Angel From Hell is a gamble for CBS: a single-camera sitcom with no laugh track and a premise that requires just a little too much explanation to qualify as high-concept. The Eye currently airs just one other single-camera sitcom, Life in Pieces, and has historically had much more success with multi-camera sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory. Angel From Hell (premiering Jan. 7 at 9:30/8:30c) seems unlikely to be an exception. It probably won't be a hit right out of the gate, as the first two episodes are tonally unstable and mildly confusing, but there are enough flashes of promise to give hope that it could become a dependably funny show.
Angel From Hell stars Psych alum Maggie Lawson as Allison, a type-A dermatologist, and Glee's Jane Lynch as Amy, who is either Allison's guardian angel or her insane alcoholic stalker. Allison's tightly-wound life comes unraveled when Amy tells her that her fiancé Evan (David Denman) is cheating on her with her best friend (Liza Lapira). At first, Allison doesn't believe that Amy is telling the truth about Evan (or about being an angel, for that matter), but when she catches him, she kicks him out and admits to Amy that she was right. Allison doesn't know how Amy knows everything about her, and still doesn't believe in Amy's supernatural abilities, but she "could use a weird friend," especially one who can help her learn to have fun and take care of herself.
The show keeps the truth of Amy's angelic nature ambiguous, but it in the first episode, at least, signs point to yes, to the show's detriment. The is-she-or-isn't-she-but-she-probably-is adds an unnecessary complication to what would otherwise be a straightforward premise. Creator Tad Quill told TVGuide.com that the show is intended to be able to be read either way, but it leans too hard toward Amy being magical without committing. It feels like it's hedging instead of embracing being the live-action cartoon it sometimes feels like it wants to be or the dark comedy about damaged people finding each other it also sometimes feels like it wants to be. Quill says that future episodes will lean more toward Amy being crazy, especially one with Brett Gelman, a whiz at acting unhinged, as someone else's guardian angel who is even crazier than drunk, daffy Amy.
Angel From Hell does succeed as a witty buddy comedy. Not having a laugh track allows it to pack in more jokes than the average CBS show, and pretty much every minute has a laugh in it. The dialogue is smart and snappy. In the second episode, when Allison is grilling Amy about what it's like to be an angel, she asks, "Do you talk to God?" "Oh, Allison," Amy responds, "do the people at the Apple store talk to Tim Cook?" Evan's douchiness is established by his scarf snobbery, which earns him a comparison to Steven Tyler's microphone stand. The writing is funnier than average. The performances are strong, too, especially Lynch and reliable "that guy" Kyle Bornheimer as Allison's hapless brother.
CBS gave Angel From Hell a 13-episode order, and Quill says its premiere moving from November to February to January gave his team extra time to tighten up some episodes. That kind of uncertainty may have made the show seem ill-fated, but Angel From Hell shouldn't be counted out yet. It's funny enough to become a quiet success if it can figure out what it's trying to say.
Angel From Hell premieres Thursday, Jan. 7 at 9:30/8:30c on CBS.
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