I have gone back and forth about this over the years. Both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, are easily two of the greatest television series ever made in my opinion, but as to which I find to be superior? Well that’s always been a very hard decision to make.
After having recently rewatched both again all the way through however, I now feel that Angel was superior to Buffy. There are many ways in which I think Buffy was better than Angel too. Also of the two of them, I’d definitely say that Buffy was the more influential, and the more culturally significant.
Still personally I did enjoy Angel more, and I am going to run through the various reasons as to why I prefer Angel to Buffy in this article here.
1/ The Main Character was More Interesting
Now I liked Buffy as a main character. She was a very well written and likable character and Sarah Michelle Gellar was truly excellent in the role.
However Buffy was ultimately just another angsty hero, who tried to balance her ordinary every day life with saving the world. Not a bad idea for a character, but it is one that we have seen many times before, and its also more of a straight forward character that is quite limited. All you can really do is just have her fight monsters or have bad things happen in her private life and that’s it. With Angel I feel there was simply more you could do with his character overall.
To start with the fact that he could go evil made him more unusual as a leading hero.
Here we had a character, that had in the past murdered babies, raped and tortured teenage girls and stabbed helpless old men in the testicles. Yet we still rooted for him. It was a classic Jekyll and Hyde scenario, with Angel and his dark counterpart Angelus having different identities, but even with that you would have thought that some of the things Angelus did, would have still made it hard to root for Angel.
It was a testament to the strong writing and acting from David Boreanaz that we really did think of Angel and Angelus as two completely different characters.
At the same time however whilst Angel and Angelus were very much a case of split personality, the writers would often at times try and blur the lines between the two which was very interesting. In the episode “Eternity”, Angel believes he has become Angelus to the point where he nearly kills Wesley and Cordelia without actually losing his soul.
There are also many moments when even with a soul, Angel crosses the line such as locking the lawyers from Wolfram and Hart in a room with two psychotic Vampires, firing all his friends, his sleazy affair with Darla where he knows there is a chance he could lose his soul, and his attempts to smother Wesley to death with a pillow after Wesley’s actions cost him his son.
What’s the most disturbing thing about that scene is how calm he plays it before he explodes with rage and nearly kills his former friend. He calmly tells him that he is not Angelus before, so that Wesley will be in no doubt that with or without a soul Angel wants him dead!
The writers showed us how Angelus didn’t just spring out of nowhere. He was created from the darkest aspects of Angel’s personality. All the twisted desires hidden deep in his subconscious. Angelus really represented what Angel would be without his inhibitions and morals.
Angel also had a more interesting backstory as he was a 200 year old Vampire.
I always loved seeing flashbacks of Angelus and Darla and sometimes Drusilla and Spike, the 4 most dangerous Vampires in history. It was brilliant the way they were all so different to each other. Darla was the most manipulative and seductive, Drusilla the most insane and unpredictable, Spike the most violent and Angelus the most flamboyantly sadistic.
There were also many characters that they could draw from Angels backstory that they couldn’t with Buffy’s, such as Penn, his Vampire protege, obviously Darla, his Vampiric lover, Holtz, his archenemy and Sam Lawson, the Vampire he was forced to turn in the second world war after gaining his soul.
It was also interesting the way the writers were able to explore so many different periods in human history through Angel. We saw the Boxer rebellion, World War 2 and Los Angeles during the McCarthy era in the 50’s.
Overall whilst I like Buffy I simply think there was more that the writers were able to do with Angel. Its worth noting that Angel actually counting all his appearances on Buffy and his own show together, has far more appearances than Buffy herself which I think says a lot.
I feel Buffy had begun to get a bit stale as a character by about season 5, hence why they began to do things like the Spuffy romance which in my opinion didn’t work at all. Angel however after 8 years as a main character was still as strong at the end of season 5 of Angel as he had ever been.
The Characters Were Better Developed
When you look at the 5 seasons of Angel, you can see that the main characters change a lot more than they do on Buffy.
