LOS ANGELES, May 8 (UPI) -- According to my own informal, unscientific survey, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans seem to either love its spin-off, "Angel" -- to the point where they now prefer it to "Buffy," in fact -- or hate it.
For those not up to speed on these supernatural comic dramas, "Buffy" is about a girl (Sarah Michelle Gellar) chosen by the Powers That Be to fight vampires, demons and other evil creatures in Sunnydale, California, a metaphor for upscale suburbia as hell on earth.
"Angel" is about her former boyfriend (David Boreanaz), a vampire-with-a-soul who has set up a supernatural detective agency in Los Angeles to "help the helpless," as the agency's slogan puts it.
Angel suffers from a gypsy curse that means he will lose his soul again should he ever know perfect happiness, so consummating true love is a no-no. The premise is that after leaving Sunnydale and his tragic relationship with Buffy, Angel has moved on to fight undead evil zillionaires and others who feed upon the living in L.A.
In the premiere episode, Angel asked "Can you fly?" as he pushed an all-powerful, starlet-killing bad guy -- who'd been presiding over a penthouse board meeting, blathering on about his all-powerfulness -- out the plate-glass window. Being a vampire, the villain naturally burst into flames before he even hit the ground.
Actually, Angel ROLLED him through the window, since the bad guy was seated in a wheeled office chair at the time. Nice!
Also, for my money, "Can you fly?" rivals "Hasta la vista, baby" and "Go on, make my day" as one of the all-time great action hero kiss-off lines.
And the vampire as Chandleresque anti-hero is a brilliant notion: Down these mean streets walks a vampire who is himself not mean, etc.
I remain a devoted watcher of both "Buffy" and "Angel," even though (alas) there haven't been any crossover events since creator Joss Whedon moved "Buffy" from the WB to UPN last fall in an acrimonious bidding war that the WB lost.
This is a shame, since for one thing it means no more bitchy encounters between bad boy Spike (James Marsters), the vampire-with-a-chip-in-his-brain (which means he can't bite humans any more than a dog can stray past an electronic fence), and heroic Angel.
The Sid Vicious-like Spike remains a "Buffy" character, but he visited "Angel" during the show's freshman season. That episode opened with Spike watching in irritation as Angel refused thanks from yet another damsel in distress he'd rescued.
"No, prancing away like a magnificant poof is thanks enough," muttered Spike, providing sarcastic narration to what he imagined Angel was really thinking. "Besides, I'm almost out of that Nancy Boy hair gel I like so much."
Now finishing its third season, "Angel" continues to maintain a fine balance between self-parody and tragic broodiness. Angel is an action hero with an attitude, and his way with a wry aside is a fine homage to Philip Marlowe.
In one episode, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), Angel's Girl Friday with acting ambitions, apologizes after dragging him to a Hollywood party.
Cordelia: "I'm sorry, that must have been hell for you."
Angel: "Actually, in hell I know a lot of the people."
"Angel's" demographics skew more male than "Buffy's," which isn't surprising. It's more action, less soap opera, although lately the story has moved more into the continuing crisis direction.
"When we first started, we thought this would be an anthology show," said co-creator David Greenwalt at the WB press conference. "We'd solve a case every week. And then we fell in love with our characters and became more interested in what happens to the people, so we reverted to a little more of a saga."
"It's about L.A. and we're in it and we have a lot of bones to pick," said Whedon. The vision of some vampire executive burning up before he even hit the ground must have been deeply satisfying.
"Hollywood is not only very funny, it's incredibly scary and ... a minefield for horror," Whedon said.
The mythologies of "Angel" and "Buffy" don't always agree. On "Buffy," demons are almost always pure evil. On "Angel" they're often loveable eccentrics who are sometimes unfairly persecuted.
I accept these parallel realities, but I also find them as weird as those old Felix the Cat TV cartoons, in which sometimes the Professor and Master Cylinder were Felix's sworn enemies, and other times they were sort-of his kindly uncles.
"Part of the lesson is that evil is never simple," Whedon responded enigmatically, when I asked about this.
And if "Angel" lost his soul when he consummated his love for Buffy, what's going to happen if he develops a romantic relationship (which the show has been hinting at this season) with Cordelia?
"Who is to say that if a consummation happens it is really true happiness?" Greenwalt responded, somewhat caddishly. Buffy and Angel weren't simply romantically involved, he added, they were star-crossed soul-mates.
"I've been dying to do the scene where (Angel) turns to a woman and says, 'I can't know perfect happiness, but that doesn't mean you can't,'" he added.
"Angel" has lightened up lately, at least visually. "When we spun off the show originally, our notion was this will be a really dark, gritty, urban show," said Greenwalt. "And then we got bored with that because the sets were ugly and brown. That's why we had to blow up (Angel's old office) the first year."
Angel and friends now are headquartered, post-explosion, in a lush old art deco hotel that they got on the cheap because the resident ghosts had scared off all potential buyers.
In real life, as it happens, stars Boreanaz and Carpenter aren't as fearless as their characters.
"Chickens!" Boreanaz answered immediately, when asked what scares him. "They're just very tweaky things. They cluck and, you know, they're very nervous."
Carpenter is so easily spooked she doesn't even watch eerie movies by herself. "I scare easily," she said. "I happened to see 'Unsolved Mysteries' on TV the other night and couldn't sleep. I had to call a friend to come over and sleep on the couch."