slayer Collection: Willow

Yet another disc with a story to tell, these four episodes start with the beginnings of Willow’s first major relationship, and ends as she begins her second. As such it also acts as an Oz disc as well, with Seth Green heavily featured in every episode. ‘Phases’ is the first and weakest of the bunch, a rather perfunctory werewolf story that sparkles due to the chemistry between Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green. Reaffirming my suspicions that ‘Buffy’ fans love their favourite characters being bad, ‘Doppelgangland’ is the second appearance of an evil vampire Willow from a parallel timeline. It’s a great showcase for Hannigan as both versions of the character, and has a little nod to future character developments. The disc is rounded off with the twin heights of Marti Noxon’s writing career on ‘Buffy’, the linked episodes ‘Wild At Heart’ and ‘New Moon Rising’. The former sees Willow and Oz breaking up, followed by his departure, while the latter sees his return, and how that forces Willow to assess what has changed in her life and make a decision. Hannigan and Green are the two best actors in the show at this point, and play the arc of the characters relationship superbly. ‘Buffy’ rarely had as much emotional impact as the end of ‘Wild At Heart’, which is happy and sad in all the right places.

This is another well-chosen set of episodes, telling a clear story, and can be appreciated apart from the rest of the series on their own merits. There’s also room for a sequel disc, focussing either on Willow’s other relationships, or a selection of her magic-related comedy episodes.

The Slayer Collection: Spike

Another disc crying out for a sequel, this is very much the bad Spike in action rather than the more comedic and endearing character he becomes. ‘School Hard’ is a good introduction to ‘Buffy’ as a whole, introducing Spike and his girlfriend Drusilla, while telling a standalone siege story that demonstrates the series’ strengths while working on its own. Interestingly, the next two episodes here are as much, or more, about Buffy than Spike: in ‘Lie To Me’, the real story is Buffy’s relationship with an old friend gone very bad, while in ‘Lover’s Walk’ Spike primarily acts as a vehicle for a critique on Buffy and Angel’s relationship. ‘Fool For Love’ is the only example here of Spike as a regular cast member, but its atypical, flashback-filled story means it heavily showcases the evil, murderous Spike of the other episodes. He’s a vicious killer for most of the running time of this disc, rather than the hero and comic relief he would later become. Nonetheless, James Marsters brings a number of different sides to the character, explaining why a guy introduced as a short-term villain in ‘School Hard’ has been part of the series, and its spin-off, for so long. Good solid stuff, focussing on the show’s earlier years.

The Slayer Collection: Faith

This is the most tenuous of the discs, focussing as it does on a character who doesn’t have a vast significance in the ‘Buffy’ mythology. However, the reasons for such a disc are obvious – Eliza Dushku is a sexy, talented and popular actress, Faith is a memorable part of the series from a time when its public profile was highest, and Faith is a good bet for any future slayer spin-off. The fact that there’s a limited amount of Faith-centric episodes means that we get our first unbroken two-parter, with ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Consequences’ both on the disc. These chronicle Faith’s ’seduction’ of Buffy and subsequent fall from grace, a process that culminates in their confrontation in ‘Graduation Day Part One’. Faith’s brief season four return is included in the shape of ‘Who You Are’, a neat episode where Faith and Buffy swap bodies, allowing Sarah Michelle Gellar to go crazy and Dushku to show what she can do on the heroic side of things. Dushku is a strong presence, and she sparks off Gellar well. The character interaction between the two slayers is what links the episodes on these discs, making for another sensible set.

With only a season each of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ yet to come out on DVD, we’re likely to see more themed collections and the like. They’re not a bad idea, although the lowest-common-denominator logic behind the character choices is disappointing – Giles or Xander may not have the obvious sex appeal of the other characters, or be likely to have their own spin-off show, but they’re important characters to the franchise and have episodes worth collecting in this way. Hopefully any second round of these discs will give them a moment in the spotlight. For now, these character discs are good gifts for either casual fans of the show, or fans of the actors in question. Each has a well-thought out selection of episodes, and does justice to the featured performer.


Line Break

By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




Comments are closed.