Judge Maurice Cobbs discovers that there are more reasons to watch this show besides the divine Roma Downey.
Our reviews of Touched By An Angel: The Complete First Season (published February 23rd, 2005), Touched By An Angel: The Third Season, Volume 1 (published March 15th, 2006), Touched by an Angel: The Complete Seventh Season (published May 19th, 2013), and Touched by an Angel: The Sixth Season (published December 9th, 2012) are also available.
"Roses are red,
As gratifying as it must be to have created a show that resonates with its fans to the degree that they will not let if die after having been axed by the network, I suppose it also carries certain obligations with it. A person might even feel that she or he owes it to the fans who so vocally supported the show to up the ante, so to speak—to really give it to them bigger and better than ever before. That's understandable, I suppose; after all, only a handful of shows have ever garnered that sort of letter-writing support, and even fewer still have been rescued from untimely cancellation by such a campaign. Unfortunately, Touched By An Angel overdoes it, tries too hard, takes things too far in its second season—too much of the ol' razzle-dazzle, so to speak. Where Season One served up a dose of refreshingly adult drama, Season Two tends more toward melodrama; where Season One was rough but honest, Season Two is more polished but far too earnest. And there's no need for it; you already got the job, guys!
Sure, the series is for the most part still marked by the thoughtfulness and complex human drama that made the first season so enjoyable, but they've ratcheted things up so much that the potential impact of the stories becomes diluted under the weight of the twisty plots and too-improbable coincidences. For instance, the episode "Rock and Roll Dad" starts outs innocently—and engrossingly—enough: When popular musician Jon Mateos (A. Martinez, L.A. Law) loses his beloved wife Evie (Rosalind Allen, SeaQuest DSV) in a car accident, he is unable to deal with the grief and returns to the wild behavior of his bachelor days, neglecting his two children in the process. Now here was an opportunity to explore the nature of grief and how faith can help overcome it, and had it been left at that, this could have been a compelling episode. Instead, the characters are tortured until they become almost cartoonish, and little messages about the effect of pop music on young minds are also thrown in. Jon becomes a drunken, drugged-out, foul-tempered creep, even growing three-day stubble—all within a matter of hours after the funeral! Granted, it's not so unusual for a guy to go off his nut after the death of a loved one, but most don't do it with such Jekyll-and-Hyde suddenness—and although it was a delight to see Richard Roundtree as his manager, I can't believe that Shaft would take all that guff from some pickled pop star. As for his teenaged daughter, she goes off to a concert (that she'd been forbidden to go to by Evie the day she died) but winds up instead at a cheap motel, making out with college boys. Although she winds up drinking too much, she doesn't want to…you know…and staggers out of the room into the cold, paging her dad to come and help her. But Jon has passed out on the floor from his wild rip and is pretty useless. After passing out herself in the phone booth, the daughter wakes up, realizes that help isn't coming, and staggers off down the highway. She eventually thumbs a ride from a
man in a passing truck, informing him that not only is she drunk, but something may have been put in her drink as well. "Oh,really?" the trucker leers, and pulls off, with angel of death Andrew in the back of the truck. But before he can take advantage of the situation, they come to the spot where Mom died, and daughter staggers out of the truck (the guy pulls back on the road; I guess she wasn't that interesting) and falls down the embankment and breaks her leg, and then it starts to snow, and she finds her mother's purse and is lying in the snow dying and writing a letter to God when Andrew appears before her and tells her to hang on and holy cats! Jane! Help me off this crazy thing!
I mean, is this Touched By An Angel or The Perils of Pauline? Sheesh! Enough, guys!
Don't get me wrong; the show is far from unwatchable—well, most of the time—and when they get it right, they really get it right, although there just aren't as many strong episodes as in the shorter but purer first season. At its best, Touched By An Angel can be absolutely unpredictable, one of the few shows that can really keep you guessing as to what will happen next, and they seem to revel in defying expectations. One of the episodes that really gets it right is "The One That Got Away": On a wedding trip, a lawyer who has been abroad since he graduated law school gets a chance to rekindle a lost love with his former girlfriend, Susan (Susan Diol), but he also learns that his best friend committed suicide. Things get complicated very quickly—lives have been destroyed in the wake of best friend's suicide, and Monica has only a short time to sort things out and prevent even more heartache. It's a tense, complex episode that plays out so tantalizingly that I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. "Til We Meet Again" has become a favorite episode among many fans, and with good reason: It's one of the most heartfelt and emotional episodes of the series, dealing with a man on his deathbed who wants to resolve the family secrets so that he can go to his reward in peace. One of my personal favorites from this set is "Sympathy For The Devil," a story about an aging rodeo star, Ty (Stacy Keach, Mike Hammer), who is wracked with regret over never having been there for his son and is now trying to make amends. But the sins of the father have taken their toll on the son, who is filled with anger and determined to keep his own son away from Ty. Complicating the situation is the presence of a dark angel, Kathleen (Jasmine Guy, Harlem Nights), a former friend of Monica's who has fallen to the Dark Side, as it were, and seems hell-bent (pardon the expression) on causing misery wherever she goes. This episode also features a wonderful song by Randy Travis, "Eight-Second Hero," a mournful eulogy for a dying rodeo cowboy.
