Last season "Angel" came on like a small-screen "Batman" movie, but over the course of 22 episodes, the series grew deeper, more layered and even showed a humorous side.
Some weeks, particularly last spring, "Angel" delivered a better hour of entertainment than "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the series it was spun off from. "Buffy" remains my sentimental favorite, but "Angel" is off to a strong start this season judging by its first two episodes.
Tuesday's "Angel" season premiere, with a story by series creators Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, offers jousting, guilt and Barry Manilow. Not necessarily in that order. As any good sophomore season premiere should, "Angel" capably reintroduces the characters while advancing some of the plot's serialized elements.
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When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on The WB.
Starring: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards.
Angel (David Boreanaz), a remorseful vampire with a soul who drinks blood but doesn't feed off of humans, continues to patrol Los Angeles in an effort to quell beastly uprisings and save those in need of rescue.
May's season finale held out the possibility that Angel might one day become human again, and in Tuesday's premiere Angel and his crime-fighting compatriots get overly confident. They're even keeping score of their successes on a big white board, just like the cops on "Homicide: Life on the Street."
Pride comes before a fall, but Angel's mistake shocks him and offers a surprising twist for viewers.
Titled "Judgment," the episode introduces J. August Richards as a regular cast member. Richards appeared in a few episodes late last season as Charles Gunn, leader of a demon-hunting street gang. Now Gunn will be a permanent fixture in Angel's posse, and he's a welcome addition.
The new season also brings a new hangout - a karaoke bar for demons - and a cameo late in Tuesday's episode by another character familiar to viewers of "Buffy" and "Angel." It's a brief, nicely-played scene that gives Angel a counterpart on the path to redemption.
"Judgment" also offers viewers their first glimpse of the Hyperion Hotel, which will become the new headquarters for Angel, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Wesley (Alexis Denisof). Next week's episode flashes back to the 1950s when Angel - remember, he's a vampire, doomed to live eternally - lived at the Hyperion. Back then Angel wasn't such a do-gooder, but he grudgingly comes to the aid of a woman in trouble.
Actually, lots of people in the hotel are in trouble in this film noir-styled episode, what with the mind-controlling monster hiding away somewhere. That sounds goofy, but "Have You Now or Have You Ever Been ..." is a thoughtful hour that deals with the '50s climate, particularly McCarthyism, paranoia and racial discrimination.
"I'm not one thing or another," says Judy, the troubled girl who passes for white but is actually African-American.
"I know what that's like," says Angel, who isn't welcome among vampires or humans.
Admittedly, "Angel" is more often about action and adventure than it is about social issues, but this is no "Walker, Texas Ranger." Even last season the theme of Angel's attempts to walk the straight and narrow were played out like a recovering alcoholic's efforts to stay on the wagon.
Boreanaz, who seemed little more than a brooding hunk on "Buffy," has matured as an actor and broadened his range since spinning off into "Angel." Though his character will always be the solemn type, Boreanaz excels at showing how ill-at-ease Angel is in social situations. He's also grown more skilled at subtly communicating humor.
Though not as serialized as "Buffy," "Angel" has some continuing elements, particularly when it comes to Angel's enemy: The attorneys of Wolfram & Hart.
Tuesday's show reminds viewers that Angel chopped off the hand of lawyer Lindsey (Christian Kane) in the season finale just about the time Lindsey and Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) resurrected Darla, the vampire who sired Angel and was later staked by him in the first season of "Buffy." Darla is again played by Julie Benz, who attended Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville. She'll appear on "Angel" in a recurring role this season.
Although violent, most gore is kept off screen. But "Angel" is not a show for children. Then again, I'm not sure they'd want to watch. Episodes like next week's contemplative outing would bore kids.
But for adults who appreciate metaphorical story-telling and who can suspend their disbelief to accept a Los Angeles crawling with monsters - after all, it's not that much of a stretch - "Angel" continues to get the blood going. And like the reformed title character, it doesn't suck.
Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or email@example.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.