I imagine that Angel From Hell — CBS’ new single-camera comedy starring Jane Lynch as a drunken guardian angel and/or possible insane homeless person that premieres tonight after Mom — sounded great in theory. I’d like to imagine it was pitched on a sunny but temperate Friday afternoon in L.A., inside a well-lit room where everyone was in a lovely mood and on light but effective drugs. “Okay, picture this,” creator Tad Quill might have said, “Jane Lynch is Amy, a foul-mouthed, flask-wielding homeless woman with wild hair and a perpetual green army vest who wanders the streets performing entry-level magic tricks for kids.” The room would have laughed here, picturing Jane Lynch doing what she does best: portraying a wildly unhinged person with severe albeit comical psychological problems.
Quill might have continued, “But really, Amy is a guardian angel, sent to Earth to watch over Allison — a tightly wound dermatologist played by Maggie Lawson — for the duration of her life, protecting her from harm and making sure she’s happy and loved.” Silence, now, as the room struggles to merge the concepts of Touched By An Angel and a sort of Trainwreck for the older set. Quill, sensing he’s losing them, quickly adds, “Or maybe she’s just homeless and loves taquitos! How about we never let Allison or the audience know for sure either way?” Laughter, again; everyone stands up and shakes hands and politely laments the brief run of Quill’s Bent, starring Amanda Peet as a high-strung lawyer.
Minor conceptual flaws aside (why does Allison, a beautiful, smart, successful, wealthy white woman, need a guardian angel, when there are warlords turning children into death machines in Somalia? Why does Allison never call the police on Amy, whom she half-believes to be a stalker, but instead allows Amy to waltz in and around her home and offer her homemade desserts?), Angel From Hell could have worked. Nay, it should have worked. Done better, a show in which Jane Lynch plays a f*cked-up angel might have been, well, heavenly. Instead it’s a comedy aimed directly at the lowest common denominator, finding humor exclusively in things like poop, horribly executed one-liners, and lazy gender stereotyping. By way of example, here are just a few of the jokes found within the first 10 minutes of the pilot episode:
- Allison, selectively plucking radishes from a stand at a farmer’s market for her forthcoming housewarming party, asks her boyfriend Evan (David Denman), “Are these enough radishes for a party?” Evan replies, “I don’t know, how many rabbits did you invite?”
- Evan suggests Allison should instead cater the party. Allison replies, “Lazy much?”
- Evan tries on a scarf at said farmer’s market. Allison remarks, “I didn’t agree to move in with Steven Tyler’s mic stand.”
- Allison is having coffee with her brother Brad (Kyle Bornheimer) at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, even though both are working adults with demanding jobs and Amy makes endless noise about Allison taking no time for herself and working too hard. Anyway. Brad is trying to get into the pants of Allison’s best friend Jill (Liza Lapira). He explains that he’s embarking on the same juice cleanse as Jill in hopes of becoming her boyfriend. Allison replies that he is more likely to become Jill’s gay best friend. Because caring about your health is gay.
- Allison’s father Marv (Kevin Pollak) walks into her office. He is sunburned. “Holy sunburn,” says Allison, a dermatologist who’s ostensibly had years to come up with good jokes about sunburn.
And so on.
Here is the the saddest part about Angel From Hell: Everybody here is trying so hard to make this show work. You can feel the wild desperation, taste the flop sweat. This is because nearly everyone on the series has, in some way or another, fallen from grace, toppled down the metaphorical mountain from some better television show and found themselves here, trying to sell jokes about pooping one’s pants on a juice cleanse. Angel From Hell is something of a purgatory for talented TV actors, actors who must be wondering what they did to deserve such a fate.
There’s David Denman, wondering how long-running arcs on The Office and Parenthood and guest roles on Mad Men and True Detective led him here. There’s Maggie Lawson, who was on Psych, which was cute; why can’t we do better by Maggie Lawson? Doesn’t anybody remember Model Behavior, the Disney Channel Original Movie in which Maggie Lawson plays both an average high-school girl and a supermodel who just happen to look exactly the same, so they switch lives, and one of them macks on Justin Timberlake? I’m not totally sure if this is an example of how we must do better by Maggie Lawson or if it is the pinnacle of Maggie Lawson’s career and we should be so lucky to ever see Maggie Lawson in such a role again, but either way, I would be remiss not to mention it.
And there, of course, is Jane Lynch, a national treasure, who must certainly be firing her agents as we speak and wishing desperately for the days when all she had to do was show up to the set of Glee, put on a track suit, and yell at Lea Michele. The total waste of Jane Lynch is Angel From Hell‘s darkest, most offensive sin. Lynch brightens every scene she’s in — she can’t help it — but you can see her struggling to spew forth the show’s terrible, derivative writing without simultaneously spewing forth everything she’s ever eaten in her entire life. One of her first “jokes” requires her to tell a man he has a stick up his ass, another requires her to use the word “nerdulence,” and another still forces her to draw a shaky line between men who own environmentally friendly cars and men who have small penises.
Lynch’s “straight” lines are similarly haunting. When Allison asks Amy why she’s so deserving of a guardian angel, Amy replies, “Do you believe there’s a force in this world that wants nothing more than for you to be happy? And if there were such a force, that it could be manifested in a person who could safeguard your journey through this world?” By the way, here are Allison’s biggest problems, the things she needs “safeguarding” from: Her boyfriend is a douche, she works too much, and by my estimation, her skirts are too cute to wear near biohazardous waste. (Again, let us not forget the Somalian child soldiers, who are decidedly sans Jane Lynches looking out for their well-being and taking them out for margaritas.)
Near the end of the pilot, Amy is hanging out in Allison’s office, plying her with s’mores and bumper-sticker wisdom, despite Allison believing on a cellular level that Amy is a demented stalker. “Your birthright is to be happy and loved,” Amy tells Allison, who has been fretting of late over said douche boyfriend and whether or not she should break her no-sugar diet to eat said s’more. (I think I hate Allison?) This line in particular underscores the fragile, categorically insane philosophy that Angel From Hell rests its entire premise on: That the universe is kind and benevolent and wants nothing more than for everyone to be happy, and that “everyone” means well-to-do white people, and that said people would be happy if they could just relax and drink more margaritas.
Angel From Hell premieres on January 7 at 9:30 p.m. ET.