'Angel' rises above hokey holiday fare

Special to The Times

'Tis the season for TV folly. With Thanksgiving soon gobbling in, the supply of wannabe heartfelt made-for-television films is as ubiquitous as processed turkey and saccharin-laced eggnog.

So gather round the glowing video screen for those "timely life lessons," those end-of-the-year morality messages, those fulsome pronouncements of hope and renewal that perennially arrive this time each year. All across the broadcast spectrum, from edgy cable outlets to stodgy old networks, comes a corny cornucopia stuffed with home-for-the-holidays offerings.

Into this hollow-day smorgasbord descends CBS' "Fallen Angel." Though "Angel" lapses into mawkish earnestness set to a syrupy score, its strengths outnumber its failings. Credit this to Don J. Snyder's straightforward storytelling, here adapting the screenplay from his novel. Moreover, director Michael Switzer guides matters cleanly and surely -- a direct approach that works to the movie's advantage.

Yes, "Fallen Angel" winds up a workmanlike affair, despite tendencies to serve warmed-over cliches and overcooked emotional chestnuts.

Under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner, "Angel" arrives starring Gary Sinise and Joely Richardson. And, in fact, these two deliver "Angel's" action with understated resolve, conveying more than the often-counterfeit feelings such roles encourage.

Regarding events, "Angel" concerns Terry McQuinn (Sinise), an L.A. attorney who returns to his small New England town. But first in flashback we watch McQuinn as a 9-year-old whose taciturn father has no time or tenderness for his son. We also encounter a young rich couple, the Wentworths, and their daughter Katherine, who Terry meets that Christmas. But a tragic car accident overtakes all, and Katherine's father flees.

As the story shifts to the present, McQuinn returns to his hometown to visit his ailing father. But his dad dies before he can reach him, and McQuinn stays on to close out his pa's place and settle his meager affairs. While he is wrapping things up, he comes to know the grown-up Katherine (Richardson), who has adopted a little girl who is deaf. As time passes, McQuinn realizes he must face the past if he hopes to confidently connect with the future.

Specifically, McQuinn increasingly helps Katherine make peace with her father, who is gone yet present. Moreover, while McQuinn and Katherine draw closer, he realizes that many long-held "truths" are unimportant, coming to understand that real living goes beyond deadlines and done deals.

Conveying credible concerns is not easy for the actor imprisoned in the standard-issue holiday telefilm. Such exercises can straitjacket even the most accomplished performer, resulting in flyweight caricature versus consequential character. But Sinise and Richardson make manifest something more than outlines. They evoke souls in transit grappling with difficult decisions. Surely, CBS' "Fallen Angel" is not drama that will long stand beyond its debut. Yet in TV terms, heartfelt hokum is preferable to perfidious sincerity. In this regard, "Fallen Angel" delivers more than the usual holiday fare of waxy TV ham between layers of commercials.


'Fallen Angel'

Where: CBS

When: Sunday, 9 p.m.

Rating: The network has rated this program TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children).

Gary Sinise...Terry McQuinn

Joely Richardson...Katherine Wentworth

Gordon Pinsent...Warren Wentworth

Jordy Benattar...Olivia

Michael Rhoades...Mac McQuinn

Rick Roberts...Charles Wentworth (age 30)

Dave Nichols...Charles Wentworth (age 60)

Philip Craig...Lawrence

Executive producer Richard Welsh. Director Michael Switzer. Writer Don J. Snyder.

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