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A Look Ahead At The Fifth Season

The end of last season ushered in a major change: Angel and crew had taken over the LA office of neer-do-well law firm Wolfram and Hart. Why the so-called (and never seen) Senior Partners wanted such a change is the one of the key question of the upcoming seasons. And why The Fang Gang would want the job is another.

The former may have to do with the simple yet tried-and-true adage that "power corrupts." The latter may involve that Corleone pearl of wisdom of "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Whatever the reasons, the new season is a welcome change from the tired (almost from scene one!) Connor-Cordy centric story line. Many fans are also anticipating --- or dreading --- the changes resulting from the crossover of Spike, Harmony, and other possible Buffy characters (no whining about spoilers: any fan still unaware of these two additions should trade their sub-rock dwelling for something less remote). A dose of Buffy may have saved Angel in the short term from the ratings ax (so go the rumors), but the move risks inducing some of the same problems that weakened BTVS overall during the last few seasons.

The first of these problems is "cast-itis" --- inflammation of the cast, or even more simply put, too many characters. Afterr Riley departed, the Sunnydale ranks swelled to the point that character development slowed or stopped in an unsatisfying way. The writers are off to a bad start. In addition to Spike and Harmony, there is also least one special W&H staffer per Fang Ganger.

Even with the departure of Connor and Cordelia, that's a whopping six new characters. Fortunately the Angel writers have been a little more willing to remove characters than their Buffy counterparts.

Two exceptions to the stalled character development were, of course, Buffy and Spike. Unfortunately that growth was a symptom of the second problem that threatens Angel: "It's the Spike Show. Starring Spike! Co-Starring...Spike! This week's special guest star...Spike! Featuring the Spike 7 All-Star Band!"

Granted, a lot of fans (and reviewers) like the character. Moreover, the banter between rivals Spike and Angel has been entertaining in the past (will it still work without the evil though?).

That being said, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Plus one has to wonder what else the writers can do with the character. Fans have already seen Evil Spike, Funny Spike, Victimized Spike, Love Spike, Protector Spike, and Redemption Spike (all that's needed is G.I. Spike with the Kung-Fu grip). James Marsters has done amazing work so far, so at least fans know that given some good writing, he can deliver the goods.

The Spike-Buffy romance exemplified the third threat to Angel: "Soap Opera-fication."

In the later seasons, BTVS became too much about personal relationships (often really just who was sleeping with whom) and not enough about fighting evil. Part of the problem is the Scoobies never really grew up despite departing high school.

In contrast, the Fang Gang members have always been much more adult in behavior. The Angel writers have done a good job limiting the soap opera elements, e.g., the Gunn-Wes-Fred triangle. Hopefully the cast additions and new love interests among the Wolfram & Hart staff won't upset that balance.

So assuming the writers avoid these pitfalls, here's what one reviewer would like to see this season (and without the benefit of all those spoilers floating around the net).

Overall: More standalone episodes like the early seasons. Spare the fans an X-Files like "arc-morass."

Angel: Once upon a time he was a man with a mission, i.e., to help people threatened by evil. It would be refreshing to see him return to that mission instead of focusing so much of his attention on, well, himself and those he wants in his life. With Conner and Cordelia gone, that should be possible.

Wes: Keeping the best of both Prissy Wes and Stubble Wes, he needs to continue the restoration of his bond with Angel. It will be up to Wes, and not Angel, to figure out what W&H is really up to with their gracious "offer." Both Wes and Angel have learned a lot in the last few seasons. It would be a lot of fun to see them pull off a few tricks or even cons on the bad guys. Maybe even few episodes like that old show "Switch." Robert Wagner could guest star!

Gunn: It's all going to be about temptation --- power, women, suits --- and Gunn will likely stumble towards a tragic ending involving his sacrificial death. The writers cleverly left open the possibility that the professor killed by Gunn wasn't really the bad guy. Such a twist could contribute to his moral slide. The love affair with Fred will likely and thankfully cool off until a final dying words proclamation.

Fred: Once "the appendix" of the Fang Gang, Fred has demonstrated her value to the team. And although she will increase that value through her new resource-rich environment, Fred will eventually reach the conclusion that fighting evil isn't the lifestyle she wants (especially if Gunn dies). Expect her to depart for a university by the end of the season.

Lorne: This green skinned crooner needs something to do other than play wet nurse and valet. It would be nice for him to open a new club. Bars are a convenient way to introduce interesting new characters and plots. Maybe NBC would sell the Cheers set cheap...

Spike: Give the guy a break. Let him use his wit and smarts with minimum encumbrance for a change. Let him enjoy being a good guy.

Harmony: Assuming she's still a vampire (and without an Initiative chip), not much character development is possible. Which is probably just fine. Harmony is like a spice. A little can perk up a dish, but too much can ruin it.

Gwen: Hopefully she's be back for a few episodes. Just a hunch, but as an outsider, she might be the one to open Angel or Wes' eyes to what W&H is really up to.

Connor and Cordelia: RIP.

Guest Stars and Crossovers:

- Madonna as a creepy shape shifting author-singer who steals souls through leather wear and children's' books. Oh, never mind.

- The Aqua Teen Hunger Force teams up with The Fang Gang on a tough case. Sparks fly between Meatwad and Fred. Frylock and Wes trade notes on facial hair grooming.

- The cast of Will & Grace as a clan of demons that bore their enemies into submission with countless, predictable variations of the same jokes over and over and over...

And finally...

The Senior Partners: Three disembodied brain energies that are betting 200 quatloos on the new season.

Chris Crotty

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