This CBS drama, which ran from 1994—2003, follows the adventures of angel Monica (Roma Downey). Under the tutelage of supervisor Tess (Della Reese), and with the frequent assistance of an angel of death named Andrew (John Dye), she's a "caseworker" who goes from place to place to help various people overcome their problems by steering them towards God. Late in the seventh season, a fourth main character, Gloria (Valerie Bertinelli), is introduced. As she is a newly created angel, she tags along with the others to learn how to help people.This show has been mocked for its insistently heartwarming, tearjerking nature, but its nine year run is proof it has plenty of fans, and one can't fault its good intentions and wholesomeness. It also defied many stereotypes about religion, having episodes that declared, among other things, that God is perfectly okay with you being gay (and AIDS is most definitely not some sort of punishment), that the trappings of religion are less important than faith itself, and that you're not going to Hell for doing drugs or committing suicide.
This series provides examples of:
Aborted Arc: Starting with Season Three's "Crisis of Faith," there was a handful of episodes where Tess had a small dog that went on assignments with her. Somewhere between the third and fourth seasons, this was inexplicably dropped. Celeste could be considered an Aborted Arc as well, since she only shows up in two episodes.
Abusive Parents: The angels had to face off against these several times, and even occasionally try to redeem them.
An Aesop: The angels almost always reveal themselves to give the lesson and reassure everyone that God loves them, no matter how badly they've messed up or been messed up by life.
Affectionate Nickname: Tess has "Angel-Girl" and "Miss Wings" for Monica, though at times she doesn't use them affectionately. She calls Andrew "Angel-Boy" (ditto), and calls pretty much everyone "baby" at least once.
And Starring: With Valerie Bertinelli (last 2 seasons) and Della Reese as Tess.
Artistic License - Linguistics: In "The Spirit of Liberty Moon", Jean is revealed to be Chinese when she is spotted reading a Mandarin newspaper. The problem: Mandarin is a spoken dialect, not a written one, and all Chinese dialects (in the PRC, at least) are indistinguishable in print.
Armor-Piercing Question: In the season three episode The Sky Is Falling Tess gives three. First she gives to a group of people who are believing in martians. Then later she gives a second one to Monica and finally she gives one Dottie (an angel) who has come to help her (Tess) improve her manners.
Tess also gives these in various other episodes, to angels and assignments. Monica and Andrew get to ask a couple, too.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The angels being immortal, there are a few episodes that show them in earlier time periods, sometimes helping historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Albert Einstein. The stories are often told to present-day assignments to help them through their own problems. For instance, Einstein's struggle with guilt over how his discoveries allowed for the development of the atomic bomb and the destruction of Hiroshima is told to a scientist to dissuade her from cloning a human being from his DNA. (Only one of these was, in fact, a Christian: Mark Twain was an atheist who mocked religion openly; Einstein was essentially a Deist—if that—and a non-practicing Jew. Out of the three, Lincoln was the only one who was assuredly a Christian. Of course, the angels help non-Christians on a regular basis, and Monica notes that Einstein was Jewish when the would-be cloner says she wants to experience holidays like Christmas with a cloned child.)
Very interesting for the fact that the angel is dead wrong about a simple point of Jewish doctrine. Your genes don't make you Jewish, your birth mother does (or your conversion). If Einstein's clone is born to a gentile mother, the clone would not be Jewish. There is a specific rabbinical ruling regarding this that was made in the 1980s, and is founded in Talmudic writings from the first 500 years CE.
Best For Last: At the end of the final episode God makes an appearance.
Can't Hold His Liquor: The angels have helped some alcoholics along the way, most notably reporter Elizabeth Jessup, a fictional character played by Phylicia Rashad. Monica herself has this problem, too; she gets stinking drunk on Irish coffee in one episode. The results are neither pretty nor pleasant to the ears.
Cassandra Truth: Monica was once institutionalized when she claimed to be an angel, though this was part of her assignment to save another angel who'd suffered a Heroic BSOD.