Some of the characters on Buffy did undergo massive changes. Willow and Spike I’d say were probably the two most well developed characters in the series. We saw Willow go from a meek, shy, bookish young girl to an all powerful, terrifying sorceress, whilst Spike was never the same guy two series in a row. The legendary slayer killing Vampire in series 2, the pathetic down on his luck, jilted, drunken sap in series 3, the cheeky lovable, witty anti hero in series 4, the love struck, creepy, yet oddly heroic character in series 5, the loving friend, turned creepy, perverted stalker in series 6, and finally the ensouled champion in series 7.
Other than those two characters however, I don’t think that many of the other Buffy regulars went through many changes compared to those on Angel. Buffy for instance was essentially the same character in series 1 that she was on series 7. Yes she underwent many major life changes, in terms of leaving school, getting a job etc, but she is basically the same person. An angsty hero who wants to have a normal life instead of fighting Demons.
Xander similarly is a sarcastic, nerdy guy at the start of the series, and is that at the end. Tara meanwhile is just a shy girl with a heart of gold throughout. Oz is just a quiet cool guy throughout, Giles is just a stuffy old English guy, who is also a badass, Anya is just sarcastic and socially inept, Andrew a ponce, Cordelia a bit of an alpha bitch and Dawn is just a whiny, screechy, annoying brat throughout most of the shows run.
I’m not saying that the characters in Buffy were poor as a result of this (apart from Dawn). Giles in particular is one of my favourite characters from both series. Still when you look at the main characters on Angel, they do change a lot more over the course of their 5 years.
Cordeila undergoes far more development on Angel than she ever did on Buffy. She is actually really only on Angel for as long as she was on Buffy. Remember she is only Cordelia for three years on Angel. In series 4 she is possessed by Jasmine, whilst she is only a guest star on Angel season 5.
Still despite this on 3 series of Angel, we see her go from the shallow valley girl, to a tragic hero struggling with the visions Doyle left her.
Wesley meanwhile’s story arc is truly fascinating. He goes from a wimpy, pampered, spoilt head boy at the watchers council, to a disgrace when he is fired, to someone who manages to find a use for himself in LA helping Angel, to a strong and capable fighter, to a broken, tortured man consumed with the guilt at losing Angel’s son, (and also bitterness at the way all of his friends abandoned him), to a highly skilled and dangerous marksman, and hero in his own right, to a possibly unstable man when he loses his beloved.
The Wesley of series 5 is worlds away from the foppish, buffoonish, early Wesley. He’s like Doctor Smith from Lost in Space in the early series, the camp, clumsy, fainting pansy, but by the end of the show he’s like bloody Clint Eastwood. With his husky voice, stubbly face, swigging back whisky and shooting the badguys.
Gunn meanwhile similarly starts out as a more of a violent character, who lives on the street, but he ends up as a lawyer living in a massive house, driving a big expensive car. He eventually becomes so ashamed of his former self, that he ends up making a deal with Wolfram and Hart to avoid going back the way. This ends up costing him and his friends dearly.
Fred though in the show for a shorter period of time, also undergoes many large changes too. Compare the strong and brave scientist helping Spike against the evil Pavayne in series 5, to the meek little damsel, too scared to leave her room without Angel in series 3.
Finally Angel himself starts out as a loner, becomes obsessed with Darla, then has a son and finally ends up as the CEO of Wolfram and Hart.
I also think that the characters in Angel all had brilliant resolutions to their storylines too. Again in Buffy I don’t think all the characters story’s were wrapped up as well.
Giles, Dawn, and Xander just kind of fade into the background in the last few episodes. Xander loses an eye and Anya but that’s it.
On Angel meanwhile I don’t think any of the characters just faded away. Their stories were all given satisfactory conclusions.
Spike and Angel both went out as heroes, Gunn returned to his roots and died in combat, Cordelia meanwhile put Angel back on the right path. I like most fans hated what they did to Cordelia in series 4, but You’re Welcome was easily the best episode of Angel ever made in my opinion.
