Lately I pulled out my Angel: Season 5 DVD set, which is the only Buffy or Angel DVD set I own. As I watched, I realized that my introduction to the "Buffyverse" was probably pretty unusual. It makes me smile now to compare my current level of knowledge with the confused thoughts I had back then.
Before seeing Angel, I had seen maybe five total episodes of Buffy, some reruns from late season 5 and some from late season 7. Comparing the airdates, I may have seen the season 7 episodes when originally shown, or shortly thereafter. Spike was the most intriguing character to me after seeing those episodes, although watching Eliza Dushku do anything was also a draw (yep, I saw quite a few of the later episodes of Tru Calling also). I had no idea that Spike was more menacing and evil in other seasons of Buffy, nor that Faith and Buffy had excellent reasons for being tense around each other. I was lost to some degree at all times, but the dialogue and action had drawn me in. I didn't know anything about the Angel character, so I had assumed the show based on him was a weaker spinoff.
Some months later, I was flipping channels when I caught the Angel episode "Harm's Way" in progress, then I watched the rest. What appealed to me from the start was the well-done offbeat premise: a law firm for evil, in which an inner circle works to secretly do good. I was pleasantly reminded of the only good season of Earth:Final Conflict, the first, which featured a mole from the human resistance secretly subverting the seemingly-benign alien visitors. I assumed that the Angel show had always taken place in a law firm, that Angel had attained his rank by promotion, and the main characters were just employees that Angel trusted closely. The more episodes I saw, the more I dropped those assumptions. In the beginning, to me Gunn was a slick lawyer, Wesley was an overly-serious spiritual expert for the firm, Fred was the bubbly scientific counterpart to Wesley, and Lorne was a PR or entertainment advisor. And Harmony was, well, a blonde secretary.
I remember that "Soul Purpose" next blew me away with its emotional journey, as well as reassuring me that I would be able to see more Spike. "You're Welcome" was epic and exciting, but the sudden prominence of characters such as Cordelia and Lindsey and Doyle threw me off. As someone who could count the number of Angel episodes he had seen on one hand, I felt like an outsider again. After that, I began catching myself up through the Web, so any further episodes I saw made more sense. "Origin" was another episode that motivated me to find out much more (Angel has a son - WHA?!). The audacity and hilarity of "Smile Time" sealed my fate as an Angel fan, so I watched most of the rest of season 5. 'Course, not too long afterwards I heard it would be cancelled...
I hadn't seen Firefly yet, so for me Adam Baldwin went from polite and suited in Angel to crude and rustic in Firefly. When I finally saw old reruns of seasons 1 and 2 of Buffy, Angel seemed a lot younger. No wonder, considering the age difference of the actor. When I read about or saw some of the other Angel and Buffy seasons (by recording reruns), everything in season 5 started to fit better. Wesley's total breakdown at the end. Gunn's desperation to keep his lawyer skills. Angel being permitted to keep his job in an evil law firm while also acting good. The casual antagonism between Angel and Spike.
Seeing Buffy mostly after seeing Angel provided me with some bias, too. Compared to the bleak wryness of Angel's humor, the snappy too-cute dialogue of Buffy sometimes grated on me. Compared to the deep and guilt-filled brooding of Angel, the angst of Buffy didn't register as much. Compared to the always-quirky environment of a demonic law firm, the familiar (during the daytime) high school seemed somehow uninspired. Should I even venture to compare Angel-Cordelia and Angel-Wesley with Buffy-Cordelia and Buffy-Wesley? However, I'll certainly admit to liking Buffy-Angelus more than Angel-Angelus, not counting the Angel episodes "Soulless" and "Release". Over time, I've grown to appreciate each show for what it was, but the TV that drew me in to the Buffyverse at the last possible moment, Angel season 5, will stand alone in my mind.