Buffy the Vampire Slayer started as a 1992 movie starring Kristy Swanson as the titular Slayer, then moved to television on The WB network in 1997. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, the Slayer, the show followed Buffy and her friends—known affectionately as the Scooby Gang—through their adventures in high school, college, and beyond. Equal parts supernatural drama and heartwarming coming-of-age tale, many fans grew up watching Buffy and found themselves greatly identifying with the characters due to the lessons that the show taught about growing up, falling in love, heartbreak, loss, and much more. After season 3, David Boreanaz—who played Buffy’s vampire boyfriend, Angel—ended up departing Buffy for his character’s own spin-off series, which ran from 1999-2004 and totaled five seasons.
Though Buffy had a longer run—seven seasons—and created the larger universe that’s known to fans as “the Buffyverse”, Angel had some definite high points. Because the two shows were connected, there were many crossover episodes between the two, and characters from one show often made appearances for a single episode or even a larger arc on another. In many ways, the two shows are so interchangeable given their overlap in talent, crew, and overall style, given Whedon’s signature way of writing, that it’s difficult to ascertain which is better. However, three easy criteria to apply here are: characters, plot and writing, and the ability to re-watch and binge-watch a series, since both have been very popular on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and even Facebook Watch.
Better Characters: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
It can easily be argued that, since Buffy the Vampire Slayer created many of the characters who eventually transitioned to Angel either as main characters or for shorter story arcs, the original show gets the nod for best characters overall. However, the reason behind why Buffy has the better characters overall goes far beyond that logic. Not only did Buffy create the characters who, arguably, are the best on Angel—including Angel himself—but if one considers the overall trajectory and growth of each character, Buffy did it better.
Since Buffy is largely a coming-of-age tale, it’s a definite positive that the show’s main characters all went through some major transformation. While many of the characters who were first introduced on Buffy, such as mean girl Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) did go on to have better, meatier story arcs and character development on Angel, it can’t compare to the overall growth of the core characters on Buffy. Even Buffy Summers herself went from a high school girl who wanted to completely ignore her prophetic death in season 1 to a young woman who was willing to risk it all—her very life—by committing suicide in season 5 to save the world. Then, after her resurrection in season 6, she confessed to her friends that she was pulled out of Heaven—where she would have possibly been reunited with her late mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland)—and still continued to fight the good fight. Note: Featuring Three Brand New Two Part Storylines Written Specifically
Better Plots & Writing: Angel
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer earns its edge in characterization, the writing and plots in Angel were far superior overall. The overall theme of Angel was about redemption and self-sacrifice for the greater good and, because of this, it managed to go beyond the coming-of-age classification of its progenitor. While Buffy taught audiences that heroism often has a price and saving the world isn’t easy, Angel reinforced that the cost is often heavier than one might think, and yet people are still willing to pay it—often over and over again—in order to keep the world from falling into the hands of the wicked.
Though Angel still very much contained the sharp, often biting one-liners and potent sarcasm that’s become a trademark of any Joss Whedon show or movie, there was a darker edge to it that truly gave it an advantage. Not only that, but the storylines reflected much of the real world and its problems. The City of Angels—Los Angeles—is known as a hub for all sorts of predatory behavior even without the supernatural quotient, as has been recalled time and again in modern years with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein trial. Hollywood, in many ways, is as insidious and predatory as vampires and demons, and Angel plays off of this by putting Angel in the seat of a private investigator—a very normal, even human job—to “help the hopeless”, particularly young women who have been targeted for some reason. Note: A Fourth Movie Was Canceled After Raimi Withdrew From The Project
Better For Re-Watching (& Binge-Watching): Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Due to Angel’s heavier subject matter, it can be difficult to engage in repeat viewings. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a longer show overall, with seven seasons instead of five, it’s more often cited as re-watchable and binge-watchable by fans, with many even claiming to do a yearly re-watch. Angel occasionally drags along, and while Buffy is guilty of having a few story arcs and standout episodes that are arguably difficult to get through for one reason or another—some are boring, where others are more emotionally draining—it’s the lighter, easier watch overall.
Outside of that, Buffy has a few episodes that beg to be watched over and over again, where Angel flows more seamlessly from one episode into another, with longer story arcs and less of a formulaic, “monster of the week” style than the original show. Though this cinematic feel, which is a hallmark of more modern television shows, like Westworld and Lovecraft Country benefitted it in terms of the plot development and the spin-off’s superior writing, Buffy is quick to digest. Episodes like Buffy’s renowned musical, “Once More With Feeling”, can almost be seen as disconnected enough from the rest of the show that it can be consumed in a solitary fashion via standalone viewing. Also, for many fans of both shows, Buffy is like comfort food: putting on an episode is less like settling down to watch a TV show and more like visiting an old friend. Note: This Was Often Juxtaposed With Social Commentary And Real Life