The Host, though definitely the most misused character in the series. Still had an effective end where his innocence was finally destroyed, when he was forced to commit an act of murder. It was also a magnificent irony the way that he killed Lindsey, played by Christian Kane. Lindsey had always viewed himself as Angel’s archfoe, and had envisioned going out in a blaze of glory against the Vampire himself.
“YOU killed me! A FLUNKY! No, no, no, no Angel kills me, he’s supposed to”
Poor Lindsey, he was killed by the one guy there who couldn’t even fight!
Connor meanwhile though I wasn’t a fan of the character, I did still like the way they wrapped up his story in series 5. Having him regain his painful memories and overcome them himself, rather than through the use of magic. It was also great seeing him join Angel in his final battle against Marcus.
Doyle’s brief story arc also was rounded off superbly too, with the character finally stepping out of Angel’s shadow and becoming a hero in his own right, as well as redeeming himself for his past sins.
Wesley and Fred whilst they were both killed horribly, their stories still came to an end. Personally I also found their death scenes to be among the most powerful in either Buffy or Angel too.
Overall whilst both series had a very strong set of characters, when you look at Angel there is definitely I think a much stronger development among its main cast.
All Of The Buffy Characters On Angel Were Better On Angel
Okay I’ll leave out Wesley since he was only on Buffy for a few episodes, and Willow who as only in a few episodes of Angel. Harmony meanwhile I think was the same on both shows. A funny comic relief, but that’s it.
Cordelia, who as I have explored was really only in 3 series of Angel, as many as she was in of Buffy, was a much stronger character in Angel. We saw many different sides to her and Charisma Carpenter was really stretched as an actress more.
At the same time however, they were able to retain the characters biting humour from Buffy, that had made her so popular in the first place.
Spike meanwhile I also think was far superior on Angel than he was on Buffy. Spike is my favourite Buffyverse character overall, but it is true he did kind of become a big wimp in the later years of Buffy. Falling in love with his archfoe, crying when she was mean to him, comforting her when she was upset about her mum (he’s supposed to be an evil Vampire!) singing cheesy love songs to her etc
And that’s before we get into the fact that he got the absolute shit kicked out of him just about every second episode and tortured a good few times. Hell two episodes in series 7 were nothing but him just getting tortured. On top of that we found out that he was a big mothers boy and that he cries at soap opera’s and writes crappy poetry about women who break his heart.
In many ways all of this did help to flesh the character out more to be fair. It also gave James Marsters a lot more to do and stretched him as an actor. Still yeah it can’t be denied that it did make Spike a total wimp. It got a bit frustrating always watching your favourite character get tortured, beaten up or cry.
On Angel whilst to be fair the character did still go through quite a lot at the hands of Pavayne and Dana, the insane slayer who chops his hands off! He was overall a much stronger character in more ways than one.
On Buffy I think they didn’t really know what to do with him after he became a regular in series 4. He and Buffy didn’t really have any chemistry with one another, until they brought in the whole romantic story.
Before that in series 4 he generally just insults Buffy and says he hates her now and again, and that’s that. The only problem was that once they brought in the love story not only did it lead to him becoming a wimp, but it was also so all consuming, that they never got a chance to do anything else with the character, but follow Buffy around and say he loved her.
From that point virtually all his screen time was spent with Buffy apart from a few exceptions. I think that was a shame as he had been shown to have good chemistry with other characters like Giles, Willow and Tara before.
On Angel however, he and Angel just went together naturally as they already had a very long history with each other. They were on the one hand, two very similar, yet two very different characters. Also they had a natural dynamic of being like two squabbling brothers which lent itself for both great comedy and drama.
You had hilarious moments, where the two were arguing about who would win in a fight between Astronauts and Cavemen, or Spike fighting with a puppet Angel, whilst there were also great tense moments to, such as the two’s epic showdown in Destiny.
I also preferred Spike as a villain on Angel. Though he was only a villain for one episode in Series 1, I still found him to be more effective. Once again his history with Angel allowed him to be a lot more personal villain, as opposed to just another monster that wanted to rip her throat out, like he was to Buffy.
