Either you’re excited to see this article or you’ve never heard of him. There’s really no middle ground, here. Fans of The Rockford Files are in the “excited” camp. And after all there are probably not a lot of people who have been on both NCIS and The Monkees, and that’s worth talking about all by itself. He’s also got a directing career that looks like the Standard TV Acting Career—he’s done Touched by an Angel and Northern Exposure. He’s directed The Love Boat and Hart to Hart. He directed the Dr. Ruth episode of Quantum Leap and a movie starring the Olsen twins. He’s worked with an impressive list of people, everyone from Raymond Burr to Alec Baldwin.
But, you know, he’s Angel Martin. No matter what he does. He’s one of the only people to win the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series twice for the same show, for playing Angel in 1979 and 1980. He’s the only guest to appear in all eight of the made-for-TV Rockford movies in the ‘90s, one of which is centered around one of Angel’s scams. And boy howdy but the scam is a doozy, something you watch and think, “Why didn’t he try that one years ago?” In fact, the show has such a good sense of Angel that, when you first see him, you think, “Yup, that’s an Angel thing to do.”
It is also true that it is extremely satisfying that one of the last things we see is Jim finally having had enough of him. I have various ideas for spinoffs they could’ve done of assorted Rockford characters—the best is the idea of Rocky’s running a foster home for teenage boys, which would have been delightful. But I never thought of an Angel spinoff, because Lord I don’t want one. Angel is such a great character because he is a truly awful character. Angel is odious. He’s a sociopath and a coward. He’s constantly screwing people over out of the conviction that, if he doesn’t, they’ll do it to him first.
The thing is, I don’t believe Margolin is actually like that. I’m certain he’s a decent guy who is just really good at playing that character. He never makes Angel into a lovable rogue. You love to see Angel because it’s entertaining to see him cause trouble, but an entire series centered on him would be frustrating to experience. You’d spend it all waiting to see him made miserable, because he makes decent people miserable. Jim deserves better from life, and so does Rocky. So does Beth. I won’t say “so does everyone Angel encounters,” because he encounters some really awful people, but we’ll go with almost everyone.
Yet for all that, the show is lacking when Angel isn’t around. I don’t want everyone asking, “where’s Angel?” But, yeah, he’s a seasoning for the show. An episode or two without him is fine, but when it stretches for what would’ve been months in the original airing, it’s not right. You want to check in on him, even if it’s just to see who he’s screwing over this time and how. In person, though, my attitude would be much closer to Rocky’s absolute rejection of him. He’s just one more way Jim is put-upon, and Stuart Margolin is marvelous at it.