Television Turmoil: Teen Angel

Television Turmoil is a look at the worst and weirdest series to make their way onto the small screen.

Throughout much of the 90s, ABC’s TGIF block dominated in the coveted 18-49 demographic. Boosted by family-friendly sitcoms like Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step, the programming block succeeded by making Fridays a destination for younger viewers. Nothing great ever lasts and by 1997, the brand’s power was on the downswing. Family Matters and Step by Step moved to CBS and aired opposite TGIF, leaving the network with only two surefire hits: Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Boy Meets World, entering its 4th season by this point, had found success by leaving behind the more standard family sitcom elements in favor of teenage exploits. Sabrina took that deviation even further by focusing on the adventures of the titular teenage witch, with a few asides from TV’s greatest talking cat. Another example of the supernatural sitcom, Sabrina’s debut the year before became the biggest success for TGIF since the heyday of Urkel. Naturally, ABC wanted to recreate that magic and did so by approving two new supernatural shows.

Teen Angel was by far the zanier of the two programs. Created by former Simpsons showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss, Teen Angel was the duo’s follow-up to the tragically cancelled The Critic. The show’s surprisingly dark premise follows high schooler Steve Beauchamp (Corbin Allred) and his recently deceased friend, Marty DePolo (Mike Damus). Marty dies after eating a six-month-old hamburger he finds under Steve’s bed and the show makes sure we see the entire build-up to this fateful moment. In the afterlife, Marty is tasked with becoming his best friend’s guardian angel by his heavenly guide, Rod (the disembodied head of Ron Glass). Rounding out the cast are Steve’s mother Judy (a post-The Brady Brides Maureen McCormick), aunt Pam (a pre-Two and a Half Men Conchata Ferrell), and kid sister Katie (Katie Volding).

Just a boy and his Teen Angel

Teen Angel is reliably funny, perhaps the funniest show I’ve covered here. That isn’t a big surprise given the pedigree of Jean and Reiss, but the show also has a zaniness that you don’t normally see on the broadcast networks. It is just plain weird, easily the strangest program to make it on the TGIF block. The show operates on cartoon logic with characters occasionally pointing out sitcom cliches and even outright breaking the fourth wall.

In Marty, our titular teenage angel, the writers found a source for any gag they could dream up. Want to have someone mess with the telephone lines to get his friend tickets for the big fight? How about a character who impersonates a friend’s crush by literally transforming into them? Marty can do all that and more with his seemingly limitless abilities. He is essentially just Sabrina with fewer rules.

Both Jean and Reiss have mentioned how micromanaged the show ended up being, making it a minor miracle that any of their strange sensibilities made it to the final version. Even with executive meddling, Teen Angel might have been too strange for the type of mass audience ABC was counting on. The program also had a complete disinterest in exploring Steve’s family dynamic. The other members of the Beauchamp clan were usually relegated to making jokes far away from the main plot. McCormick left the show halfway through the season, having seen the writing on the wall.

Teen Angel ran for 17 episodes before getting the ax. In the end, neither of the new TGIF shows moved beyond a single season. Despite needing content for the programming block, ABC opted to air reruns of Sabrina for the rest of the year. Jean and Reiss eventually returned to The Simpsons, where Jean continues to work as showrunner. Meanwhile, the network continued to search for the lineup’s next hit, to no avail.

He’s reaching out for you.

With Boy Meets World wrapping up its run and Sabrina moving to The WB, the TGIF lineup officially ended in 2000. Multiple attempts have been made in the years since to revive the block with no success. It is a hard thing to recreate, especially as TV becomes more segmented and viewers shift to streaming. More than that, TGIF is a relic of the 90s, like Blockbuster or 1-800-COLLECT. It exists as a repository for nostalgia and any attempt to replicate it will always receive pushback.

For all of its weird touches, Teen Angel was stuck in a position it likely never would have succeeded in. Placed in a programming slate that was slowly losing viewers and being forced to appeal to the broadest audience, the show never reached its potential. Still, Teen Angel is a fun curiosity. It is the first, and possibly last, recommendation I’ll give in this series. A show that must be seen to be believed.

Next Time: We look back at the 80s with early 00s sensibilities in That 80s Show.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for future shows you want to see covered, leave them in the comments below. For more great content, follow me on Twitter @JesseSwanson.