By now, you should have seen our ranking article of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Given that Angel is a spin-off of that show, it’s only natural that we should give it the same courtesy.
The David Boreanaz-led series aired for five seasons from 1999 until 2004 – and it was every bit as good as its parent show, featuring a number of cameos from the Buffy cast, as well as a number of shared series regulars.
Let’s get straight to ranking Joss Whedon’s other vampire baby, from worst series to best.
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5. Season Four
Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, none of Angel’s seasons are poor, but we have to pick the “least best” – and that’s season four.
The season starts with Angel lumbered helplessly at the bottom of the ocean, having been trapped there by his son, Connor at the end of season three. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce – who had previously been banished by Angel – rescues him.
That trouble initially comes in the form of the Beast – a horned demon made of a rock-like material – but that turns out to be the least of their worries. The Beast’s master (and the season’s “big-bad”) is Jasmine (pictured) – an apparently beautiful goddess who brings peace to the planet, but at the expense of turning everyone who gazes upon her into a loving and submissive trance. Angel must figure out a way to undo Jasmine’s global control.
Dark, provocative and heavily serialized, season four of Angel is nonetheless the most divisive, with the entire character and arc of Connor being ill-conceived and poorly-received. The occurrences in the season are arguably on the largest scale of all five seasons, the twists and turns are great, and the season ends on a marvellous cliff-hanger – but it still falls slightly short of the others, with fans complaining of it over-relying on shock tactics to excite.
4. Season Five
The final season of Angel saw the titular hero and his friends operating from within the belly of the beast, as they were handed the leadership of Wolfram & Hart – the evil law firm that had previously been the scourge of their very existence.
Determined to use the company’s vast resources to make the world a better place, Angel uncovers the existence of the Circle of the Black Thorn (pictured) – a society of demons who serve the evil and powerful Senior Partners and want to bring about the apocalypse in their name. In defeating the Circle and ruffling the Partners’ feathers, Angel triggers an apocalyptic battle for the ages, with the show ending just as it’s about to start.
After the slight decrease in quality that was season four, the fifth season saw Angel experience a creative resurgence, with the great blend of horror, humor and action that it had become known for. The resurrection and inclusion as a series regular of Buffy’s Spike was a real highlight, as was the introduction of Illyria. “Conviction”, “Soul Purpose” and “Time Bomb” are all great episodes, but the finale – “Not Fade Away” – is absolutely epic.
3. Season Three
Season three sees Angel mourning the death of Buffy Summers and returning to Los Angeles. There, the team of Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn and Fred really comes into its own as a force for good. But things get complicated when Darla – Angel’s former vampire lover – returns heavily pregnant with Angel’s child, brought upon by their one night stand.
The season’s “big-bad”, Daniel Holtz (pictured) – a man whose family Angel’s evil alter-ego, Angelus, had killed centuries earlier – is brought into the present to kill Angel. However, upon hearing Angel has a son – Connor – Holtz opts to make him suffer in a different way, by kidnapping the baby and taking him to a hell dimension named Quor’toth. With time flowing differently in Quor’toth, Holtz is able to return relatively quickly, with a now teenage Connor whom he’s trained to hunt Angel.
This season was great throughout – and it took two truly excellent ones to earn higher placings on our list. It was the season the show essentially cut ties with Buffy, as its parent show moved to a new network – and it ably proved itself out on its own. Season three is emotional and hard-hitting, yet still comically brilliant. The episodes “That Vision Thing”, “Billy” and “Waiting in the Wings” are three of the best to come from either Buffyverse series.
2. Season One
The first season of Angel remains one of its best, as the titular vampire left Sunnydale (having been introduced in the very first episode of Buffy) to continue his mission of atonement in Los Angeles without the slayer, with whom he had fallen in love (but also undoubtedly had lots of ups and downs with, to say the least).
Initially finding himself cut off from society, Angel meets and befriends the half-demon Doyle, whose visions of people in trouble (sent by mankind’s protectors the Powers That Be) enable him to fight evil more readily. He also meets former Sunnydale resident Cordelia Chase again, who helps to keep Angel grounded and integrated with humanity. The trio set up Angel Investigations, which brings them into regular conflict with the season’s “big-bad” – the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.
With a suitably dark and brooding backdrop, Angel immediately found its feet as a show. Regularly playing on the undeniable sex appeal of its leading actor, season one had plenty of action, a few doses of humor, and some seriously impressive character depth. The episodes “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” – which saw rogue slayer Faith and Buffy herself coming to Los Angeles – were some of the televisual highlights of the year 2000.
1. Season Two
Angel’s second season is undoubtedly the show’s finest. It sees Wolfram & Hart resurrecting Darla and reuniting her with her despicable partner-in-killing, Drusilla. The evil pairing provided the “big-bad” team-up for the season.
Wolfram & Hart themselves remain constant thorns in Team Angel’s side, while key allies for the titular character are introduced in the form of the friendly demon Lorne and the genius Winifred “Fred” Burkle. The season ends with Willow Rosenberg arriving in Los Angeles to inform Angel of Buffy’s death – one of a number of important crossovers with Angel’s parent show this season.
This is a fabulous season that was almost universally loved by fans and critics alike. It was the season in which Angel’s allies all started to show their worth as demon-fighting badasses.
The storytelling is excellent, with a number of intriguing mini-arcs brilliantly intertwining with the season’s main plots. The episode “Reunion” is a must-watch, while “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” is arguably the best episode of the entire series – and it also happens to be David Boreanaz’s favorite.
If you enjoyed this piece about Angel – a classic vampire television series – you should definitely check out our list of the best vampire movies, too.