on May 13, 2015
I am a twenty three year old man and even though it was about fifteen years ago, I strongly remember certain episodes in “Touched by an Angel” when they first aired on television by the main scenarios such as the bus crash, the fortune telling cards and tornado. So before I decided to revisit the show I did my research on which season had the plot summaries that stuck with me as a kid; when you’re young your mind is very impressionable. Like all TV shows, this one has its share of stinkers (episodes with weak storylines) because the directors and producers are all about quantity over quality like a composer who wrote thousands of pieces, so I’ll just highlight the very finest ones.
1. The Invitation: Absolutely terrific in all respects. Plenty of fear and suspense leading up to the climax and never a dull moment. Even though I knew the Frank Peretti-esque mystery (who’s the devil lurking in the town?) before it was solved (since I remembered the staircase scene as a kid) I was literally hanging on to the edge of my seat as if I were still trying to figure it out. The man in the black leather coat at the bar who bullies Rick into gambling his $45,000 check away was a PERFECT touch of the screenwriters because it looks like we’ve discovered our masquerader at last—after all he’s mean, sinister, wears black and tries to persuade Rick to do something against the Scriptures. BUT NNNNNNNOOOOOO!!!! THAT’S NOT IT AT ALL!!!! It was the ‘innocent’ little boy Dennis who gave Annie (Rick’s wife) the tarot cards in the first place! Dennis seems so naïve, gentle and harmless at first that when he finally reveals himself in the aforementioned chilling staircase scene “Don’t you want to see my costume?” it’s absolutely mind-blowing. Even if Dennis wasn’t the devil, just the thought “What kind of child would sit on the top of the stairs, grin and do nothing when a pregnant woman has just fallen?” is disturbing enough. Tess tells Monica “Whatever God can create, Satan can counterfeit. He deceives everybody. Unfortunately most people don’t see him coming until it’s almost too late.” So if Tess’ reasoning is valid, it would make perfect sense that the devil would put on a more subtle persona than the man in the bar. I really loved this episode the best because I feel like it illustrates an important aspect of the Bible that a lot of people don’t give much thought to—about how there is ‘a battle going on that you don’t even know about.’ And the appearance of the lion echoing the verse “For behold the devil goes about like a roaring lion searching for whom he may devour” at the beginning and end was just icing on the cake. I loved all the scenes with the three women in the beauty parlor—especially goofy, melodramatic, worry wart Clara and smart-Alek Millie who loves her best friend but can’t help being annoyed by how clingy she is. Marla Gibbs fits the role of Millie to a T with her crisp, saucy, playful line deliveries.
a. “A philosopher manicurist?”
b. “LOOK MISTER. Don’t mess with me okay? My nails are still wet. See? Excuse me.”
c. “Okay Clara you can let go.”
d. “Clara if you don’t stop whimpering, I’m going to let the Boogie man have his way with you.”
e. “Actually Halloween is not a holiday because ‘holiday’ means ‘holy day’ and there’s nothing at all holy about a bunch a little kids dressed up like hobgoblins running around in the middle of the night.”
f. And my favorite. “Could we have the gun back?”
What I loved best about this episode was how patient Tess was when she explained the concept of a spiritual battle to Rick, Millie and Clara. When they resorted to their own understanding, she gently showed them the error of their thinking. When Rick wanted to call the police she told him they would no good because this is not a war against flesh and blood. When Millie asked to have the gun back, she said “The devil didn’t clonk you on the head or shoot you. He got to you through the THINGS YOU FEAR MOST.” (In Millie’s case: cancer) “That is why you are going to have to put on the full armor of God and stand up to the devil for yourselves, for Annie, for the baby and for the whole world.”
