Angel is often portrayed as the lesser sibling of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With Buffy’s enormous popularity and fantastic storytelling, Angel had a lot to live up to when it first debuted. It certainly got off to a very slow start, and took a while to form its own identity while under the shadow of the super popular show that it was spun off from, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But eventually, the exploits of Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Fred, Gunn and Lorne became just as compelling as the adventures of Buffy, Willow, Xander, Anya and Giles. Some might even say that they became even more compelling than that of the original Scooby gang.
There are numerous aspects of Buffy and Angel to compare. Creator Joss Whedon put his heart and soul into both series, and there’s things to love about them both. In terms of story, characters, seasons, and finales, there are quite a few areas in which Angel improved upon Buffy. Then again, there are certain categories where Angel, despite its best efforts, could never measure up to its older sibling. Luckily, CBR is on the case to investigate the eight ways Angel is better than Buffy and the seven ways it’s worse.
15. BETTER: CORDELIA GROWS FROM A MEAN BULLY TO A CHAMPION FOR GOOD
In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Cordelia Chase was the mean girl in Sunnydale High. She berated the Scooby Gang constantly, especially Xander. Turned out they had feelings for each other, and Cordelia eventually got some redemption as Xander’s girlfriend. But it wasn’t until Angel that Cordelia was truly able to grow.
After joining Angel Investigations, Cordelia fought alongside Angel and Wesley to help the helpless. After inheriting visions of people in danger, Cordy began to truly see what people less fortunate than her struggled with on a daily basis. This put Cordelia on the path from selfishness to becoming a champion for good. Eventually Cordelia ascended to a higher plane, choosing the greater good over her love for Angel. Cordelia went from an average bully on Buffy to a complicated half-demon warrior on Angel. It was an unforgettable journey that made Cordelia into a fan favorite character.
14. WORSE: TERRIBLE TREATMENT OF CORDELIA IN SEASON FOUR
Cordelia’s depiction improved in Angel, but there was one dark period for her. In season four, Cordelia was possessed by an evil demon who made her do extremely questionable things, like remove Angel’s soul to bring back Angelus, and get with Angel’s teenage son, Connor. This icky move resulted in Cordelia getting pregnant and giving birth to yet another demon.
This terrible story arc completely destroyed all of the character growth Cordelia had gone through since Buffy and morphed her into a two-dimensional villain with silly motives. Worst of all, the season left Cordelia in a permanently comatose state. Thankfully, Angel brought Cordelia back for one final appearance in season five, in which her old personality was restored. This great send-off almost made up for Cordelia’s terrible treatment in season four. Almost. But the bad taste of demon Cordy is one we won’t be able to wash out anytime soon.
13. BETTER: WESLEY GROWS FROM A PREPPY WIMP TO A TOUGH GUY
When Wesley Wyndham-Pryce first showed up on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, he was an obnoxious goody two-shoes. His sole purpose was to be the anti-Giles. He was also useless in a fight. Wesley’s final action in Buffy was to charge a crowd of Vampires and get immediately knocked out. Thankfully, everything changed when Wesley moved to Angel.
In the beginning Wesley helped Angel but still maintained his dorky, timid characteristics. As Wesley grew increasingly confident in his own skin, he became less comedic relief and more a driving protagonist. This culminated in season three, when a misled Wesley decided to steal Angel’s baby. Wesley’s friends abandoned him, and as he became isolated, he grew harder, surlier, and stronger. By the time Wesley rejoined Angel Investigations, he was battle-hardened. Wesley grew from a small recurring role on Buffy into the character Angel fans were most ready to cheer for.
12. WORSE: TAKES MUCH LONGER TO FIND ITS FOOTING
Angel took much longer to find its footing than its progenitor. Buffy needed only its first season to work out the kinks. It began as a monster-of-the-week show, but in season two turned its focus to the characters. One would hope Joss Whedon learned this lesson in time for Angel. But the spin-off series took even longer to find its footing.
Angel’s first season consisted of stand-alone episodes about helping the helpless. This was like Buffy’s monster-of-the-week approach, but less entertaining. The formula improved in season two, but awkwardly alternated between one-off episodes and a larger story arc involving Darla. It wasn’t until season three that Angel finally found its footing, the birth of Angel’s son launching the series into brand new realms of drama. In season three, Angel finally became about the characters. Angel took three years to learn the lesson that Buffy learned in one.
11. BETTER: ANGEL GROWS FROM BROODING LONER INTO A TRUE WARRIOR
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel changed very little over his three seasons on Buffy. Towards the end, he had gained no further purpose other than his determination to leave Sunnydale. His arrival to L.A. changed everything.
