Based on George Pendle’s biography “Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons,” the okay CBS All Access version of “Strange Angel” comes to us from screenwriter Mark Heyman. Heyman wrote both 2010’s “Black Swan” (which received 85% positive reviews from “top critics” polled by the Rotten Tomatoes website) and 2014’s “The Skeleton Twins” (83%).
A lifelong resident of Southern California, Parsons led a high-concept life, serving as both a principal founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a disciple of English occultist Aleister Crowley's new religious movement before (spoiler alert) dying in an home-lab explosion at age 37. Before Parsons went boom, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard helped defraud Parsons of his life savings, if we’re to believe Wikipedia.
Having seen the first couple of episodes, I can tell you the series so far is not as good as it sounds.
The series starts slowly, and I’m a little put off by Parsons’ slightly maniacal non-conformist occultist neighbor (“Homeland” vet Rupert Friend), whose weirdness carries a veneer of inauthenticity.
Speaking of inauthenticity, virtually every real-life character in Parsons’ life gets a fake name, suggesting the series may be clouded with a lot of ginned-up lies, a strategy that also served to hobble Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.”
Just the same, it’s markedly better than CBSAA’s terrible “Star Trek: Discovery.”
... can seem a little pokey. (That it can seem a little silly is unavoidably built into the material.) "Drunk History" told Parsons' story pretty effectively in seven minutes. But “Strange Angel” is playing a long, multi-season game …
... There’s a potentially interesting story at play in “Strange Angel,” but it sure doesn’t reveal itself quickly. And in today’s 500-scripted TV series environment, it’s too big an ask for producers to insist on viewer patience. In its early going, “Strange Angel” just isn’t strange enough to warrant sustained viewer interest. …
... more tantalizing than satisfying — though it's amply and very watchably tantalizing. …
... A TV show about this man’s life should be fascinating. So why, then, does “Strange Angel” take so long to get to the good stuff? … It’s hard to understand why “Strange Angel” needs to give Jack’s frustrations and pontificating about The Future so much time when there’s a much more interesting story waiting to be told elsewhere. It might be more true to life, but as long as the show is trying to mine that life for drama, it might as well cut to the chase.
9 p.m. Thursday. CBSAA.