Strange Angel, CBS All Access’s latest offering, focuses on real historical figure and Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) founder Jack Parsons (played by Jack Reynor, A Royal Night Out), a cocksure, idiosyncratic scientist in pursuit of a sending a rocket to space. The show is “based on a true story” so some liberties may have been taken with the truth in quest of a good story.

Although Jack lacks a formal education, he and his collaborator and friend Richard Onstead (Peter Mark Kendall, Chicago Med) chase the goal of reliable rocket engines by night.

The first episode immediately introduces a number of themes – scientific innovation, a certain hunger for greatness, risk taking, the occult, religion, and sex. In many ways, the Parsons character portrayed here reminds me of Howard Stark – at least, Howard Stark as portrayed by Dominic Cooper in Agent Carter – perhaps mostly due to his unreserved self-confidence.

Jack’s also in search of something beyond himself. After he and his wife, Susan (Bella Heathcote, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women), get an odd new neighbor (“Who moves in the middle of the night?”, Jack asks), his eyes are opened to a new world of occultism (Jack Parsons, historically, was a well-known Alastair Crowley devotee). Ernest Donovan (Rupert Friend, Homeland) throws Jack quite off balance, forces him out of his comfort zone, and frightens Susan. The rocket testing scenes are reminiscent of a sort of 1930s era Mythbusters. It’s great.

Strange Angel is fascinating and exciting; the combination of science and the strange make for compelling viewing. I for one always enjoy well-done historicals – my friends will tell you I REALLY love a frock flick. This one is well done (the scenery, automobiles, houses, and costuming is pretty spot on) and is done for a purpose other than a typical romance or mystery. This show is definitely one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” stories that no one would find plausible in fiction. I loved the pilot, and can’t wait for more: Strange Angel lives up to its titular promise. If you liked season one of Agent Carter, or you like slightly creepy, slightly odd stories, check this out.

 

Heather A. D. Mbaye
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