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On TV Today's Date:

original air-date: 10-01-03

The opening scene of the Season Five premiere gives the audience the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good is seeing Angel out trying to save people again instead of focusing on his own problems. The bad is the cheesy effects showing Angel flying through the air (any more roundabout, and that vamp would be sipping a hemoglobin smoothie by the time our hero showed up) and dispatching a micro-baddie that had way too many cool moves for a typical street vamp. The directors should have learned by now that the slow motion sequences don't work on this show. The ugly? Seeing Wolfram & Hart in full action, and realizing the Fang Gang may have bitten off more than they can chew (or suck, as it were).

It was also during this scene that the writers treated the audience to the first of many small touches that helped save an episode that risked being too long on talk and too short on character development. In this particular case, the viewers had to wonder just what might happen to a would-be-victim strong armed into initialing the standard release form section covering the immortal soul. Other well done details included the W&H phone system, a creepy "tailor," Lorne's "are-they-evil?" checklist, and a mystic with a particularly well-suited name.

Character development, on the other hand, was mixed. As with Gwen, Senior Partner liaison Eve will clearly be a polarizing character among fans. Her sense of playfulness worked well, but her attempts to be seductive failed clumsily. Fortunately, the other "new" female character, Harmony, hit big. She stole her scenes with very well executed humor. Hopefully the writers will limit her role before the shtick wears thin.

And on the subject of thin, poor Fred really needs to eat something! Getting even closer in physique to the aliens from Close Encounters, low blood sugar is apparently affecting her mind as well. Fred has always been a little scattered and flighty. But given her enhanced ditziness here and the penchant for the Whedonites to change hair styles, it's small wonder she didn't show as the stereotypical bleach blonde.

Instead, the show creators opted to give Angel a new coif that looks just fine from the front but horribly sculpted from the sides. On a more positive note, Angel seems properly focused on saving people, re-tooling the firm to do good, and figuring out what the Senior Partners are really up to. He learns quickly the complexities of those tasks.

The writers smartly leave the Connor and Cordy stories alone for the most part. But they missed a great opportunity for a spit gag when Angel first sees his new secretary.

One of the biggest obstacles to Angel's goals is that many of the firms clients contribute to the continued operation of the firm and/or have the means to extort support. Here a problematic client, Corbin Fryes (presumably no relation to the electronics chain, though that would go a long way to explain their customer service) wants to escape being found guilty lest he activate a magical vessel that would release widespread death in the form of a W&H engineered virus (or a golden retriever).

Another impediment is an old school employee named Hauser, who heads up the black garbed wet work team that used to pal around Lilah back in the day. Unfortunately, the Hauser character is much too cliche and one-dimensional. He's boring. So whereas Angel's "firing" of Hauser might have had moral and/or character implications, it is likely to generate only a shrug among most viewers.

Another character that doesn't work so far is Knox, Fred's lab manager. There is no chemistry between the two (no pun intended), and Knox basically serves as the witless practice dummy to Fred's mood swings (which are weakly portrayed).

And while it's fun to see Gunn smart and in a suit, the writers would be wise to avoid showing courtroom scenes ever again. Several specific weak episodes from earlier seasons should have taught them that the intrusion of real horrors --- guns, gangs, courts --- does not mix well with mystical horrors. Besides, the last thing television needs is any more lawyer shows.

Unfortunately, the one character who's asking all the right questions (Why did they all say yes so quickly? Are they doing the right thing?) gets the least to do. Wes has always been book smart. But no doubt his time as a real rogue demon hunter as well as his stint as Lilah's boyfriend have taught him street smarts as well. So while Angel sees the trees and heads out to save humanity soul at a time, Wes is keeping his eye on the big picture, the steel and glass dark forest known as Wolfram & Hart.

The episode ends with an unexpected arrival (most fans know already). One intriguing question related to that event: Just who sent the package?

Well, while the audience waits for the that answer, they can look forward to some fun moments next week (if the preview is to be trusted) when everyone gets to see just how this new arrival gets along with the Fang Gang.

Chris Crotty

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