Doing a 180-degree turn from her “Sex and the City” persona, Cynthia Nixon proves that she doesn’t need Manhattan and her high society gal pals to carry a project on the small screen. As a dying mom in “Papa’s Angels,” Nixon does a splendid job of keeping her children, husband and mother-in-law together during the worst of circumstances, all the while keeping the schmaltz level to a minimum.
Set in the early 1930s, Nixon plays Sharon Jenkins, an Appalachian mom married to hard-head Grins Jenkins (Scott Bakula). Like many dads reared on the mountain, Grins uses his hands as a furniture maker to create a small but viable existence for his family. When he’s not getting rambunctious tomboy daughter out of trouble, he can be found at the local town gathering, plucking his beloved banjo.
But Sharon is the glue to this clan — often persuading Grins about the need for an education for their four children — and when she starts coughing up blood, it’s no secret that she doesn’t have long to live. The diagnosis is tuberculosis, and the doctors in the area decide the best course of action is to ship contagious Sharon off to a sanatorium so the kids won’t become ill.
Grins is head over heels for Sharon and fights to keep from accepting reality. Knowing that having her away from the family is a situation than benefits no one, he builds her a glass room as an extension to their home so she can live in there and see the kids without infecting them, sort of a “Boy in the Plastic Bubble” environment, except in the mountains.
Due to some excellent makeup work, we see Sharon slowly lose her fight to TB, all the while trying to make sure Grins doesn’t get too depressed over her upcoming death.
Here, Bakula does some excellent work after she passes away, changing emotions quickly while taking the loss extremely hard. Grins even starts hitting the moonshine and snapping at his kids, who are trying to get on with their lives while he has a tough time getting things in gear again.
Promoting itself as a holiday tale and based on a book by Collin Wilcox Paxton and Gary Carden, “Angels” offers an underlying storyline of how the dead come back via a Yule log during Christmas that bookends the telepic. Though it adds a warm and fuzzy touch, it’s not entirely necessary. This is a drama that could work any time of the year.
Tech credits are all above par.