"What on Earth were they thinking?" That's the question one usually asks while watching a new show that isn't working in a very big way. With "Angel From Hell," however, the answer is obvious. CBS executives were thinking "How could a show in which Jane Lynch plays a mouthy, boozed-up guardian angel attempting to 'save' a straight-laced dermatologist from her boring life not be great? How? HOW?
Well, I could tell you, or you could just watch "Angel From Hell," because it is Jane Lynch after all, and she's always worth watching. Even here, sometimes, when her angel, who goes by the name Amy, manages to wrench free from creator Tad Quill's tepid humor and take brief control of the show's narrative indecisiveness.
"We can catch anything you throw at us," Amy offers as something most people don't know about angels, before proving her point; it's as if Lynch is begging Quill for a curveball, a change-up, anything but what may be the most plodding comedy to ever involve a supernatural being since "Ghost Dad."
"Angel From Hell" opens in a farmers market, an immediate red flag (name three great comedic anythings that opened in a farmers market) and woefully symbolic of the troubles that lie ahead. While Amy performs "magic" for a cast of extras, Allison (Maggie Lawson) is busy shopping for a party to celebrate moving in with her boyfriend (David Denham), who is immediately tagged as a loser because he loves scarves. (Take that, scarf-loving males!)
When the two women meet cute, Amy seems to know everything about Allison, including her name, her profession and the fact that her beau is unemployed. (He's working on an app, which is, apparently, the new screenplay.)
That the two continue to meet quickly turns not so cute. Between swigs of crème de menthe, Amy informs Allison that she is her guardian angel, which explains why she (Amy) knows so much about her (Allison), including the fact that the boyfriend is a cheat.
Allison doesn't believe her, on either count, until the cheating part is proved. Amy says she is making herself known to Allison at this point to save her from a life spent more concerned with others than herself, which makes neither theological nor logical sense.
Lawson's Allison isn't a martyr, she's just boring, and far from being alone, she has a perfectly sound mortal support system in her father, Marv (Kevin Pollak), and brother, Brad (Kyle Bornheimer), both of whom shine as often as they are allowed, which isn't often enough.
It's the writers, not Allison, who should heed Amy's advice and occasionally throw caution to the wind. Two more cautious characters cannot be found in modern television. Far from being George Bailey driven to the icy bridge, Allison has a pretty good, if not quite wonderful, life. She may not be married yet (gasp, faint), but she's a doctor with a loving family and really great hair. And Amy is way more wacky than hellbent — how drunk can an adult get on crème de menthe?
The second episode shows a bit more of Allison's hapless side and Amy's neediness, but it's not enough. Clearly, Quill believes the two women have much to teach each other. But the biggest lesson may be: Take this excellent cast and find a better show.
'Angel From Hell'
When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)