On Angel, the vampire with a soul gained a new mission: Helping the helpless. Angel’s purpose gained traction as the seasons continued. In the season one finale, Angel discovered the Shanshu Prophecy, which foretold that a vampire with a soul would become mortal again. In season two, Darla returned, introducing Angel to new levels of personal darkness. In season three, Darla gave birth to Angel’s son, giving Angel the daunting responsibility of fatherhood. Each development made Angel more driven, giving him the strength to fight for his family and find meaning beyond his immortal torment. Angel began as a two-dimensional character on Buffy and grew into a fully developed protagonist worthy of leading a series.
10. WORSE: LESS INTERESTING ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Buffy excelled at romantic relationships. Buffy and Angel, Oz and Willow, Xander and Anya, Willow and Tara. Each of these relationships inspired uplifting sweetness and heartbreaking melancholy. Angel featured romantic relationships too. But they were not quite as memorable as Buffy’s.
Unlike on Buffy, romance didn’t blossom until season three. When it did finally happen, it felt a bit awkward. Angel and Cordelia’s romance made sense on a storytelling level, but the series didn’t quite nail their transition from friendship to attraction. When Fred arrived, a rivalry developed between Wesley and Gunn for her affections. Gunn got her, but their romance quickly became stale and repetitive. Fans rooted for Wesley, but he didn’t become involved with Fred until the final season, and it ended tragically. All in all, Angel had some good moments, but they never hit anywhere near the dramatic highs and devastating lows of the relationships in Buffy.
9. BETTER: MORE INTENSE, DRAMATIC WRITING
Buffy hits plenty of dramatic highs, particularly in second, fifth and sixth seasons, when characters like Angel, Buffy and Willow go through major personal upheaval. But these events don’t match the sustained, driving intensity that Angel manages to reach in its final three seasons.
Several moments kick up the drama, beginning with Holtz’s arrival in season three. Holtz’s threat creates enormous stakes, culminating in Wesley’s shocking decision to give him Connor. Holtz takes Connor to the unreachable dimension of Quartoth, and one episode later Angel tries to kill former BFF Wesley. The suspense, betrayal, shock, and horror are overwhelming. Subsequently, the fourth season return of Angelus and the fifth season arrival of Illyria launch their respective seasons to new dramatic heights. Buffy had plenty of drama, but the heart-stopping events of Angel’s final three seasons remain the pinnacle of genre television stakes.
8. WORSE: CORE CHARACTERS ARE NOT AS STRONG AS BUFFY’S
Right off the bat Buffy introduced a core cast of characters that shined with personality. Buffy, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Giles were totally distinctive. Angel featured a memorable cast of characters too. But they never quite clicked like Buffy’s.
The first problem was that Angel’s full team didn’t really form until season three. The majority of season one featured only Wesley, Cordelia and Angel, and they were all from Buffy. The later additions of Gunn, Lorne and Fred helped to spice things up, but the cast didn’t maintain the sharp, distinctive personalities of the Buffy crew. Fred was endearing, but quite similar to Wesley. Lorne was fun, but usually relegated to comic relief. Gunn had potential as a vampire-hating gang member, but the show ran out of things for him to do. The characters of Team Angel were always likable. They just lacked the electric synergy of Buffy’s Scooby Gang.
7. BETTER: STRONGER ARCS THAN BUFFY IN SEASONS THREE, FOUR AND FIVE
After season five of Buffy, the show began to falter. Its sixth season had plenty of great dramatic moments but was missing the warmth and spirit of the earlier seasons. Season seven completely fell flat on its face. Meanwhile, the corresponding seasons of Angel were riding a new high.
Season three was filled with the drama of Connor’s birth, Wesley’s betrayal, and adult Connor’s return. Buffy, meanwhile, was caught up in an overly depressing arc of Buffy’s self-hating affair with Spike and Willow’s drug abuse. Then Angel’s fourth season hit operatic new heights. The dual drama of the Beast and Angelus’ return created an epic, apocalyptic vibe. Meanwhile, Buffy was busy training a group of annoying potential Slayers. The next year, Angel’s final season took the series out with a bang. Buffy peaked in season five, while Angel continued to improve until its rousing finish.
6. WORSE: WEAKER VILLAINS IN SEASONS ONE, TWO AND FOUR
The Master, Angelus, The Mayor, Adam, The First. Each season of Buffy was partially constructed around its villain. Angel’s villains were more random, often popping in and out mid-season. Only the third and fifth seasons of Angel had truly stand-out villains in Holtz, Lindsey McDonald and Illyria.
