To mark Eternal Law starting on ITV, we look back at some of the show’s feathery forerunners(opens in new tab)
Eternal Law is ITV1’s new show about angelic lawyers. But they’re far from the first small screen celestial moonlighters…
Angels In America
2003(opens in new tab)
Angel: Angel (Emma Thompson)
Wings? Yep, though they seem more of an annoying encumbrance, especially when it comes to sex.
Angels In America was a lavish HBO miniseries based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS and Regan-era politics, directed by Mike Nichols ( Catch 22 , Silkwood ) and with a cast that is the very definition of all-star: Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker. At the times critics loved it and audiences flocked to it, but in hindsight… it was a tad dull and worthy to be honest.
Thompson’s angel did liven things up, though, even if she came from a Heaven that looked like the aftermath of a party in Las Vegas Dubai-themed hotel. Charged with trying to save an AIDS sufferer from death so he can save the world by making God ignore it (or something) she wasn’t exactly your typical angel. She likes a good shag for a start – well, she does allegedly have up to eight vaginas – and at one point burst into flames during some mid-air sex.
Highway To Heaven
1984-9(opens in new tab)
Angel: Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon)
Wings? Nah, he was still earning them
Five seasons of heart-warming sentimentality about an on-probation angel, doing nice things for people so he can earn his wings. You have to wonder about the morality of this. If he knows he’s doing good only so he can be a proper angel, is he really being good, or is he being self-serving? But theological disputes such as this didn’t matter to its (primarily female) audience, who liked Jonathan because he was played by that nice chap from Little House On The Prairie .
Touched By An Angel
1994-2003(opens in new tab)
Angels: Monica (Roma Downey), Tess (Della Reese), and (from season three) Andrew, The Angel Of Death (John Dye)
Wings? Nope, but they can glow a bit to convince people of their Heavenly origins.
This was basically Highway To Heaven with added oestrogen. Monica is an angel recently promoted from the “search and rescue” division, works under the guidance of her supervisor Tess (Della Reese), helping people to make the right decisions at key points in their lives. It was as syrupy as it sounds, and even the introduction of the Angel Of Death – which sounds like an interesting move – failed to make it anything more than the TV equivalent of a greeting card poem.
2007-10(opens in new tab)
Angel: Earl (Leon Rippy)
Wings? Oh yeah – mighty fine, CGI ones, when he felt like showing them off, and what a wonderfully incongruous sight they were on him too
This was more like it. Saving Grace was like Highway to Heaven meets Tarantino, with a no-shit blue collar angel who had to try to get a hard-drinking, sex-mad, foul-mouthed Oklahoma cop (Holly Hunter) on the road to righteousness. It was no easy task. Jonathan Smith and Monica in those last two shows may have been making people see the light week-in, week-out, but it took Earl three seasons.
Intriguingly he also often hinted he was a multi-denominational angel.
The X-Files “All Souls”
1998(opens in new tab)
Angels: Various freaks of the week
When handicapped girls turn up burnt to death in a small town it transpires that the girls are actually nephilim, and a seraph is revealing his true form to them so that they can get whisked off to Heaven before the Devil comes calling. Bizarrely, Scully isn’t the outright sceptic for once. Mulder may believe in aliens, but Scully has faith.
Doctor Who: The Weeping Angels
2007-11(opens in new tab)
Angels: Lots of them
Wings? Yep, and rock hard they are too
Okay, they’re not really angels, but aliens. But they are described as “creatures of the abstract… as old as the Universe itself or very nearly”. So it’s not just the wings that make them angelic.
1997(opens in new tab)
Angel: Marty DePolo (Mike Damus)
Wings? Yeah, but can you imagine any teenage boy remotely happy with being stuck with those fluffy appendages?
A failed attempt by ABC to cash-in on the success of Sabrina The Teenage Witch . After expiring as the result of eating a bad hamburger, Marty becomes his best friend Steve’s guardian angel. Cue much hilarity as Marty steals Cupid’s arrows to help Steve get a girl, enlists Cleopatra’s help Steve with his history exams and doles out invisible wedgies.
Not to be confused with: Teen Angel (1989), a Disney Channel show with virtually the same set-up starring Jason Priestly. Or Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels .
Babylon 5: Kosh
1993-8(opens in new tab)
Wings? Hell, yeah
Kosh spent the first couple of seasons of Babylon 5 wandering around the space station in an encounter suit, making us all wonder what he really looked like. But when he was forced to leave his encounter suit to save Sheridan from an assassination attempt, we finally got to see his true form… Or did we? Because every different race that witnessed the rescue saw him take the form of their own representation of an angel, whatever that may have been.
1998-2006(opens in new tab)
Angels: The Whitelighters (primarily Leo Wyatt, played by Brian Krause)
Wings? Nope, just ethereal glowing
Whitelighters are former humans given a second chance at life in order to serve under an angelic group known as The Elders as guardian angels for good witches or other future Whitelighters. They have all sorts of powers, but have to appear immediately if they’re summoned by the person in their charge. Which can be unfortunate if they’re on the loo at the time.
2008-2010 (?)(opens in new tab)
Angels: Blimmin loads. But mainly Castiel.
Wings? Yes, but they aren’t visible to mortal eyes except as scorch marks when an angel dies and, er, in lightning or something, like at the end of “Lazarus Rising”. That bit’s not very clear.
There’s no underestimating how important angels have been to Supernatural. They reinvigorated a show that had become a little too comfortable with its monster-of-the-week format, their introduction in the very first episode of season four marking the exact turning point the show changed from a “worthwhile” watch to a “must” watch. Most were villains: Raphael, Uriel, Zachariah; some were fallen angels: Anna Milton, Lucifer; while others, such as trenchcoat deity Castiel and Balthazar eventually came round to helping the brothers. Castiel, of course, was the break out celestial servant, initially envisioned as more of a guest star, he became a regular in the fifth season and one of the most popular characters in the show’s history.
The angels themselves are quite unlike any divine interventionists seen before on the telly box. In Dean’s words, they’re dicks. They’re wholly unlikable and utterly lacking in any social skills, rendering them somewhat naïve, occasionally terrifying and very, very funny. After the civil war of season five, Angels have taken something of a back seat culminating with (*spoiler*) Castiel’s “death” in the second episode of the sixth season, though with actor Misha Collins set to return later this season and the fact god’s MIA still to be resolved expect to see the halo heads returning in a big way in the future.