‘Angel From Hell’ Review: Jane Lynch Shines in Odd-Couple Comedy

But the new CBS series is far from a sure thing

When it comes to odd-couple comedies, there are few premises that haven’t been tackled over the years — especially on CBS. From the short-lived “Partners” and “How to Be a Gentleman” to the crass “2 Broke Girls” and the actual “The Odd Couple” remake, the derived concept has solidified itself on the network with varying degrees of success.

“Angel From Hell” is no exception, although it marks a departure from the Eye’s traditional multicam format. A single-camera comedy starring the likes of Jane Lynch and Maggie Lawson, the series once again attempts to pair the straight-shooter with the oddball muck-up in an attempt to allow both characters to find middle ground. In the process, hilarity ensues. Except when it doesn’t.

Amy (Lynch) claims to be an angel whose job it is to protect Allison (Lawson) from ruining her own life, and in the process be allowed back into heaven. For her part, Allison believes Amy to be a homeless drunk with stalkerish tendencies. Both storylines seem plausible thanks to running gags about photoshop, although the writers seem to lean more heavily on the spiritual side (“angel” is in the title, after all).

It’s a perfect vehicle for Lynch’s quick dialogue and delivery, as popularized by Sue Sylvester on “Glee.” But whereas Sue was a crass character with few redeeming qualities, Lynch’s softness is allowed to shine through more often as Amy, rendering her a less two-dimensional character than we’ve seen in the past. It’s an important distinction to make, given Lynch’s natural ability to overpower any scene she’s in. Often those types of actors are best utilized in a supporting role, and making the jump to leading character is a tough one. The fear here is that it would be too much of Lynch being Lynch, but other than a few spastic moments she’s nicely contained and flows well with Lawson’s rom-com leading lady charm.

Unfortunately, the premise itself is limiting. Character growth is a tough balance in comedy, and there is an abundance of it in the pilot as Allison realizes her fiancé is a cheat, her best friend is a flake, and she works too much. There will be an undoubted reset heading into Episode 2 in order to allow the comedy in her growth time to simmer, but that too can be a tricky balance for an audience that has been there and done that.

In traditional comedies, that’s where supporting characters come in to play. Here, Kyle Bornheimer plays fantastically off of Lynch; in fact the pair share one of the pilot’s most memorable scenes. But the question here is how long will the writers keep Amy’s true “angel” identity a secret from the rest of the players? Too long and it becomes too implausible to be funny. The audience should never be allowed to get that far ahead of the characters. Not long enough and the viewers begin to question everyone’s easy acceptance of such a surreal claim.

At the end of the day comedy pilots are harder than their dramatic counterparts, as comedies need several episodes in order to settle into themselves. There is certainly enough charm and setup in “Angel From Hell” to build up a laugh-out-loud series, but whether audiences will want to stick with it during a jam-packed midseason schedule after just an okay pilot remains to be seen.

“Angel From Hell” debuts Thursday, Jan. 7 at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

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