Several other episodes have milder versions of this due to assignments being blown away that an angel is in their presence, or because they simply don't buy it. Some of the angels' assignments also deal with Cassandra Truth in that uncovering the real story will help the human in question.
Subverted, then double subverted, in S6's "True Confessions". Prisoner Carla insists she is innocent of murder, but no one believes her until she is exonerated after three appeals. It later turns out she suppressed what actually happened, meaning she did commit the murder.
Celebrity Star: Many Special Guest stars, whether they appear as themselves or not, have the plot configured around them and/or their talents.
Clip Show: Several. The first is aptly titled "Clipped Wings" — and it's a Double Meaning Title too, as a dark angel manages to get Monica's angel status temporarily revoked by causing her to miss a performance review. "The Medium and the Message" had Monica trying to pitch a show about angels, with the clips illustrating her concept for it. Another show featured characters reminicing about Tess, and another was a retrospective with the performers out of character.
Creator Breakdown: invoked Used in-universe in "Restoration", in which a silent movie director recut his happy Redemption into the grim Damnation after his pregnant wife, the lead actress, died in a botched stunt.
Cult: The angels save the members of a doomsday cult in one episode.
Deadpan Snarker: Tess has a few moments. Some assignments are this as well, such as Will Heller from "My Brother's Keeper," season five. It gets to the point that Monica tells him that those around Will need his love, not his sarcasm.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Or King; happens with several assignments. Some of them end up crying hysterically during the angelic revelations, causing a Tearjerker for viewers as well.
Deus ex Machina: Arguably every episode ends in one: Monica reveals her nature, tells the client that God loves them and that everything will be alright. Angelic powers also meant that she, Andrew and Tess could pull pretty much any item that might be required out of their asses at any moment.
Drugs Are Bad: Though there were several anti-substance abuse episodes, they tended to avoid the idea that the substances themselves were somehow intrinsically evil... rather, that their use and abuse was often the result of some other problem that needed fixing.
Evil Counterpart: Kathleen, a fallen angel who faces Monica several times. She returns to the side of God at the end of "Clipped Wings".
Evil Twin: Monique, a Monica lookalike and "dark angel".
Executive Meddling: invoked Used in-universe in "The Medium and the Message" (a Clip Show): Monica tries to pitch a show about angels to a cynical TV exec and his staff, but they want to change her ideas to something less uplifting and wholesome (for instance, they want to take the idea of an angel of death in more of an action/horror direction).
Ironically, one writer came up with a script that had Monica and her fellow "touchy feely" angels confronted with an individual who was truly evil, truly unrepentant, and utterly unreceptive to their message of love and redemption. The script also introduced the angel Peter, whose job wasn't to redeem sinners through the love of God, but to punish them through the power of God's Old Testament-style wrath. Naturally enough, the episode was never produced because it didn't fit into the producer's desire to maintain a positive message regarding God.
In the early production days of the series, Tess smoked and swore, and she and Monica were constantly at each other's throats, among other less uplifting elements. Creator Martha Williamson disagreed with this direction, and so the original producer walked out. The show then became what we know today.
Fluffy Cloud Heaven: "Netherlands" opened with a monologue by Monica expressing her amusement with human depictions of Heaven such as this (one of them referenced, though not by name, was a Victoria's Secret ad campaign featuring scantily-clad angels that was running at the time).
For Want of a Nail: In "Monica's Bad Day", her anger with a rude restaurant owner culminates in her throwing his cell phone into a fish tank. Events go from bad to worse for everyone in the restaurant, and Monica is then shown an alternate timeline in which she didn't throw away the phone and good things happened to everyone...including a woman who is suicidal. Monica and the other people must now save her in the established timeline.
Friend to All Children: Monica mentions in several episodes that she likes kids, who she sometimes refers to as "wee ones." She's also a...
Friend to All Living Things: Monica could be considered this, though not in the Disney princess way. Rather, because she's an angel, she's able to communicate with animals and seems to genuinely enjoy them, even the "creepy crawly" bugs and reptiles Tess avoids.
