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"Smile Time" is episode 14 of season 5 in the television show Angel. Written and directed by Ben Edlund, with story by series creator Joss Whedon, it was originally broadcast on February 18, 2004 on the WB network. It was nominated for and won several honors and spawned its own toy line.
|Episode no.||Season 5|
|Directed by||Ben Edlund|
|Story by||Ben Edlund|
|Teleplay by||Ben Edlund|
|Original air date||February 18, 2004|
In "Smile Time", Angel goes to the studio of a popular show after learning they are stealing the life forces of children, where he triggers a spell that transforms him into a puppet. While Angel and company try to reverse the spell and save the lives of hundreds of children, werewolf Nina declares her romantic intentions towards Angel and Gunn discovers his given knowledge of the law leaving his mind.
As a little boy watches a TV show called Smile Time, featuring puppets singing songs about learning, one of the puppets, Polo, tells the boy to put his hands on the TV. The boy's mother enters the room, horrified to see that the life has been drained out of the boy and his face is frozen in a rictus smile. In the science lab at Wolfram & Hart, Knox brings Fred files on children who have been hospitalized in the same condition as the little boy. Knox also gives Fred a valentine and tries to get her to discuss their potential relationship, but she gently declines his advances. When Harmony tells Gunn he filed the wrong papers, he tries to hide how worried he is about his mistake. Werewolf Nina arrives for her three nights of the full moon in the firm. She flirts with Angel as he leads her to her cell, and uncomfortable, Angel leaves. He heads up to Wesley's office, saying he's not sure how he feels about their platonic friendship turning into something else. Wesley tells him that Nina has been sending him signals, and Angel is apparently the only person in the entire firm who hasn't noticed them. When Angel says that he can't pursue a relationship because he'll achieve pure happiness and turn back into evil, soulless Angelus, Wesley says most people have to settle for acceptable happiness, and there is no reason Angel can't do the same.
Fred arrives with the new case. Angel notes that all of the kids were watching TV when they became ill and Lorne says Smile Time is on at that time and in "the right demographic". Meanwhile, Fred goes to see Wesley and tells him that she needs a ride home, and is clearly hoping he'll be the one to offer. Unfortunately it's now Wes's turn to miss signals and instead arranges for a driver to take his friend home. Angel heads to Smile Time's studio, and, ignoring the “Don't” sign on the door, enters a hidden room where a man with a towel over his head sits under a large egg. The egg opens, forming a glowing smile and a blast of energy tosses Angel across the room. Angel pulls himself up... only now he's a puppet.
When Puppet Angel explains to the group what happened, Fred tells the lab to start recording Smile Time so she can analyze it. Angel orders Lorne and Gunn to talk to the show's creator, Gregor Framkin, at the studio. Nina arrives and Puppet Angel ducks under his desk so she won't see him. She tries to ask him if everything's okay, but he abruptly tells her to leave. Spike arrives, and is shocked and amused to see that Angel is “a wee little puppet man,” which sends Spike into fits of hysterical laughter. Puppet Angel gets angry and lunges at Spike. The two vampires fight, crashing through the office doors into the lobby for all to see Angel as a puppet. The fight then continues into the elevator, the doors of which close, and when the doors open Puppet Angel has somehow managed to beat Spike.
Gunn and Lorne meet with Framkin at the studio. Gunn tries to tell him the laws he's violated, he can't come up with the right statute, and Framkin says he thinks he would be more likely to win than Wolfram & Hart in court. After Gunn and Lorne leave, it turns out that Framkin has a hole in his back and is being controlled by Polo. Framkin collapse as Polo pulls his arm out of a hole in Framkin's back and summons the other puppets - Groofus the dog, Flora, and Ratio Hornblower - with the news that Angel messed with the "nest egg." Flora suggests that they remove the zombifying spell on some of the employees so that they can see future intruders, but Polo announces that since their “system” has now been perfected, they'll drain the life from all of their viewers the next day, instead of one kid at a time. Groofus is pleased at how important the next episode will be as he has a song he wants to sing, provoking Polo into hitting him for being foolish. Framkin begs the puppets to kill him, but instead, they continue torturing him.
Back at Wolfram & Hart, Nina is preparing for her second werewolf night when Puppet Angel pays her a visit to apologize for the way he treated her earlier. She's shocked to see that he's a puppet and he notes, "I'm made of felt. And my nose comes off." She tells him that he shouldn't care what people think of him, since he's a hero. Puppet Angel turns away starting to say how hard it's been to be a hero— when Nina suddenly wolfs out and attacks him from her cage. Upstairs, Lorne comes across a tattered Puppet Angel and yells, "Is there a Geppetto in the house?" Gunn heads to the medical wing to see Dr. Sparrow, explaining that he's losing his law knowledge. Sparrow examines him and tells him that the implant is failing in an "Acute Flowers For Algernon Syndrome"; the Senior Partners gave it to him in the first place because they wanted him to have it, and if it's fading, they must have wanted that as well. Gunn says that he doesn't want to go back to the person he was, so Sparrow makes a deal with him - he'll give him a “permanent upgrade” if Gunn signs something out of customs for him. In the science lab, Fred and Wesley agree they're starting to really like Smile Time, though that may be from sleep deprivation. Knox brings Fred coffee, but she orders him to go home. After he leaves, Fred confesses that she decided Knox wasn't right for her, and tries to tell Wesley that she has developed feelings for him; however, he doesn't get the message. Suddenly, while the sound of the show is muted, Wesley notices Polo seems to be talking to the audience.
