Angel From Hell has one of those premises that makes you groan as soon as you hear it: A tightly wound young woman discovers that her new, wacky friend is actually her guardian angel. What are the odds? Not only does that idea take a literal leap of faith—guardian angel, sure—but it leads to a setup familiar to anyone who’s seen It’s A Wonderful Life—or Bewitched, or I Dream Of Jeannie, which creator Tad Quill says he was influenced by. There’s the gap between belief and disbelief for the non-supernatural element. There are undoubtedly lines like, “How did you do/know that?” and “I must be going crazy.” Even if our protagonist Allison believes, then there’s a new gap as to what to tell other people (Bewitched’s Larry Tate, Jeannie’s Dr. Bellows). In an era when most can’t even make time for the shows on last year’s 10 best list, what would compel viewers to carve out a half-hour for this hackneyed, outdated idea?
Surmounting stacked odds like these, Angel From Hell mostly succeeds due to two huge factors, neither of which have anything to do with wings or halos. The first is the not-insignificant personality force of Jane Lynch as Amy, the angel in question. This side of Lynch is less grouchy Sue Sylvester in Glee, more the winning persona Lynch brought to her run as an ensemble member in Christopher Guest movies like A Mighty Wind. Through sheer delight, Lynch performs magic tricks at a farmer’s market, drinks creme de menthe from a flask, and knocks out one-liners like Kris Bryant at a suburban softball batting cage. Which leads us to AFH’s second success factor: There’s bright, quippy dialogue here that transcends this standard sitcom. Allison and Amy are in a Mexican restaurant when Allison protests that she’s getting freaked out a bit by all this “crazy talk.” Amy responds, “Crazy talk? Allison, that is not PC, it’s called… Spanish.” Or when Amy diagnoses Allison with a case of “nerdulence,” or creates a hashtag for “body part or deli meat”? Okay, maybe this doesn’t automatically lead to a LOL on paper (or on computer screen), but a lot, if not all, of this effectiveness is due to Lynch’s quick delivery, which for the most part keeps this sitcom humming along as merrily as it should.
Maggie Lawson as the beyond-clichéd uptight dermatologist Allison may not be in Lynch’s league, but she makes a concerted effort, and is appealing enough to keep Lynch’s momentum floating in the air even when she’s not around (When Allison’s sunburned father says that he’s blushing, she deadpans, “I wish I could tell”). Even better is Kyle Bornheimer as Allison’s deadbeat brother Brad, whose initial sexual sparring match with Angel Amy is a thing of breathless beauty, as he easily rises to meet her saucy patter. David Denman has now made a TV career out of playing the guy who never gets the girl, but he gets some laughs here as a pretentious douche type (He asks at the farmer’s market, “Is this Latin American cotton?” as he purchases yet another scarf). An entertaining appearance by New Kid Joey McIntyre (playing himself) bodes well for future guest spots. But mainly we’re focused on Allison and Amy, and their easy, palpable chemistry: Allison has been lonely since her mother died over a year ago, while the heavy drinking, possibly homeless Amy just appears lonely in general. So Allison could use someone like Amy to make her a microwave s’more, and Amy gets just as much out of being the one to do so.
The question about Amy’s actual angelic status gets answered pretty early on, but it’s almost unfortunate. This series would be just as (probably more) winning if it was just “Straightlaced young woman makes eccentric new friend,” but then it would be lacking some sort of “hook” for the network brass to hang it on. But when Angel From Hell soars, it’s not because of that unlikely premise, but in spite of it.
Created by: Tad Quill
Starring: Jane Lynch, Maggie Lawson, Kevin Pollak, Kyle Bornheimer, David Denman
Debuts: Thursday, January 7, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS
Format: Half-hour fantasy sitcom
Two episodes watched for review