ANGEL: SEASON FOUR

Directed by Various
Produced by Various
Written by Various
Director of Photograpy Ross Berryman
Music by Robert J. Kral
Cast: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker & Andy Hallett

2002/990 mins/Color/Dolby 2.0
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD

When making an episodic television show (and we're typically talking about an hour-long drama here), the producers basically have two choices. They can either make each episode an individual storyline, or creating an overriding story arc which takes place over several shows, or possibly a whole season. (And then, of course, you've got THE X-FILES style where you alternate between self-contained story and season-long plot, but we'll just ignore that for the moment.) The first season of the BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER spin-off ANGEL, focused on show's which had individualized story-lines, whereas seasons 2 and 3 had seasonal story arcs, with a few one-shot shows thrown in. With Season 4, the show took the story arc route full-tilt, creating a series of shows which are captivating and addictive. Season 4 has just come to DVD in a 6-disc boxed set.

SPOILER WARNING!: In order to describe ANGEL Season 4, I must divulge some of the plot-lines for the shows, as well as discuss events from Season 3. So, if you haven't seen Season 3 and want to be surprised by Season 4, read with caution.) When we last saw Angel (David Boreanaz) at the end of Season 3, he'd been welded into a metal casket and was hurtling to the bottom of the sea, all courtesy of his son, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser). Meanwhile, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who had been on her way to meet with Angel and express her love for him, had ascended to a higher plane of existence. As Season 4 opens, things are in shambles in the ANGEL universe. Fred (Amy Acker), Gunn (J. August Richards), and Lorne (Andy Hallett) have spent three months searching for Angel and Cordelia, with some help from Connor (who has hidden his knowledge of Angel's whereabouts from the others). Meanwhile, Wesley (Alexis Denisof), who was banished from Angel's group for kidnapping Connor at one point, has been literally sleeping with the enemy, as he's involved with Angel's arch foe, evil lawyer, Lilah (Stephanie Romanov), while also searching the ocean for Angel's watery grave. Wesley succeeds in finding Angel and returns him to his friends (and buys him a way back into the group). As Angel gets re-acclimated to his world, and confronts Connor for trying to kill him, Cordelia also returns from her mysterious whereabouts, although she can't remember anything. To talk about the rest of Season 4 in any great detail would give far too much away, but I can say that a new evil confronts the world, which has very personal ties to Angel, and the potential to destroy humanity. This will lead Angel and all of the other characters down a path which will have them facing their ultimate tests.

As noted above, Season 4 of ANGEL focuses on one all-encompassing storyline and sticks with it for most of the season. After the first few episodes tie up the loose ends from Season 3, the series is off and from episode 4 on (when the group learns that a new evil is coming) the story arc branches off in many directions and doesn't let up until the final show. This is hands down one of the best seasons of television that I've ever seen. The downside is that those unfamiliar with the series will have no clue as to what is going on and won't appreciate the drama. However, those who have been keeping up with ANGEL, either by being regular watchers of the show, or by viewing the DVDs, will be treated to a series of shows will pack one surprise after another.

Many TV series offer one or two twists during the year and roll out the clich∑éd season-end cliffhanger, but ANGEL season 4 offers a new twist on nearly every episode. I'd heard some of the plots from this season from various sources, but even the things that I new were going to happen didn't occur in the way that I'd expected. And the plot twist which occurs in episode 18, and carries out through the rest of the season, really threw me for a loop. My wife is the kind of person who is always a step ahead of the writers, but while watching these shows, she kept saying, "I didn't see that coming." While the show is throwing us these curves and keeping the viewer on edge, it is also doing its basic job of expanding the characters and bringing in a diverse array of subplots (and some nice guest appearances as well). My only complaint about this season is that some of the facets of the story are a bit contrived and the reasons of the final part of the season feel as if the writers were trying to get themselves out of a corner. (It's one of those, "No, we've been laying the groundwork for this since Season 1, you just didn't know it." kind of things) While I'm sure that ANGEL season 4 played very well when it originally aired, this is the kind of programming which DVD boxed sets are made for, as you can have a marathon (usually of silly proportions) and zip through these fantastic shows. Fans of ANGEL will no doubt enjoy seeing these episodes again. Those who are just getting into the show will need to see Seasons 1-3 to fully appreciate Season 4, but it's well worth the effort.

ANGEL SEASON FOUR ascends to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The six-disc boxed set contains all 22 episodes from Season 4. The shows are presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the transfers have been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs, although this is not noted on the DVD box. The shows look fantastic, as there is no grain present and there are no defects from the source material. Those who have seen ANGEL know that it can be a very dark show, but those scenes look fine here, as the action is always visible and the black tones appear very true. In the daytime scenes, the colors look very good. There is some occasional artifacting to the image, but otherwise, it rivals digital broadcast quality. The discs feature a Dolby 2.0 Surround audio mix, which, as usual, sounds fantastic. The dialogue is sharp and clear, and the music sounds fine. The sound effects come through the stereo channels loud and clear, and the surround channels are put to good use for musical cues, crowd noise, and supernatural sounds. The bass from the front speakers is superb and only adds to the audio performance.

The set contains several extras, most notably the audio commentaries from various speakers; "The House Always Wins", commentary by writer David Fury and actor Andy Hallett (Disc 1); "Spin the Bottle", commentary by writer/director Joss Whedon and actor Alexis Denisof; "Apocalypse Nowish", commentary by director Vern Gillum and writer Steven S. DeKnight (both Disc 2); "Orpheus", commentary by director Terrence O‚Hara and co-executive producer Jeffrey Bell (Disc 4); "Inside Out", commentary by writer/director Steven S. DeKnight; "The Magic Bullet", commentary by writer/director Jeffrey Bell (both Disc 5); "Home", commentary by writer/director Tim Minear. As with past ANGEL sets, these commentaries are both entertaining and informative, especially the two which feature the actors. It's very clear from these talks that those involved with the show love their work and the mythology of ANGEL.

Disc 2 features a 7-minute segment entitled "Angel and the Apocalypse", which examines the many special effects used for the episode "Apocalypse Nowish" and contains comments from the FX crew. The rest of the extras are found on Disc 6. "Prophecies: Season 4 Overview" (39 minutes) is an in-depth look at the episodes from the season, witch comments from the primary cast (except for Carpenter, and not that Hallett in only seen in make-up) and Whedon, Fury, DeKnight, and Bell. The production team do a fine job of explaining what went into creating the storyline for this season. The only complaint here is that there are too many clips from the show. "Unplugged: Season 4 Outtakes" is a 3-minute blooper reel. Why is Boreanaz humping that pole? Production designer Stuart Blatt gives us a tour of the sets in "Last Look: The Hyperion Hotel" (6 minutes). "Fatal Beauty and the Beast" (6 minutes) offers interviews with the actors who play the two main villains in Season 4... and that's all that I can say about that. Finally, "Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram & Hart" (8 minutes) examines the law firm which has served as Angel's nemeses for the past 4 seasons.

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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©