Angel is a television series which was spun off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, running from 1999 until 2004.
The fifth season episode "Smile Time", originally broadcast on February 18, 2004 on the WB Network, features a plot in which the title character is turned into a live-hand puppet and battles the forces of evil in felt form.
“Ben [Edlund] wrote a script that was spot-on great for puppets. Obviously, he had watched Muppet gags and Sesame Street.
— Drew Massey interview, Angel Season Five DVD”
Series creator Joss Whedon, son of Muppet writer Tom Whedon, came up with the idea which he initially intended to write and direct. The episode was conceived of specifically as "an evil Sesame Street show" with an emphasis on the Angel puppet particularly Muppet-like (e.g. the ability to remove his own nose). Whedon developed the script with Ben Edlund (creator of The Tick) to include a group of demons (disguised as puppets) who plot to drain the life energy out of children (not unlike the relationship between Skeksis and Podlings) by possessing the stars of a children's television puppet series.
“The inspiration initially is Joss had a lot of Muppets in his past. And just came in one time and said 'I think Angel turns into a Muppet.' Of course, I was really behind that.
— Ben Edlund interview, Angel Season Five DVD”
Several Henson veterans were involved in the episode, including Alice Dinnean (as Angel's hands), Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Victor Yerrid (as Polo), Julianne Buescher (as Flora), Tim Blaney (as Groofus), Brad Abrell, Donna Kimball, and Drew Massey, who designed and supervised the construction of the puppet characters, and performed the puppet Angel. Scott Johnson also served as the puppet coordinator.
When asked if the "vamped" Angel was meant to have been a nod to Sesame Street’s The Count, Whedon replied:
“No, Angel's a vampire and I said one of the things he must do when he is a puppet is morph. He must have our traditional "Angel morphs to vamp" face. I don't think the Count is going to be ripping people's heads off. He's a little more into, I think... Count-ing.
— Joss Whedon”
The episode spawned a sequel of sorts for a comic book mini-series written by Brian Lynch (who had sold a script entitled The Next Muppet Movie to The Jim Henson Company in 1999). As a self-confessed Muppet fan ("I know every Muppet episode by heart"), Lynch littered Spike: Shadow Puppets with a plethora of in-jokes to the Muppets and Sesame Street.
- Marco: [responding to a comment that he looks like a character from the "Smile Time" episode] "Dammit, that was Polo! I'm his roommate Marco! We're as different as night and day. Polo loved pigeons. I dig rubber duckies. Polo had a paperclip collection... I'm all about eating cookies in bed. Also, he was a wuss. And I'm hardcore." (pg 22)
- Spike: "All the same to you, Lambchop... I think we'll stay. Take in the sights. Eat some sushi. Play some Nintendo. Send you back to whatever children's television workshop in Hell spawned you." (pg 24)
- A horse puppet character appears briefly (pictured), with an intended in-joke embedded in his design. Lynch states, "I made a note in the script for Franco [Urru] to draw Trots' eyes with the same circle/line thing as Kermit the Frog" as a "subtle little shout-out to the only franchise I love as much as Angel." (pg 27)
- Lorne: [upon entering a room full of puppet ninjas] "Happy Birthday, godless Muppets!" (pg 42)
- Lorne: [referring to Ratio Hornblower] "Sweetums there isn't coming into the room. I wonder why." (pg 46)
- Lorne: [a green character, having just been turned into a puppet] "I feel as though I should be on a lily pad with a banjo. Is that weird?" (pg 48)
- Lorne: "We should have destroyed that egg that transmogrified us. It woulda de-Muppetized us like that." (pg 58)
- Lorne: "Seriously. We double-back, crack open that hell-egg, save the children, bring down Bert and Ernie, yes, yes..." (pg 60)
- Jin Hansu, the creator of rival character Dicky Duck, is cited by Lynch in his commentary as his nod to Jim Henson. (pg 66)
- Spike: "This isn't Angel! I'm facing off against Tickle Me Angelus!" (pg 74)
- During the climatic battle (pictured), Spike's one-liner is interrupted by a sampling of "The Muppet Show Theme." (pg 78)
- The original title of the third comic in the mini-series was to have been "The Elmo Factor" (referencing the Buffy episode "The Yoko Factor"), but had to be dropped for copyright reasons.
In his commentary for the collected graphic novel, Lynch includes a dedication to his parents, thanking them for introducing him to Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and buying him all the Muppet related books, tapes and records that inspired him to write stories for and draw pictures of the Muppets (which led to his first big script sale, of the aforementioned Next Muppet Movie). The comic book collection closes with a note stating "Spike: Shadow Puppets has been brought to you by the letters IDW and with a generous contribution from readers like you," a reference to Sesame Street’s PBS sign-off.
- In "The House Always Wins," Lorne sings "Bein' Green" in Las Vegas. The song made it to commercial release on the Angel soundtrack.
- From "Disharmony" (Cordelia has just had a vision of danger and informs her colleagues of the trouble)...
- Cordy: They're taking... people and -- whoa, big bird.
- Gunn: Big Bird?
- Cordy: Not the Muppet, you dumb ass.
- In the aforementioned "Smile Time" episode, a line of dialogue by Charles Gunn was cut regarding potential legal action against the law firm where Angel and his crew work if they were to shut down the demon-possessed puppet show: "Think about the headlines: ‘Big Bad Wolfram and Hart Drops Iron Heel On Fraggle Rock’." In the comic book adaptation of this episode published in 2009, this line was added back to the story.
- In their book Redeemed: The Unauthorized Guide to Angel, Lars Pearson and Christa Dickson observe that the main character appears not unlike the host of Masterpiece Theatre in the Season 4 episode "Release." "All he needs is Cookie Monster, and he's ready to co-host Monsterpiece Theater."
- Jason Carter played the Repo Man in "Double or Nothing" (2002)
- Sarah Michelle Gellar played Buffy Summers in "I Will Remember You" (1999) and "Sanctuary" (2000)
- Mark Ginther played the head demon in "The Prodigal" and Lasovic in "The Ring" (both 2000)
- Seth Green played Daniel "Oz" Osbourne in "In The Dark" (1999)
- Rena Owen played Dinza in "Ground State" (2002)
- Steve Schirripa played a henchman in "Sense and Sensitivity" (1999)
- Gina Torres played Jasmine in a recurring role (2003)
- Interview with Angel producer David Fury
- "The Puppet Summit" by Matt Partney, Angel Yearbook 2004 published by Titan Magazines
- Comic Book Resources interview by Arune Singh, 3/18/07
- Redeemed: The Unauthorized Guide to Angel by Lars Pearson and Christa Dickson, 2006