God Was My Copilot: In the two-part Grand Finale, Monica serves as a lawyer to defend a destitute man in court, accused of killing all the children in a school by way of an explosion. He turns out to be the Almighty Himself, but Monica doesn't learn this until He's convicted and she vows to protect Him in prison (it's a Secret Test of Character). He was actually at the school to take all the kids to Heaven after Satan tricked innocent Joey into putting a faulty boiler on too high a setting.
Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played straight in "Great Expectations". Parents-to-be learn that their child will have Down's Syndrome; the husband has misgivings. Abortion is considered, and the wife makes it as far as the clinic before changing her mind. The angels have to convince him that their child need not be perfect to be lovable and loved.
The Grim Reaper: Andrew, the Angel of Death. He doesn't actively reap people — and in fact in one episode he encourages his assignment to get up and keep trying to stay alive — but he does escort them in their journey, and thus his appearances usually (but not always) indicate that someone in the episode is going to die, be at risk of dying, or have to get over someone's death. For having what is probably the worst job in Heaven, he's a reasonably cheerful guy who only expresses dissatisfaction when children are involved (often commenting that he hates those assignments).
It's occasionally mentioned that Andrew was previously a case worker like Monica, and it's suggested that he's one of the higher-ranked angels, so on the occasions when his appearance isn't related to a death (which became more common as the show went on, due to his actor's popularity), it's explained as using his experience in the field to lend a hand.
Heroic BSOD: In "Jacob's Ladder", an angel put herself into the loony bin after she thought she had failed the girl she was guardian over. Turns out God had different plans.
Heel-Face Turn: Some of the angels' assignments had one of these near the end of their episodes. It's also worth noting that Kathleen, an angel who used to be Monica's friend and then crossed to the dark side, had one after being denied a promotion to demonic "caseworker."
Monica had one in "Netherlands", when viewing a terrorist attack and Gloria's subsequent seeming indifference to it came extremely close to making her lose her faith, and accept a Deal with the Devil. As noted below, this episode wound up hitting a little close to home for many.
Gloria herself had one, in the aftermath of trying Ecstasy. The resulting "crash" compounded with feelings of guilt for lying to Tess almost led her to allowing herself and her charge to drive over a cliff.
Andrew had one during Season 5, connected to an assignment who committed suicide. He, like Adam (the first Angel of Death) hates suicide assignments.
Heroic Sacrifice: In one episode, a nun (played by Mary Mc Donnell) at a Catholic School uncovers a bomb plot being acted by some of her students who are in full Taking You with Me mode. She manages to talk them down and gets them out of the building, only to discover the entire student body is about to walk into the building to begin their day. The nun rushes back into the building to pull the fire alarm, turns to walk out and is face to face with the digital countdown of the bomb timer, which clicks the last two seconds away. Right as the timer hits zero the episode ends with an abrupt fade to black.
Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Monica is revealed to be this in "Voice of an Angel". She has a hard time fulfilling her assignment to help a young singer (played by Celebrity StarCharlotte Church) because the girl's a bit of a brat yet her voice is so beautiful, making the angel jealous.
Tess: What part of "Thou shalt not covet" don't you understand?
Holy Backlight: Whenever the angels reveal themselves, they get a spotlight shone on them. They also sometimes get a light to show that they're invisible to humans. They can still subliminally influence people this way. If they're just talking about people and not interacting, there's no light; we just assume they're invisible. That or they have terrible manners.
I Can Change My Beloved: Season Five's "Fool for Love" dealt with this regarding assignment Sarah, who ran away at seventeen to be with boyfriend Jesse. She refuses to see he's a complete loser and abusive Jerk Ass, even after he commits armed robbery with her in the car. He ends up abandoning her. Monica eventually helps Sarah snap out of it.
Identity Amnesia: Monica lost her memory in one episode. Tess' Alzheimer's may or may not be this, since we're not sure if she ever lost touch with her angelic identity.
