This week's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"/"Angel" crossover stunt captures all of the emotional highs and lows that one comes to expect around the holidays -- and sweeps. Granted it's a stunt in the grand tradition of sweeps, but there's nothing wrong with giving viewers what they want, especially if it means the WB can redeem itself with disgruntled fans of one of its flagship shows.

This week’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”/”Angel” crossover stunt captures all of the emotional highs and lows that one comes to expect around the holidays — and sweeps. Granted it’s a stunt in the grand tradition of sweeps, but there’s nothing wrong with giving viewers what they want, especially if it means the WB can redeem itself with disgruntled fans of one of its flagship shows.

The intertwined episodes, “Pangs” and “I Will Remember You,” mark a change in direction for what has been, at least for “Buffy,” a disappointing and whiny season. The show started its highly anticipated fourth season with a whimper, its fearless fighter of evil overwhelmed by trials of college life. “Angel,” which started this season (its first) much stronger, can only benefit from this high-profile swap.

The reunion between the doomed lovers, slayer Buffy and the tortured vampire Angel, has been toyed with in previous shows, but never fully realized. Angel, who left Sunnydale because it was too hard to be around the woman he loves but can never be with, returns in “Pangs” because he believes Buffy’s life may be in danger. To avoid upsetting the balance, Angel hides from Buffy, who is desperately trying to recreate happier times via a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with friends.

Her plans are sidelined by a vengeful spirit from an ancient Native American tribe who has come back to wreak havoc on his oppressors. The politically correct undertones and accompanying rhetoric are thankfully soon snuffed by Spike (James Marsters), evil vampire extraordinaire, who chimes in with a timely reality-busting speech about how “It’s a kill-or-be-killed world.”

It’s a defining moment in the story and in the show. Until this point in the season, Buffy’s lack of confidence and, well, Buffiness, have been overshadowed only by her ridiculous wardrobe. The whole charm of the show rests on the delicate balance of clever humor, drama and action. So far this season, Joss Whedon et al. have been off their game, and it has little to do with the absence of Boreanaz, who’s gone off to his own series. The chemistry between Buffy and Angel was already waning in season three. But as we learn in “I Will Remember You,” it hasn’t been completely extinguished.

When Buffy learns that Angel was in town, she takes off to confront him, with “I Will Remember You” picking up where “Pangs” leaves off.

A bloody battle with a medieval demon transforms Angel, allowing him and Buffy to explore the depths of their feelings. It is a rare and unfettered moment of happiness for the two.

Seeing Gellar and Boreanaz together in a new scenario is worth the wait. Gellar’s emotional range is amazing, and it’s pushed to the limits in this episode of “Angel.”

Keeping pace with Gellar, Boreanaz gets to smile, have more fun and eat chocolate in “I Will Remember You.” Despite the continued burdens his character faces, Boreanaz manages to play tortured without being torturous.

Both shows offer terrific secondary perfs, with Buffy aided immensely by Alyson Hannigan as Willow and Marsters as the scene-stealing Spike. Anthony Stewart Head, the lone parental figure, nails each scene with the right mix of authority and compassion.

“Angel” has more of a revolving door philosophy when it comes to characters, leaving the brunt of the show on Boreanaz’s broad shoulders. He’s helped by Charisma Carpenter and Glenn Quinn, two sidekicks who veer more toward the ludicrous but offer a nice balance to the dark overtones of the story.

Both shows demonstrate superior production values, with the action scenes carefully and realistically orchestrated. Clever editing by Skip MacDonald in “Pangs” is key.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Pangs; Angel: I Will Remember You

(Buffy) the WB, Tues. Nov. 23, 8 p.m.; (Angel) the WB, Tues. Nov. 23, 9 p.m.

Production

BUFFY: Filmed in Los Angeles by Mutant Enemy Inc. and Kuzui/Sandollar in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Joss Whedon, Gail Berman, Sandy Gallin, Fran Kuzui, Kaz Kuzui; producer, Gareth Davies, David Fury; director, Michael Lange; writer, Jane Espenson. ANGEL: Filmed in Los Angeles by Mutant Enemy Inc. and Kuzui/Sandollar in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, David Greenwalt, Joss Whedon, Gail Berman, Sandy Gallin, Fran Kuzui, Kaz Kuzui; producers, Kelly A. Manners, Tim Minear; director, David Grossman; writers, David Greenwalt, Jeannie Renshaw.

Crew

BUFFY: Camera, Michael Gershman; editor, Skip MacDonald; sound, David Yaffe; music, Christophe Beck; casting, Amy Britt. Running time: 60 MIN. ANGEL: Camera, Herbert Davis; editor, Michael Stern; sound, Beau Baker; music, Christophe Beck, Robert J. Kral; casting, Amy Britt, Anya Colloff, Jennifer Fishman. Running time: 60 MIN.

Cast

BUFFY: Buffy - Sarah Michelle Gellar Angel - David Boreanaz Xander - Nicholas Brendon Giles - Anthony Stewart Head Willow - Alyson Hannigan Spike - James Marsters Riley - Marc Blucas Anya - Emma Caulfield Harmony - Mercedes McNab Hus - Tod Thawley ANGEL: Angel - David Boreanaz Buffy - Sarah Michelle Gellar Cordelia - Charisma Carpenter Doyle - Glenn Quinn Brother Oracle - Randall Slavin Sister Oracle - Carey Cannon
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