We're living in a golden age of television.

If you're a half-hour sitcom fan, you probably think I'm smoking some kind of reinforced plastic for making the above statement. But you hour-long drama folks, you know what I'm talking about. You hear me. Holla, as the kids say. (Some kids. Somewhere. I'm sure.)

Just take a gander at the list of top-drawer hour-long shows currently gracing the airwaves. "The Sopranos." "The West Wing." "24." "Alias." "Angel."

"Waitaminit," you're thinking. "Angel?" You mean that goofy-lookin' 'Buffy' spinoff on the WB? THAT'S a top-drawer show? Yeah, right. And 'AfterM*A*S*H' was a top-drawer continuation of the 'M*A*S*H' saga."

I kid you not, TV fans. "Angel" has been consistently churning out some of the strongest, most underrated drama on television since its premiere four seasons ago. It's Essential stuff.

Then again, that should come as no surprise to those in the know about "Angel" 's executive producer and creator, Joss Whedon. After all, one could argue that Whedon inaugurated the recent spate of grand serialized drama on TV with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." His was the first series in recent memory to marry the soap opera continuity of nighttime drama with the emotional arc and impact of a well-done feature film. Meaning that characters don't just have wacky adventures that return them to the status quo at the end of an hour. Nor do they drift senselessly through plot twist after plot twist in the great tradition of soaps, though there have been plenty of twisty and gripping plots in the history of "Buffy."

Instead, the characters on "Buffy" had massive, season-long adventures. Stories that spanned over twenty-two hours with occasional breaks for stand-alone installments that offered thrills, chills and laffs aplenty. Each week another chapter in the giant televised novel that Whedon was crafting before our very eyes.

That's what you're getting on "Angel," a giant story with many small chapters. Meaty stuff, the kind of storytelling you can really sink your teeth into. (And it stars a vampire, so pun definitely intended.) Dimensional, vivid characters who speak crackling dialogue and beat up evil things on a regular basis. Epic moments, human moments, hilarious moments. Surreal strangeness and earthy reality. Jokes that fly over your head and jokes that smack you in the gut. Action, action, action. Stirring story arcs that take the characters to hell and back, sometimes literally. In short, the whole dramatic enchilada.

For the unfamiliar, a quick synopsis. Angel, the title character, was a flame of Buffy's back in her high school days, a vampire with a soul who had done horrible things but was struggling for redemption. He moved to Los Angeles and started to fight the good fight in the City of Angels. His current compadres include Fred, a bookish girl who studies the science of the occult; Wesley, a jagged man with a scary recent past; Gunn, a former street fightin' man who's had the brains of a lawyer beamed into his noggin; and Lorne, a demon with a penchant for showtunes who can read your soul when you sing karaoke. (If a big goofy smile spread across your face upon reading that last sentence, then "Angel" is definitely your kind of show.)

This particular season, Angel and his team are ensconsed as the heads of Wolfram and Hart, this dimension's top law firm for the truly evil, both supernaturally so and otherwise. In other words, they've gone corporate. They've got cash, power and influence at their disposal in their battle against the demonic forces of southern California. They're still the good guys, but they have the power of a monolithic evil entity at their disposal. Will they be able to battle the darkness from within, or will the corruption of their new employers corrupt them too?

Not exactly the kind of question you can wrap up in an hour. Which is why you may very well find yourself digging deep into "Angel" once you've gotten hooked on its epic storytelling. It won't exactly be easy; this can be a tough show with some heavy backstory. Luckily, the fantastic characterizations and truly gripping chills make the tougher story moments go down easy.

And how to describe the tone of "Angel," or any show set in Joss Whedon's brain? Veering from wacky comedy to sharp one-liners to scary vampires to hectic action sequences within the span of a scene, it's in a league of its own. Pop culture references fly fast and furious, the quips come at lightning speed, and before you know it, you're in deep dramatic territory, and you're not exactly sure how you got there.

These are some of the most real characters on television, even if they inhabit a world of supernatural insanity. They're broken people, not easily trusting and in some cases not easily trusted. They work well together as a team, but they're not exactly friends; they may share easy banter, but beneath it lurks mostly loneliness. Angel himself is the perfect case in point, struggling uphill against a hundred years of murder and mayhem resting on his conscience.

As you get into the series, you'll find yourself quickly drawn into these people and their lives. Sure, they're badasses who beat up vampires and fight the good fight, but at what cost? It does take its toll, and "Angel" doesn't shrink from that toll; far from it. It pushes that toll down onto these characters' shoulders until the hurt, flawed people beneath are shown in full. You'll love these characters for those weaknesses as much as you do for their penchant for one-liners and their ways with their fists.

It's Halloween, a time of year for spooky stuff, for vampires and demons and things that go bump in the night. I can't think of a better recommendation for how you should spend tomorrow night that to tune in "Angel" on the WB at 9 p.m. / 8 p.m.

Or - better yet - if you're looking for a truly cool way to spend your Halloweekend, why not rent or (better yet) buy the first two seasons of "Angel" on DVD. They're easily available at just about any DVD retailer, and though the $50 price tag may seem steep, you won't regret a penny of it.

If you're a stickler for continuity, you're going to want to start at the beginning and work your way through. But don't be afraid to hop around and check out some of the great standalone episodes from the show's first two seasons. "Lonely Hearts" and "I've Got You Under My Skin" in season one and "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" in season two are just three great examples of the poignant one-offs the show is capable of outside the season story arcs. Hell, if you take my recommendation and get confused, you can even e-mail me with questions and I'd be happy to clear things up. It's a tricky fictional universe, and things can get bumpy every once in a while. But the rewards are well worth it.

Think about it. A dark, hopefully stormy night. Curling up on the couch with a bucket of popcorn, your best fiend, and the adventures of a centuries-old vampire with a soul who's just trying to make it in L.A. Sounds frightfully delightful to me.