“Angel from Hell” does a remarkable thing: It makes the viewer want to avoid spending time with Jane Lynch and Maggie Lawson, both of whom are very appealing and talented performers. Lynch’s character, Amy, who describes herself as a guardian angel, tries repeatedly to insert herself into the humdrum life of Allison (Lawson), and there’s a similar dynamic at work in this grating show, which aims at whimsy and misses the target. The CBS comedy labors mightily to make its premise worthy of the considerable array of talent expended on it, but never quite makes its central ideas work. In her more frustrated moments, Allison considers taking out a restraining order against Amy, who is either a divine emissary or an unhinged woman with a drinking problem. Viewers don’t necessarily have to take legal action against the comedy, which is amiable and generally harmless, but it might be wise to avoid “Angel” unless it develops into something less desperate and insistent.
Why Amy turns up in Allison’s life at this particular point in time is never really clearly established, but the general idea, according to Amy, is that Allison doesn’t have enough fun, and needs to take better care of herself. (Of course, it goes without saying that the life of a well-to-do L.A. dermatologist is uniquely challenging and full of trials.) Many sustainable comedies have been built on similar ideas involving an unpredictable live wire getting a tightly wound adult to loosen up, but “Angel’s” attempts at spontaneity feel as forced and loud as the clown costume Amy wears in the second episode.
“Angel’s” cast is very good, and to the extent that any moment in the comedy works, it’s the result of their unrelenting efforts. Kevin Pollack and Kyle Bornheimer, who play Allison’s father and brother, offer up very deft work in their limited roles, but the fact that the entire cast has to try this hard to create angelic magic is a problem. It’s not quite believable that Allison would let this woman in her life because she is lonely and needs “a weird friend,” but that concept would be easier to accept if the comedic payoffs were plentiful. They are not.
All things considered, Allison puts it best: “The line between stalker and angel seems very thin.” It does, and the fact that this talented group of professionals couldn’t consistently find the right side of that boundary is perhaps an indication that the whole enterprise was not divinely inspired.
TV Review: 'Angel From Hell'
Series: CBS, Thurs. Jan. 7, 9:30 p.m.