Puppet Angel is trying to sew himself up in his office when Wesley and Fred arrive to tell him the puppets' singing acts as a cloaking device, allowing Polo to address the children directly. Wesley says the “nest egg” holds the life forces of the kids, so if they can break the magic on it, they'll save the kids and turn Angel human again. Gunn, who's regained his law knowledge, announces the puppets are actually running the show - Framkin made a deal with some devils to improve his ratings. Elsewhere in L.A., a little girl watches Smile Time and gets the message from Polo that all of the kids in the audience should put their hands on the TV.
Puppet Angel and the gang interrupt and the fighting begins, with Gunn decapitating Groofus the dog and subsequently fighting the female puppet Flora while Angel goes puppet-to-puppet with Polo. Fred and Wesley rush to the "Don't" room with the nest egg, where Ratio fights Wesley while Fred reads the spell to break the spell around nest egg, destroying the egg and saving the kids after Wesley defeats Ratio. In the main studio, Gunn defeats Flora and Angel defeats Polo by throwing him onto the treehouse (after he reverts to 'vamp puppet face'). The next day, Nina wakes up in her cage with fabric around her and fears she ate Puppet Angel, until he comes in to tell her he's okay and will be back to normal in a few days. They agree to have breakfast together, with Nina jokingly wondering what puppets eat.
In Wesley's office, Fred tries to tell him she's been trying to subtly indicate her interest. She grabs him and kisses him; he happily returns the favor as the puppets sing their self-esteem song again.
After reading the script, in which it was clear that Knox and Fred were not going to be falling in love, Jonathan Woodward says he was "very sad but I think it was nice, because it took Knox from all of the ways you thought Knox would be." He had tried to predict the character's arc, he says, but "they picked the one I couldn't even think of. You know something is going to happen but they pick the thing you know nobody had been able to figure out."
Framkin, the puppeteer of "Smile Time," is played by David Fury, who is a producer on the show.
James Marsters confessed that "the puppeteers were so good that it was easy to believe that Angel was actually trying to kick my butt. I blew takes by laughing too much, actually."
- Gunn essentially sells his soul to keep his law knowledge, which leads to the events in the following episode.
- Wesley and Fred's relationship begins.
Producer David Fury says the writers talked about doing an evil Sesame Street show before Season Five aired, but "it wasn't until Joss came around going, 'I figured out how to do it - Angel gets turned into a Muppet,' that we kind of went, 'Hallelujah, that's brilliant.'"
This episode was nominated for a 2005 Hugo Award in the category of "Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form", and was rated the series' second-best episode in a poll done by Angel Magazine. The BBC agreed, adding "it's surely one of Angel's most inspired and laugh-out-loud episodes. How such an innovative show can be canceled after producing something like 'Smile Time' is baffling."
In their "Year in Review", MSNBC singled out this episode for the tongue-in-cheek "Best appearance by a guest puppet" award, saying it managed to "send up not only children’s TV but the Angel series itself." Writer Peter David was impressed that "they seemed to anticipate every single fan reaction" - for example, Knox's suggestion that the Joker was responsible for the children's illness. "Even more savvy," David writes, "there was rumbling before the episode even aired that this was a 'Jumping the shark' installment. Foreseeing that, there's a line bitching about how lousy the last several seasons of Happy Days was, the show from which the (frankly by now overused) phrase originated."
The Futon Critic named it the 21st best episode 2004, simply stating "They made Angel a puppet. A puppet. Nothing more needs to be said."
An Angel guidebook noted that the opening scene "sounds completely perverse, as though the puppets are pedophiles. A child is watching TV, then you hear 'Get over here and touch it' [followed by] loud, sexual groaning noises."
Inspired by the concept of Smile Time, IDW Publishing released a comic called "Spike: Shadow Puppets". Spike travels to Japan, where Smile Time is still the second biggest kids' show, and is transformed into a puppet. Diamond Select Toys created a plush doll for Puppet Angel; after rapidly selling their entire production run of 5,000 pieces they produced a second and a third Angel puppet replica, followed by Puppet Spike.
The concept of Angel being turned into a puppet is revisited in IDW's "Angel: After the Fall", where Angel is briefly transformed into a puppet due to Illyria's newly regained time manipulation powers. IDW will also release a 3-issue limited series adaptation of "Smile Time".
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- Diamond Select Gears Up in '06: Adds Stargate, Archie, Expands Marvel, February 20, 2006
- Angel Revisited: Creators Talk Comics Adaptations, December 23, 2008