Monday, December 29, 2008

The "Angel" alumni association

Over the years I've mostly ignored Joss Whedon TV shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly. Probably my fault more than his, and maybe I'll come around. As it happens, former cast members of Angel have infiltrated the current TV landscape, and I can't help but notice. Part of Whedon's grand design? My favorite shows of 2008 seem to support that conclusion. (Descriptions of Angel characters below are woefully inadequate, but hey, I never watched the show.)

1. Dexter (Showtime). We start with Julie Benz, who played some centuries-old vampiress named Darla. She graduated to something more conventional: the initially chaste, then emotionally available girlfriend of Michael C. Hall's differently-wired title character. While this choice seems like a bit of a cheat -- I saw all three seasons of the show this year -- the 3rd season alone puts this at the top of the list. Shocking and darkly hilarious.

2. Chuck (NBC). Adam Baldwin appeared at the very end of Angel. Then he did Firefly, a few episodes of which I've seen. He plays a similar form of hard-nosed soldier in Chuck, a show that's remained ever so nimble in its second season, even as the plots dig a little deeper beyond the quirky premise. It's the most consistently funny show on network TV.

3. Mad Men (AMC). Back then Vincent Kartheiser was Connor, son of Angel. Now he's Pete Campbell, slowly developing a soul as he eyes advancement in the advertising world. I've grown to accept him as a counterpoint to the almost-too-fascinating Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Critics say this second season has been all about the women, but I disagree. (The rapturous Christina Hendricks is a notable exception, anchoring tiny but heartbreaking subplots.)

4. Leverage (TNT). I don't know where Christian Kane's role of Lindsey McDonald fit in the Whedonverse, but I find him mildly amusing -- long hair and all -- in this new revenge caper show that's more like The A-Team than Ocean's Eleven. Socially responsible, yet light and breezy. Timothy Hutton may be the biggest name of the bunch, but Beth Riesgraf is the breakout. Interesting that Jason Lee's baby mama chose a show with a similar karmic angle.

5. Bones (FOX). Finally we have Angel himself, David Boreanaz. For years I mocked him for trying to pass himself off as young, when he's older than dirt. But he's settled into a nice vibe on this show, as part of a cast that went from good to great when Dr. Sweets (John Francis Daley) became a regular. Last season was crackerjack fun, and this season has delivered more of the same.

The best of the rest: Supernatural finally gave each lead a purpose and a grand mythology; we'll see where it takes us, but this is the one TV show most ready for a big screen treatment. Psych remains the medium's best buddy comedy, and (unlike many other good shows) has great taste in women. The Big Bang Theory is a mediocre offering with one fantastic performance by Jim Parsons, who's more critical to his show than Hugh Laurie is to House. Speaking of which, House has bounced back nicely from its annual serious event, and the semi-regular PI is the best non-doctor character yet. Finally, Pushing Daisies kicked off season 2 by expanding Kristen Chenoweth's role, a risky but wise creative decision. If only people were watching.


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