restricted access Angel by Stacey Abbott (review)
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Reviewed by
Stacey Abbott, Angel. TV Milestones Series. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2009. 121121 pp. US$15.95 (pbk).

Stacey Abbott's TV Milestones book Angel is significant not just for those who study the multiple series created by Joss Whedon, but also for television studies in general, as well as several intersecting disciplines such as film and horror (not to mention the ever-increasing amount of work done on representations of vampires). As a scholar with a strong background in film studies (she is, among other things, the author of the 2007 University of Texas Press volume Celluloid Vampires), she brings a contextualising perspective to her study of television; in particular, she focuses on visual elements in a way that is sometimes lacking in television scholarship. In this little volume she makes an impressive case for viewing the Joss Whedon/David Greenwalt series Angel as indeed a TV milestone, not only because of narrative content but also, not least, because of its visual techniques.

The Angel series is a spin-off of the more famous and more widely studied Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003); the rate of scholarly articles on the mother-ship series as compared to those on the spin-off is easily ten to one (in my estimate - if it is not even less). Abbott acknowledges the disadvantage of being positioned as a spin-off, but argues (7) that Angel fits into the category of Lou Grant (1977-82), the admired drama spin-off from the outstanding comedy series The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-7), rather than the more typical epigonic productions (let's say Petticoat Junction (1963-70)). One way she makes the argument for the quality of the series is to analyse the writing in the context of the production; in other words, she studies the business of television creation as part of the creative birth process. There is room in television studies, I would say, for both analyses which focus on the final product (not to mention the audience) and those which engage in understanding the corporate context of these creations. Not every study needs to do both jobs, but certainly we can use more of the latter, and Abbott's book does some good work in that territory. She lucidly explains (for those less familiar with the subject) the difference in the role of the writer as producer and showrunner for television, in contrast to the reduced role for the writer in cinema; and she examines the particular [End Page 127] case of the writers for Whedon's Mutant Enemy company, who at one point worked on Buffy, Angel and Firefly (2002) all at once. In charting the flow, from one series to another, of writer-producers such as Whedon, Greenwalt and Tim Minear, Abbott helps clarify the shape the series took. Quite a number of us have argued for television's significance because of its ability to develop narrative over time; Abbott also studies production over time, discussing, for example, the episodic versus the serial in terms of network and marketing demands as well as inherent appeal. She also shows the benefits that the series gained from crossover episodes with its parent series, as well as the difficulties of uncoupling.

One of the most interesting cases is the development of the character Faith (Eliza Dushku), furthering analysis done by Phil Colvin in the Abbott-edited volume Reading Angel (2005). Faith is a rebellious, dark Slayer who falls into evil in Buffy and escapes into the demonically noir Los Angeles that constitutes Angel's world; but in this darker world she is slowly saved and returns, changed, to Buffy. As Abbott points out, this particular character arc took careful work by multiple writers to maintain continuity not just of plot facts but also of character voice, while allowing for the dynamic growth of the character. Even when the two shows suffered the divorce of being placed on separate networks, the writing company continued its collaborative care - 'The collective vision of Mutant Enemy', as Abbott calls it (9). She points out that this writers' group practices mentoring and promoting from within, and that furthermore the M.E. writers...