'Touched by an Angel' doesn't have a prayer

September 21, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It's here, the worst new series of the TV season premieres at 9 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11). It's called "Touched by an Angel" and there's absolutely nothing divine about it.

Well, OK, some might think Monica Downey ("A Woman Named Jackie") is pretty divine to look at. But CBS has Downey playing such a twinkie role that you wonder if her character, an angel named Monica, is on downers or something.

"I don't have any vices," Monica says tonight, "except I hate to wear shoes except when absolutely necessary."

There are lots of shots of Monica's bare feet. I'm not sure what that's all about unless CBS has research showing a large audience of foot fetishists waiting for a reason not to watch ABC's "Roseanne."

Monica helps people who are at a crossroads to choose the "right" path. She works under the watchful eye of a cranky-but-lovable supervisor named Tess (Della Reese), who is given to colorful frocks. This is just a female version of "Highway to Heaven," but it makes even that syrupy concoction seem like "Death of a Salesman" by comparison.

Tonight's mission for Monica involves her helping a 10-year-old boy "heal" after the death of his sister and the breakup of his family. The big scene has Monica kneeling in a field, looking skyward and saying with much emotion, "If you didn't want me to feel, why did you give me a heart?"

There's quite a bit of New Testament imagery -- a dove that follows in Monica's wake, an opening sequence that shows Monica and Tess walking (barefoot again) in a river, a serpent and lots of deserts.

I know what that's all about. CBS believes there's an audience of fundamentalist Christians that is looking for something to like in prime time. CBS thought it had just the show for those viewers in "Christy," starring Kellie Martin as a 19th century missionary worker. The last time "Christy" aired, it finished 81st out of 89 prime-time series.

That might be shooting kind of high for "Touched by an Angel."

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