If it weren’t for its supernatural hook, “Angel from Hell” might have been just another bland, “opposites attract” comedy used to fill up an empty time slot on CBS’s lineup. But because the show features the incomparable Jane Lynch (“Glee”) as its driving force, that should be enough to make “Angel from Hell” worth the watch.
Lynch plays the show’s eponymous protagonist, an eccentric, high-functioning alcoholic named Amy, who seeks to guide Allison (Maggie Lawson, “Psych”), an uptight, perpetually distressed dermatologist in Beverly Hills. Their first encounter is purely accidental, or so it may seem: Amy bumps into Allison and her unemployed boyfriend Evan (David Denman, “The Gift”) at a farmer’s market, then again in a coffee shop with Allison’s childish brother Brad (Kyle Bornheimer, “The D Train”). The coincidences eventually confuse Allison, which leads to Amy revealing herself as Allison’s guardian angel. Similar to Lynch’s previous TV role as the skillfully sarcastic Sue Sylvester on “Glee,” Amy comes with a dark sense of humor, but she still manages to be likeable. She’s there to help and defend Allison, not to ruin her life, even if she tends to be a little overbearing and intrusive.
Amy comes at a moment in Allison’s life that will lead her down a dangerous path. She tells the blithely unaware Allison that Evan is sleeping with her best friend Jill (Liza Lapira, “Battle Creek”). At first, Allison catches them eating dinner together, but learns that they were planning a montage for her and Evan’s housewarming party to celebrate all of Allison’s “big moments.” It seems like an honest mistake, until come time for the party Allison finds Jill’s clover charm in Evan’s office, leading to Jill’s admitting to her affair with Evan.
Most, if not all the characters in “Angel from Hell” have certain clichéd traits, and the stilted acting doesn’t help either. Though Lawson does show some potential, her portrayal of Allison isn’t captivating enough to ignore how trite her character is. Comedian Kevin Pollack (“Mom”), who usually succeeds in both comedic and dramatic roles, is underused as Allison’s father Marv. Fortunately, Lynch performs admirably in an offbeat performance that keeps “Angel from Hell” from going off the rails. The writing in the pilot episode isn’t terrible, but it isn’t off-the-walls fantastic either. In fact, many of the jokes in the show’s pilot episode are very plain, dry and unfunny, except when they come out of Lynch’s mouth. Her naturally snarky delivery and charismatic appeal make the most cringeworthy scenes seem enjoyable and the more sentimental moments seem genuinely poignant.
One of the most enchanting moments in “Angel From Hell”’s pilot episode actually comes at the very end. Scrolling through the montage of “big moments” Evan and Jill made, Allison notices Amy in the background of one particular childhood photo. As Allison becomes fascinated and perplexed, the scene fades to the montage’s background song: Band of Horses’s excellent “The Funeral.” While the scene is rather short and not necessarily crucial, it still provides some gravitas for an otherwise mediocre first episode.
Though “Angel from Hell” will probably continue to use Lynch as the source of comedy and drama, she shouldn’t be the only one carrying the show’s weight. The lackluster jokes, unfocused plot and weak premise have yet to unravel into something absorbing. Unless Lynch can somehow single-handedly save “Angel from Hell” from going off the deep end, the show is destined to remain a half-hour of uninteresting, dull gags.