In season one the only recurring villains were ironically human lawyers. Of these lawyers, only Lindsey McDonald proved to be an interesting foil for Angel. But Lindsey was not a primary antagonist until the final season. No single villain in Angel’s first season compared to the campy, frightful glee of The Master. Darla improved the focus in season two, but she only briefly became a pure antagonist. Angel’s fourth season provided the messiest mixture, with the Beast, Angelus, and evil Cordelia all fighting for attention. Angel had some great villains, but they simply couldn’t match the distinctive villainy of Buffy’s Big Bads.
5. BETTER: EVEN MORE DEVASTATING CHARACTER DEATHS
Joss Whedon loves to kill off his best characters. Jenny Calendar, Tara, Joyce Summers, and Buffy (temporarily) were all devastating losses in Buffy. But they didn’t compare to the losses incurred in Angel’s final season.
When Angel’s cancellation was announced, Whedon decided to clean house. Cordelia went first, receiving her poetic goodbye in the 100th episode. Then, Fred met her shocking demise after the goddess Illyria hollowed her out. The final stroke was Wesley’s own death in the series finale. Wesley’s heartbreaking final moments were spent in the arms of Illyria, posing as the woman he loved. Wesley’s death was quite possibly the most devastating thing we’ve ever seen — and that wasn’t even the final death. Angel ends with the survivors trapped and prepared to go out fighting. Buffy might have killed off beloved characters. But it sure didn’t have the guts to kill off the entire main cast.
4. WORSE: LESS CONSISTENCY BETWEEN SEASONS
Buffy had its ups and downs, but for the most part it maintained great storytelling consistency between seasons. This is not the case with Angel. Over the course of Angel’s five seasons, the storytelling style was wildly inconsistent.
Season one took on a standalone episode format that largely lacked momentum. Then season two came along and suddenly featured an ongoing storyline. But the final run of season two episodes lapsed back into stand-alone mode. Seasons three and four finally transitioned into long dramatic arcs. This worked well in season three, but in season four became overwhelming, with numerous plotlines overlapping each other. It wasn’t until Angel’s final season that a balance was achieved, weaving stand-alone episodes in between the overarching storyline of Angel’s corruption. It was a formula Buffy had nailed for years, but only worked for Angel in its last year.
3. BETTER: THE FIFTH SEASON’S NEW FORMAT
Buffy maintained a consistent format beginning with its second season. Angel shifted its format several times, and that worked as a disadvantage overall. But the fifth season breathed new life into the series.
Season five revolved around Team Angel’s recruitment to work for evil law firm Wolfram and Heart. Angel, Wesley, Fred and Gunn each segued into new positions, with Angel in charge. Angel and the rest believed they could fix the system from within, but Angel steadily becomes more and more consumed by the dark side. Multiple engaging arcs came to fruition, including the risk of Spike fulfilling the Shanshu Prophecy, the return of Lindsey McDonald, and Gunn’s accidental complicity in Fred’s death. These storylines explored each character’s dark side and demonstrated the futility of Team Angel’s fight. It’s a somber message for a final season that goes above and beyond Buffy to examine the darkest nature of humanity.
2. WORSE: RUSHED FINAL ARC DUE TO CANCELLATION
Boring as Buffy’s final season was, Joss Whedon was able to end the show the way he wanted. Unfortunately, Angel was suddenly cancelled, forcing Whedon and his team to rush to the finish line.
Illyria’s introduction placed several plot pieces in motion that needed time to resolve themselves. Apparently, Whedon’s plan for season six was to resurrect Fred’s spirit for an ongoing psychic battle between her and Illyria. But the cancellation meant this plot point had to be abandoned. Meanwhile, the plot with Angel joining the Circle of the Black Thorne ended too quickly. A great cliffhanger for the season would have been Angel appearing to join the dark side. Instead, Angel quickly initiates a plan to kill every member of the Circle. Angel’s final season is still its greatest, but the series doesn’t feel as complete as Buffy because of its rushed final episodes.
1. BETTER: A MORE SATISFYING SERIES FINALE
Buffy’s series finale wrapped up all the loose ends, but the finale, like the season itself, lacked emotional resonance. Angel’s series finale was an emotion-fueled masterpiece. Connor returns to fight alongside his father. Lorne shoots Lindsey dead upon Angel’s orders. Wesley dies in Illyria’s arms, and the Goddess feels human emotion for the first time. The surviving members of Angel Investigations meet in a rain-soaked alleyway, and the team prepares to take on the Senior Partners’ entire army.
Angel gives the final orders — “Let’s go to work.” With that, Angel swings his sword, and the screen cuts to black. This ending reaffirms the whole point of Angel’s story. Nothing was more important than fighting the good fight. Buffy’s series finale wrapped up the story neatly. But Angel’s series finale hit the series’ most important thematic beat. The series ends where Angel’s heart belongs — mid-swing.
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