Angel: Season Three Review
And so, Angel: Season Three is upon us! After a running start, the Buffy spin-off continues to impress throughout the third year of its run. Again, following directly on from the closing events of the second series, we see Angel and crew arriving back in LA from the dimension of Pylea with a new friend in tow - Fred (Amy Acker). Upon discovering that Buffy, the love of his life, is dead Angel heads off to a retreat in Sri Lanka leaving the rest of the Angel Investigations team to fend for themselves. However, Angel's past once again continues to haunt him and a one-time companion turns on him for the death of his (vampire) girlfriend.
For the outsider, it would be extremely difficult to come into Angel during the third season. Throughout the previous two years, various plot threads have been bubbling away and intertwining, both in the present and also in the past as we discover more and more about Angel's history as the vampire Angelus. A lot of these threads remain unresolved at the start of the season and plenty more begin to develop very early on in. Plenty of familiar faces return to play their on-going parts in the overall story.
The central thread running through this season is the discovery that Darla (Julie Benz) is pregnant after her encounter with Angel the previous year - however it shouldn't be possible for a vampire to become pregnant and so this raises lots of questions. As the season progresses, Angel's son, Connor is born and becomes the focus of pretty much every demon and non-demon group in the LA area. With the Vampire Hunter, Holtz, out for revenge for the death of his family 200 years ago and Wolfram and Hart continuing their plans to bring about the apocalypse there is plenty of material here to make sure that Angel never slows down throughout the 22 episode run.
Much more than ever before, this season needs to be watched very much as a whole. There are very few standalone episodes and every single one features a piece of the overall arc. As a result, it's very much like watching a 22 hour story. Standout episodes this year include Lullaby that sees Connor's 'birth', Fred's parents arrive in LA looking for their missing daughter in Fredless and of course the season finale - Tomorrow has plenty of bombshells to drop while opening up plot strands for next year. Once again I find it very difficult to pick up on any one episode that doesn't meet the grade and there are very few TV series that are consistently as good as this.
Angel continues to improve year on year - and rest assured that this continues well into season four. The cast and crew continue to give their all - and thankfully despite the relatively poor run for Buffy: Season Six, Angel more than makes up for that series deficits. There are some great standout funny moments too - it's not all doom and gloom and the writers have done a great job of making things enjoyable, even when it seems everything is lost!
Again we have a wonderful widescreen transfer. This is the first season that has been deliberately shot to take advantage of the full 1.77:1 frame and it shows - watching pan and scan Angel on Sky is actually very irritating! The DVD transfer is excellent - the best yet for the Buffy/Angel releases with good solid colour definition and deep dark blacks offering plenty of shadow detail. There aren't any artefacts to note, in fact this is at last, reference quality stuff and quite possibly the best TV series transfer I've seen to date.
We have an adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack which provides just enough activity to keep us happy. As always, it would have been nice to get a full 5.1 channel remix as some of the action scenes could really do with a bit more audio punch. That said the soundtrack is easily as good as when broadcast and I've got no huge complaints.
There's little point in me reviewing every discs extras in depth - you know what to expect from previous releases of Buffy and Angel. Once again we get quite a nice selection of extra material including commentaries by Joss Whedon (Waiting in the Wings), Tim Minear and Mere Smith (Lullaby) and Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell (Billy), there are a couple of deleted scenes (Birthday and Waiting in the Wings), trailers for the other DVD releases of Buffy and Angel, some reasonably funny outtakes, and then the usual array of featurettes including "Darla: Deliver Us From Evil", "From Page to Screen" and screen tests for Vincent Kartheiser (Connor) and Amy Acker (Fred). It's a packed set and gives you plenty to watch once you've managed to make your way through the episodes - as always the normal warning applies in that it's probably best to leave the extras till the end just in case they contain any spoilers.
A fantastic six-disc set featuring the best series of Angel to date, with the best presentation to date and a reasonably comprehensive selection of extras. If you're a fan, then this is highly recommended, if you're only just starting out then you're probably best advised to start from the beginning as I imagine given the complexity of the storylines, breaking into Angel this far on would be very difficult indeed...