Touched By An Angel (“The Southbound Bus”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 21, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 13.7 million viewers, 9.8/15 in Households

During my travels through JOAN OF ARCADIA, I mentioned TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL (and GHOST WHISPERER) a few times, and how each show is a successor of the one that came before, with JOAN OF ARCADIA having replaced TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, and GHOST WHISPERER having replaced JOAN OF ARCADIA. And while I am not at all a religious person, I figured I could still make the effort and watch the show I managed to catch every once in a while on German television, when I was home from school early enough, because it aired weekdays at 3 in the afternoon. When I was lucky to catch an episode from one of the later seasons, I came to shed a tear during a few scenes here and there and I realized that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL is actually a solid show. Even my mother managed to catch an episode every once in a while and noted the emotional affect the show had on her, and for some reason this has always been a factoid about my life that I remembered. After I started watching JOAN OF ARCADIA, I figured I could also watch TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, since I can’t even remember the few episodes I have watched, and going through nine seasons of a television show barely anyone remembers in this day and age could probably be fun.

Monica’s new job has her traveling with the bus more often.

The premiere of this show made it quite clear what TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL wants to be: People with a huge pack of jerky emotions are in peril and need help, and because this show doesn’t have social workers unlike JUDGING AMY, which CBS would put on the air five years later, or a teenager like Joan Girardi, who would enter the fray of television to replace Monica and Tess’s adventure of the week, angels have to be the ones to help, because what could be more interesting than angels guiding helpless people to the right path of life, as it seems to be their job? Obviously, viewers had interest in the premise, which is why CBS kept it for sixteen straight years and turned it into three individual shows, completely separated from each other. And while it is an interesting premise, it’s not like it has been the major driving point of the opening hour of this show. Monica may have tried her best to reunite David with his mother and Nick with his runaway wife, but she failed and made mistakes a few times on the way, almost guaranteeing that Monica is not the perfect angel and that mistakes from her point of view are part of the storytelling — which is refreshing, because it establishes that angels aren’t almighty in this show and that they can be humanized in every direction, even if it’s just for the sake of the story. In this particular episode, Monica’s mistakes humanized her as an angel, because caring for David was her first gig as a case worker, showcasing that she is new at this job and has to learn the ropes before becoming a standout performer for the boss upstairs. I wouldn’t mind if Monica keeps doing mistakes as the series progresses, just so the angels of this show continue to be portrayed in a more humane fashion and never become anything more than undercover case workers on the ground and not supernatural soldiers against the evil led by the boss downstairs, although TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL being a nine-year long show, chances are this story will get picked up at one point — when you have God in your show pulling the strings behind the curtain, the Devil can’t be far.

The story of the episode itself wasn’t that spectacular. A mother loses her infant daughter and can’t cope with life any longer, so she runs away and leaves behind her husband and son. This kind of episodic premise seems to be made for a show like TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, but having to see it more than 200 times over the course of the show could get tiring very quickly, which is why I hope the writers had something different in mind with each episode they tackled. As a sorta-anthology show, repeating the premise is not a crime of television, but it definitely won’t help getting you new viewers and potentially bigger commercial prices you can ask advertisers for. For this episode alone, letting Monica deal with this rather low-key family situation was good. All she needed to do was take care of David, so that he can work on his emotions about his mother walking out on him. Although you are allowed to ask yourself why Monica was given this case, when she was reprimanded by Tess for going against the “plan” and job by abandoning the kid and his father and instead look for the mother. Granted, maybe God gave Monica the case, because God knew that she would go to great lengths to reunite Christine with her family and that was always the mission God intended for Monica. Unfortunately though, if God continues to “play” with their angels like this, it would make for a lesser interesting show, as sometimes it could turn out to be more interesting if Monica gets an idea that makes the situation better than anyone else could have anticipated.

I this series universe, hitchhiking won’t lead to you getting murdered.

I liked the twist halfway through, when Ruth Ann was revealed to just be a fugitive on the run from the FBI, instead of being David’s mother, proving that Monica not only reunites families, but also makes mistakes. She already made one at the beginning of the story, when she didn’t know that David was lying about his mother’s death and needed input from death angel Adam to realize her faux-pas, but essentially forcing Ruth Ann onto the streets again could be considered a major screw-up. I know this was Monica’s first case, but God upstairs probably side-eyed their newest hire for the job after that mistake, even if you could think that Monica’s involvement in Ruth Ann’s life was also to put her on a new path, which may or may not be the path to redemption. By the way, is there a chance for Ruth Ann to return as a character, and for Monica to fix her mistake and save Ruth Ann from a potentially dramatic fate?

Finally, I have to mention a few words about Monica’s Irish accent. I watched the show with a German dubbing before, and German dubbing actors don’t do accents except the accent is part of the story. I have never seen anything with Roma Downey before, so I was quite surprised to hear her strong Irish accent in this episode. And I was quite surprised that I immediately fell in love with it. Is Monica considered an Irish angel now?

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