Joss Whedon himself said that he felt Spike and Angel had among the best chemistry of any of his characters, and that his biggest regret was in not getting to do more seasons with both characters together.
Whilst Spike and Angel had brilliant dynamic with each other, unlike his relationship with Buffy, I don’t think it prevented him from having screen time with other characters like Gunn, Fred and Illyria. I always loved his relationship with Fred.
Fred was one of these nice, brainy types who is kind to everyone. Kind of like Bernadette from the Big Bang Theory, or at least before they made her nasty in the later series.
It would make sense that someone like that, would be the only person a complete asshole like Spike would get on with. We saw this on Buffy a bit too with Willow and Tara, similarly nice, sweet, brainy girls, but again sadly it wasn’t developed due to all of Spike’s time being taken up with his pining for Buffy. We never even saw his reaction to Tara’s death, where as we did get to see how Fred’s death affected him.
Faith was another character I felt was stronger on Angel than on Buffy.
I felt she was an excellent villain on both series, but she was slightly better on Angel for me. Much like Spike, I think she played off of the main character more effectively. She had a brilliant Holmes/Moriarty relationship with Buffy, but I liked the way Angel was able to get through to her.
It was a brilliant twist watching a Slayer, of all people, be put on the path to redemption by a Vampire. I also think that as Angel was a much darker series, she was given a chance to be a much more effective villain here.
Her torture of Wesley is truly one of the most brutal moments in either series, yet at the end of that same episode when Faith begs Angel to kill her, we are incredibly enough able to have some small sympathy for her.
I think Five by Five is Eliza Dushku’s greatest performance.
Drusilla is another villain who appeared on both series but I think was better on Angel. Much like Spike she had a greater connection with the hero and was all around more menacing.
During her time on Buffy whilst she was an interesting character and Juliet Landau’s performance was brilliant, I think she was kind of weak as a villain. She didn’t really do anything at all during the second season. In the first half of season 2 Spike does all the work fighting Buffy, and then when Angel shows up he takes over.
All Drusilla does is just stand at the back and babble. When she was with Darla however, we got to see her actively slaughter people, including the lawyers of Wolfram and Hart (the main villains of the series), and fight with Angel. Thus she seemed like more of a legitimate threat.
It Was More Morally Grey
Angel I think was a little less black and white than Buffy. Buffy had what has become known as the big bad formula, where one villain would emerge as the main threat per season. It was a great formula that proved to be very influential on many subsequent series such as Supernatural and Doctor Who.
Still a lot of the time in Buffy, things were just often kill the evil monster, like the Master and Glory, and then once they are dead, all of their influence is gone and that’s that.
However in Angel the main villain, Wolfram and Hart, was a force that couldn’t just be stamped out. It had an influence across the entire world, and didn’t even so much have a plan to bring about the end of the world, but simply to keep humanity from ever building a truly peaceful society.
Also many of the villains were somewhat more sympathetic too. Holtz was actually at one point a hero, who protected people from Vampires and Demons, but after Angelus murdered his infant child, raped and killed his wife and turned his daughter into a Vampire. He was driven mad and became a villain.
Even Jasmine actually wanted to help humanity. Unlike in any season of Buffy, the heroes actually wonder if they have done a good thing in stopping the villain.
The heroes also don’t always use the most honourable methods in Angel either. In series 5 they end up working for Wolfram and Hart. Angel also in order to be accepted by the Circle of the Black Thorn, an evil organisation, he hopes to bring down from the inside, is forced to hand over one of his own friends Drogyn to them.
Drogyn is then tortured for hours and mutilated, before Angel is forced to kill him! Even the death of Lindsey, one of the most evil characters in the series, is pretty iffy too. Angel lies to him and has Lorne shoot him when he is not looking, and unarmed.
In Angel, things weren’t always just a case of the good guys fight the monsters in a big war, beat them, and that’s that. Things were a little bit more complicated, and at times you weren’t even sure who the real villains were.
I always loved this quote from Lindsey which I feel summed up the show brilliantly.
