"Angel from Hell"
Cast: Jane Lynch ("Glee," "Hollywood Game Night"), Maggie Lawson ("Psych," "Two and a Half Men"), Kevin Pollack ("A Few Good Men," "The Usual Suspects"), Kyle Bornheimer ("Agent Carter," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine")
Airs: The premiere episode airs Jan. 7 on CBS
The premise: Amy (Jane Lynch) is a loud and brash woman who inserts herself into the life of a driven doctor named Allison (Maggie Lawson), claiming to be her "guardian angel." Amy's mission is to provide Allison with guidance that nudges her in the right direction. It's also her final chance to prove herself as an angel. Allison, who initially sees Amy as an inebriated goofball, agrees to this unlikely partnership because maybe a kooky friend is exactly what she needs to shake up her mundane existence.
Highs: The premise for this series could've lead to a sitcom that was over the top, but that's not the case here. The humor ranges from bombastic to subtle, with dialogue delivered at an atypically rapid pace. The pilot had a Sorkin-esque feel to it, with witty banter and "blink and you'll miss it" jokes and one-liners. There is no waiting for a punch line to be digested. The humor isn't dumbed down.
What makes the levity in "Angel from Hell" work so well is the excellent cast. There isn't a weak character to be found. Lynch is a riot as Amy. She drinks like a fish (Creme de menthe? Really?), curses sporadically, burps frequently and has no social boundaries. Amy even lies about having cancer to persuade Allison to talk to her. All this is done with a wink and a smile that Lynch pulls off wonderfully. Luckily, the rest of the cast is equally game. In most sitcoms, Lawson's character would've been a prototypical downer to Lynch's high energy joke machine, but she can trade quips with anyone, especially her TV dad and brother. The always sublime Kevin Pollack is Allison's youth-chasing medical partner/father and underrated character actor Kyle Bornheimer is her unlucky-in-love sibling. They give Allison a loving family and comedic fodder.
One of the most surprising things about this series is that it has a lot of heart. Make no mistake, "Angel from Hell" is a comedy through and through, but it is also about Allison becoming the best version of herself. In the premiere, Allison learns from Amy that she's not putting her own needs first by letting her boyfriend, and to a much lesser extent her brother and father, take advantage of her. Amy helps her understand that through unconventionally delivered wisdom.
Lows: The title of a series is more important than you might think: It conveys a purpose and can provide a viewer with a positive image of a program. Shouldn't a quality show find an audience no matter what it's called? Not necessarily, and I think the title of "Angel from Hell" does CBS' new sitcom a great disservice. First of all, it's misleading. It doesn't tell you what the show is really about. It's also an unfair description of a lead character. Amy is crude and blunt, but she's also funny, kind and thoughtful. Die-hard fans of Jane Lynch were probably going to give this show a shot anyway, but for the vast majority of undecided viewers the name of this series doesn't have drawing power. A title that befuddles audiences is a detriment to an otherwise fine program.
Grade: A-. There's a scene midway through the pilot when Amy and Allison are in a Mexican restaurant. Allison's guardian angel is trying to deliver some bad news delicately and lightens the mood by pretending to pull a taquito out of thin air. This is as silly as it sounds but also demonstrates what type of person Amy is - goofy and well intentioned but with poor delivery. That's the kind of character that makes this series so fun. Don't let the name fool you, "Angel from Hell" is a must-watch show.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.