2. Shallow Water: Diane Winslow has lost her husband and child in a bus accident and lives at a mental institution run by an agnostic but good-hearted psychiatrist, Rebecca Markham because she talks to the air as if her son is still alive. I love the disjointed way the screenwriter treats the sequence of events by first showing Monica in the bus at the dump watching all the things that led up to the crash and the dissolution of the Winslow family like a crystal ball. First we see Diane at Rebecca’s office, then we go into another flashback of Diane’s in-laws; how they traveled in concert as a country gospel group. Then we go back to Diane at home and see her talking to her son Danny—and instead of giving it away from the start that she’s talking to the air—we see Danny himself for a while (like the ladies club/communist prison scene in the Manchurian Candidate 1962) to show what SHE IS SEEING and it is up to the viewer to decide whether Danny is ‘real’ or not until at the end of Part One, we see Monica and her friends watching her and in THEIR PERSPECTIVE there is NO SECOND PERSON in the room. Then one of them finally speaks up. “Who’s she talking to?” At first these flashbacks don’t make sense but slowly they come together until the climatic bus crash scene. Watch “I am David” sometime for another excellent display of this ‘puzzle coming together” editing technique. Another fine feature of this episode is how they treat the touchy subject of braindead patients (should we let them off all those tubes and machines and die naturally since they are beyond physical repair or would that be murder?) and even though it obviously sides with the former opinion, the family members who hesitate to let him go are still treated with a certain amount of respect and understanding. Also not to be missed a standout hilarious performance from Nell Carter as Rev. Jedidiah Winslow’s goofy, annoying sister Cynthia—the very way she walks is hysterical and her delivery of the line “You brought him here so he could use his free will. Well I came here to keep him from using it too much.” Is a classic. She is a truly bright and welcome presence that lightens the tone of an extremely serious episode. The only problem I have with this episode is that I can’t figure out how a man (an elderly one at that) could lose the use of his legs in a car accident that fell into a lake and STILL BE ABLE TO SWIM OUT. The same with his wife. (she’s using a cane) Also it’s stated that the crash took place three years ago, so in real life, by that time it would be demolished with the other pieces of trash in the dump. If it had been only one year or half a year it might still be sitting there. But still, Touched by an Angel is a show where you’re supposed to focus on the lessons that are presented (in this case: there are no coincidences, God allows suffering for people to grow spiritually, family favoritism is wrong, etc.) so the more you watch the episode the more you notice little minor scenarios that don’t seem plausible.
3. I am an Angel: This episode proves that the makers of the show held themselves responsible for the messages they sent out to their audience. Not that I ever really doubted they did but it’s still nice to have proof of it. I REALLY connected with this one because it does a great job illustrating the power and influence television has over people—especially little kids—and how important it is to be careful what we fill our minds with. Granted, when I was eight, I never believed television was real (I knew it was all acting without my parents having to explain it to me) but I remember my younger sister would sometimes scream, cry and run out of the room during a scary scene and my younger brother thought the antagonist was a jailbird in real life. Sixteen year old Ryan and eight year old Mickey lost their mother in a car accident and live with their Aunt Val. Mickey lives in a fantasy land thinking his mother is coming home for work every time he comes home from school because his aunt and older brother have never brought him to grips with reality. Val wouldn’t allow him to attend the funeral because she thought he was too young and Ryan plays along with his fantasy land because he naively believes this is the best way to protect him psychologically. Then, when Guy Garfield, a television actor who plays an angel in Avenging Angel comes to a town convention, Ryan asks if he could spare a couple minutes out of his schedule to ‘put on his act’ for Mickey since Mickey watches his show. Ryan assumes Guy will eventually tell Mickey the truth (like a person playing Santa Claus at a store) that he’s just an actor but instead Guy keeps it up (he even goes so far as to say his mother’s living in a condo with a Jacuzzi in the sky) until it’s almost too late. Mickey puts on his best clothes, climbs up the silo on his Aunt’s farm intending to wait for the golden ladder (from the Avenging Angel show) to drop down from the clouds so he can climb it and see his mother again. Monica confronts Guy with his wrongdoing and tells him to climb up after him and tell him the truth. Seriously, if Mickey fell off the silo, it would have been Guy’s fault for WHAT HE TAUGHT HIM.
4. Reasonable Doubt: For those of you who watch classic films and see this episode wondering why it sounds so familiar, that’s because it’s a spoof on 12 Angry Men. Monica is the Henry Fonda character (the leader of the ‘not guilty’ party) and Carolyn is the Lee Cobb character. (the leader of the ‘guilty’ party) The jury does charades with an easel and re-enactment of the events to try to crack the case, while some of them play with their cell phones, make grocery or shopping lists and talk about how they can’t wait to just hurry it up and get the crap out of there. Carolyn is full of pride and can’t bring herself to admit that she might be wrong in her assessment of the case and sees Monica as an adversary she MUST defeat, like a football game, instead of really trying to figure out whether the man on trial is guilty or not. She moans and whines about her house closing she’s going to miss out on since she’s stuck in the jury room (like the juror in 12 Angry Men who whines about the baseball game he’s missing) and then it is revealed that her husband was murdered years ago and she is allowing this to impair her judgment on the case. (again just like the Lee Cobb character who locked horns with his son) Monica tells her privately that God wants her to give her troubles to him and that she shouldn’t want to punish the defendant in this case for what happened to her husband since he had nothing to do with it.
