Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon's first cult-favorite horror-comedy drama, used its supernatural trappings as the breeding ground for countless metaphors about adolescence, young adulthood, and female empowerment. But Angel, its spin-off and Whedon's second successful outing for the youth-oriented WB network, uses the mysterious demon realm to literalize the nebulous grey areas -- moral and ethical, professional and romantic -- that suddenly leap out at young adults once they've left the nest. A detective comedy-cum-supernatural soap opera with a conscience-stricken immortal as its ambiguous hero, Angel follows the adventures of the titular vampire and an ever-expanding group of sidekicks as they seek to "help the helpless" in the glamorous shadows of Los Angeles. If the cheap math for Buffy is Wonder Woman plus The Munsters times Beverly Hills 90210, then Angel is more like Dark Shadows meets Melrose Place with a dash of L.A. Law.
David Boreanaz leads the cast as Angel, a handsome, brooding hunk who, like many Angelenos, doesn't look his age. Born nearly 250 years ago to a stern Irish father and christened Liam, he spent his youth as a dissolute and drunken lecher. Then he met Darla, an American beauty. She promised to show him the world, and she did -- after making him, like her, an immortal, soulless fiend. As Angelus, Liam terrorized Europe for a century before a gypsy curse restored his human spirit to his demon-animated body. With the knowledge of his vampiric sins burning a hole through his newfound soul, Angel spent most of the 20th century a useless wreck. Then, as chronicled on Buffy, he was recruited by the mysterious Powers That Be to serve as a champion in the fight between good and evil. Buffy fans are no doubt aware that Angel's gypsy curse has a loophole that strips him of his soul the instant he achieves a moment of true happiness -- say, for instance, a night of passion with a certain previously chaste vampire slayer. It was this conceit that allowed Angel to serve as both ally and nemesis to Buffy, and, by precluding any real future for their epic romance, set the stage for his decision to seek atonement in L.A. The quest for redemption, then, is Angel's carrot; the possibility of sliding back into atrocity is his stick.
For the show's first four seasons, fellow Buffy veteran Charisma Carpenter served as Boreanaz's comedic and sometimes romantic foil. As the show slowly morphed from a tongue-in-cheek comedy-adventure to an action-packed metaphysical melodrama, Carpenter's Cordelia Chase developed from the spoiled brat of the Buffy years to the kooky girl Friday of Angel Investigations to a champion in her own right. Some longtime fans were therefore outraged when the popular star was written out of the regular cast at the end of the fourth season. Others, however, were relieved that Angel survived a close brush with cancellation to return for a fifth season with an addition to the cast: James Marsters, reprising his Buffy the Vampire Slayer role as Spike, Angel's romantic rival, longtime antagonist, and fellow vampire-with-a-soul. Other recurring and regular cast members have included the late Glenn Quinn as the half-human, half-demon Doyle; Buffy refugee Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndham-Price, a bumbling "rogue demon hunter" who eventually becomes truly roguish; J. August Richards as Charles Gunn, a street-smart vampire hunter with hidden depths; Amy Acker as Winifred "Fred" Burkle, a damsel-in-distress turned super-scientist; Andy Hallett as Lorne, a horned, green-skinned demon who can read your future, but only if you sing karaoke for him; future Law & Order babe Elisabeth Rohm as a Scully-esque police detective; Julie Benz as Darla, Angel's oft-resurrected vampire paramour; Vincent Kartheiser as Connor, Darla and Angel's rebellious (and human) teenaged son; and Christian Kane and Stephanie Romanov as a pair of lawyers at Wolfram & Hart, the evil law firm that Angel fights for four seasons and eventually takes over.