Its been here all along you’re just too stupid to see it. The Apocalypse man you’re soaking in it. Not an Apocalypse, the Apocalypse. What did you think, a gong was gonna sound? Time to jump on your horses and fight the big fight? Starting pistol went off a long time ago boys. You’re playing for the bad guys. Every day you sit behind your desk and you learn a little bit more how to accept the world the way it is. Well here’s the rub. Hero’s don’t do that. Heroes don’t accept the world the way it is they fight it.
It Had A Better Ending
Now personally, I don’t think that the last episode of Buffy is as bad as everyone thinks it is. It often gets quite a hard time. I’ve seen it on many a worst tv finale’s list.
I felt it did a decent job of wrapping up Buffy’s story by having her close the hellmouth, and also make a larger difference in the world, by activating all of the potential slayers.
That was always the feminist message behind Buffy. The slayers were young women had been forced to fight Vampires, by an oppressive male regime, the Watchers Council, whose ancestors had created the first slayer, by chaining her to the ground against her will, and infusing her with the spirit of a Demon.
They had also forced all of the other slayers to do things their way, to fight alone, give up on their personal lives, dreams and ambitions, follow all of their tests etc. Buffy however always went against their rules and was all the better for it. We see this even in the Buffy movie when she finally manages to defeat Lothos by doing things her way.
Thus her making all potentials slayers was really just an extension of this.
My only beefs with the Buffy finale is that I think the so called Uber Vampires were ridiculously easy to kill which was kind of a bit shit. Look at the first Uber Vampire its a badass that makes Spike its bitch for weeks and batters Buffy almost to death. The later Uber Vampires are killed by ordinary people like Xander and Dawn who have no combat training. Joss Whedon says that the message about female empowerment he wanted to get across was more important than the continuity, but I don’t understand why he couldn’t have bothered with both? Does it have to be one or the other?
Also I felt that Spike was really the one who saved the day in the Buffy finale, which was a bit much, considering that it was her show.
It reminds me a bit of the New Doctor Who in this respect, of having the hero’s sidekick always save the day.
Plus as I mentioned before a lot of characters like Giles and Xander also don’t really get much to do.
The Angel finale meanwhile I think is completely flawless. Its story is perfect, the villains are consistent with their previous appearances, and also all of the main characters are given a chance to shine, even Lorne who was underused throughout much of series 5. He gets one of the bleakest endings and ironically he is the only one who definitely doesn’t die!
Wesley’s death is a wonderfully tragic and moving moment, and its all the more satisfying when Illyria avenges him by shattering his killers head into pieces. Even Connor who wasn’t a regular, still gets a great send off when he finally atones for his previous sins and saves his fathers life.
I think the fact that the Angel finale was more low key, involving all of the main characters going off and fighting members of the Circle of the Black Thorn by themselves, allowed each character a chance to shine, where as Buffy went for the big battle and thus some of the little characters were swallowed up.
The finale of Angel also stayed true to the spirit of the show just like Buffy’s. Angel was always about fighting because it is the right thing to do. Not because you’ll get some reward, hence why Angel is happy to sign away the prophecy that will allow him to become human, and also why he and the others are happy to sacrifice their lives in order to stop the circle of the black thorn.
The circle of the black thorn are merely Wolfram and Hart’s instrument on earth right now. Killing them will hold them back by maybe 1000 or so years but not forever. Its not like just killing the Master and that’s it he’s gone. Yet Angel and his team still do it as if they can end their influence, for even that amount of time then its worth it.
Angel also has a very bold ending in that much like Blake’s 7 it ends with pretty much all of its main cast facing certain death. We don’t see them die, but they are in a situation where there really is no escape, much like Avon in the final moments of Blake’s 7. Just as Avon raised his gun in a last act of defiance, against the hundreds of Federation troops, who surrounded him before it cut to the credits. Then Angel raises his sword against the hundreds of Demons that surround him before it cuts off.
Personally I’d rank the Angel finale as among the greatest finale’s of all time along with Blake’s 7.
Thanks for reading.