Speaking of Randy Travis, he returns in the episode "The Feather," reprising his role as Wayne from the first-season fan-favorite episode "Fear Not!" In this episode—which begins the day after the remarkable Christmas Eve miracle featured in "Fear Not!"—a sleazy con man poses as an evangelist in order to manipulate the townsfolk who are still reeling from the display of heavenly glory they've witnessed and struggling to understand its meaning. Meanwhile. Wayne's brother Joey (Paul Wittenburg) finds an abandoned baby and grows attached to it, leading to some difficult decisions for both of them.
"We're not here to make things easy. We're here to make things better."—Tess
Now sure, Touched By An Angel has a reputation for being treacly rubbish—maybe even more so in these times, when "Christian" has become a dirty word in some quarters, and the country is divided into "blue states" and "red states." But the fact is, this show really is quality entertainment that isn't afraid to challenge its audience and force some difficult questions…sometimes. Other times…okay, yeah, it can be treacly rubbish. Still, the parade of high-wattage (and 40-watt) guest stars can't be beat: This season, in addition to those already named, we get Gerald McRaney, Greg Evigan, Anthony Michael Hall (almost unrecognizable as a suspected murderer), Gabrielle Carteris, Joe Penny, Kathie Lee Gifford (no sign of Cody), Ted Shackleford, Ed Begley Jr., Paul Rodriguez, Hal Linden, Jane Kaczmarek, Valerie Harper, the always enjoyable Joe Morton, singer Natalie Cole, poet Maya Angelou, and Tone Loc, just to add a little bit of that Funky Cold Medina.
The regular cast has settled into their respective roles in this season. Has there ever been an angel that inspired more sinful thoughts than the divine Roma Downey, she of the sparkling smile, lush, fiery hair and heavenly body? Part of the appeal of the show is definitely being told that "God loves ye" in that lilting Irish accent. Playing perfect counterpoint to Monica's waifish charm is the earthy Tess, played by the great Della Reese, who never misses an opportunity to use her golden voice—in the episode "The Indigo Angel," she gets to use it with a quartet of jazz and blues greats: Al Jarreau, B.B. King, Dr. John, and the late, great Al Hirt. Paul Winfield also drops by as the angel Sam; plus, a couple of new angels, played by talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael and Brenda Vaccaro, also are introduced. John Dye takes over Angel of Death duties this season as Andrew, a part that he was born to play, judging from his last name. Another Angel of Death, Henry (Bruce Altman), occasionally drops in, but Charles Rocket, the delightfully enthusiastic Adam from the first season, is conspicuous by his absence. In fact, I'd say that I preferred Rocket to Dye—despite Dye's nice-guy demeanor, I missed Rocket's slightly oddball charm.
Some of these episodes don't look so hot—fuzziness, graininess, a general lack of sharpness that we've come to expect from DVD presentation, which would seem to indicate that there was no digital remastering of these episodes. Pity. The shows are far from unwatchable, don't get me wrong, but the poor presentation definitely takes away from the viewing experience. The colors are strong, though, and I can find no fault with the sound, even though this set's lack of special features stands in stark contrast to the plentiful supply from the first-season set. Hopefully, the subsequent season sets will not be so barren.
So, what are we left with? Family entertainment? Of course. Entertainment with a message? You betcha. After all, "angel," in Greek, means "messenger." Meaningful entertainment? For many, yes. There are certainly enough stories about how the show touched a particular person's life at a particularly difficult time. But at the core, the show is first and foremost entertainment, and the creators occasionally lose sight of that, so earnest are they about their beliefs—and the show occasionally suffers for it. Not guilty…but watch your step.
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