5. A Death in the Family: MY OH MY, how relevant this episode is to TODAY considering the Martin vs. Zimmerman case and the Baltimore police brutalities. I can’t imagine a director today who would dare to address the subject of left-wing, black, charismatic, rabble-rousing preachers who wallow in the victimization of the oppression of fifty to one hundred years ago and play the race card over every little thing—nowadays he’d probably be too afraid of seeming politically incorrect or being labeled a racist. But unfortunately, this kind of person (the preacher in the episode) exists more than ever today—and not just in churches but in the government too. Frank McCovey, a white policeman accidentally gets the wrong address of a drug dealer to arrest in a black ghetto. When he and his troop break into the house searching for drugs and equipment he accidentally shoots a kid. The police take the kid to the hospital and Frank turns in his resignation. Then Rev. Davis plays the race card with his flock about starting an uprising. “Oh God, I have no more cheeks to be slapped. I have no more love in my heart for my enemy. Give me the strength to carry out my plan.” “Aren’t we tired of the pain and the agony? Aren’t we tired of being shot on the streets? Aren’t we tired of being shot in our own homes?” And it never occurs to Rev. Davis to even ask the mother of the kid in the hospital how SHE FEELS about his plan. Worse, he never gives a thought to how the policeman Frank must be feeling—how his blunder has given him something to live with for the rest of his life—how would DAVIS FEEL if it were HIM who SHOT the KID? Tess comes to tell Davis that God WILL DEAL with what Frank did but what he is doing now HOLDING A GRUDGE and INCITING VIOLENCE, repaying ‘evil for evil’ is WRONG TOO. Andrew goes to Frank to help confront him with the racial prejudices he’s harbored ever since his daughter was killed in a car accident by a black man. Frank admits to this and begs God’s forgiveness. “I know I’ve never wanted to admit this but ever since that day, I’ve always told myself my daughter would still be alive if it weren’t for a black man. Maybe that’s why I didn’t check the address carefully enough. Maybe that’s why I was so ready to deal out death and judgment when I went into that black ghetto to search for the drug dealer because I kept telling myself ‘I KNOW these people. Their ALL THE SAME!’” The best part is when Frank goes to Davis’ church and Davis says “Get out of my church!” Then Tess says “Pardon me Mr. Davis but this is NOT YOUR CHURCH. This is GOD’S CHURCH.”
What I love best about this show is that the angels don’t come to make things perfect. They’re not there to save the day like superheroes in a sci-fi film and they’re not even there to change people’s hearts. They are only messengers from God sent to lead the horses to the waters—it is up to the HORSES to drink it. Monica, Tess and Andrew are so brilliantly written that despite being angels, they have their doubts, fears, worries and eccentricities at times (like Monica’s ‘journey into the desert’ in the Netherlands episode, Tess’ cantankerous, tell-it-like-it-is disposition and Andrew having a hard time obeying God to ‘move on to another family’ to watch over in the ‘Sign of the Dove’) NO ONE DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS HERE!
I highly recommend this show, even if you aren’t particularly religious because there is some serious potential for great discussions here.
on August 21, 2009
With nearly half of the ENTIRE SERIES already available on DVD, you'd think the next logical step would be to release Season 5, right? CBS and Paramount has apparently dropped this idea, and will only be releasing "collections" of the episodes that are considered the "best". There are only 4 episodes on each set, some have been released on DVD already.
I know I should be happy but I'm not. I assume this is for financial reasons (not like CBS and Paramount combined are hurting) and this is better than nothing but it is a lame attempt to appease the fans when nearly half of the series on DVD has been released already. Nearly every tv show known to man is being released on DVD, and they pull a stunt like this? I would say this release should not be supported, but I fear if it's not they will never release seasons of TBAA on DVD again. This is truly a disappointment, and that's an understatement.