Ill Girl: Several episodes have a dying kid central to the plot, including the 100th episode "Psalm 151", where little Petey is definitely Too Good for This Sinful Earth and the angels have to help him fulfill his list of last wishes, many of which are for others.
Incurable Cough of Death: A couple of times, notably in "Dear God," right before little Tanya's father succumbs. In the same episode, we hear the same cough in flashback scenes of Auschwitz (assignment Max survived the Holocaust).
Also pops up in season four's "Elijah," right before the death of assignment Jacob Weiss' father.
Innocent Bigot: Gloria has this problem in "Chutzpah". Never having met any Jewish people up to then, and knowing nothing about Jews, she acts warm and welcoming to some skinheads she meets at a bus stop. She then repeats some of the anti-Semitic stuff they said to Sam Silverstein. She gets much better.
Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Assignments occasionally involve people who are physically challenged or autistic/mentally challenged. The trope really lives up to its name with Taylor, an angel with Down's Syndrome (played by Chris Burke, Corky on Life Goes On).
Isn't It Ironic?: Reversed! In "Netherlands", Monica has a crisis of faith and is tempted by Satan to become mortal. At one point, he promises he's there for her by way of the song "No One Is Alone", which is from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. In the show it's performed by the humbled good guys; here, because Satan's singing it, it verges on a Villain Recruitment Song. Note that Satan here is played by Mandy Patinkin, who frequently performs in Sondheim musicals; this may be another example of Celebrity Star in action.
Jesus Taboo: Christians of all denominations make appearances, and a two-parter deals with the persecution of Chinese believers, but the man himself is never name-dropped until the final episode. This may be in part because the show worked to be inclusive; some episodes specifically focus on Jewish people, and "Fight the Good Fight" is built around an appearance by (Muslim) Muhammad Ali.
The premiere of Season 6, "For Such a Time as This," made use of a song that carries Jesus' name in one lyric. The lyric was dropped and replaced with something more general.
MacGuffin: The angels dealt with a fair number of these throughout the series, usually objects or people significant to the assignment that never popped up again afterward. The trend started with the premiere, wherein a child's drawing of his mother helped Monica resolve a fallout during her first assignment. A lot of these fall into the Memento MacGuffin or I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin category.
Masquerade: Angels pose as humans when they're on assignment, and are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, dark angels and Satan himself have the same abilities, and they can fool good angels.
My God, What Have I Done?: Uttered by at least two assignments, alcoholic journalist Elizabeth Jessup and formerly comatose Steven Bell.
Near Death Experience: One episode dealt with a man trying to turn his life around after a particularly terrifying NDE gave him a vision of Hell; others have near-death visions in brief.
Never Learned to Read: Pro basketball player Eric "EZ" Mony has this problem in "Nothing but Net". The problem also comes up in "The Word" (season 9). The angels are sent to help a student with OCD, whose father is illiterate.
New Media Are Evil: Subverted in "Pandora's Box": a family is threatened by the dangers of online pedophiles and whatnot, but Monica explains at the end that the Internet is not inherently bad and is in fact a gift from God that can and should be used for good. Played straight in the later episode "Virtual Reality", in which violent video games are apparently tools of hatred and of Satan that make children evil bastards with little regard for human life.
Actually somewhat subverted with the video game episode. The setup had Rafael and Andrew arguing opposite sides of the court case the user of the game was involved in (Rafael for prosecution, Andrew for defense). Tess, serving as judge, makes a speech to the courtroom underlining the fact that children often want to be exposed to things they shouldn't, and that video game in particular was one such thing.
Once per Episode: Most episodes end with a dove appearing somewhere in the area the final scene takes place in, usually flying by and cooing.
Only Known by Their Nickname: The season four episode "Children of the Night" involves several homeless teens known only by street names. Overlaps with Do Not Call Me Paul, as it's explained that real names are actually not allowed in that culture.
Our Angels Are Different: None of the angels in the show have wings, and they are just about indistinguishable from humans until they drop the Masquerade. (At one point Tess was even put on time-out for having a hateful attitude towards Satan, and Monica got one for lying.)
Phosphor-Essence: When one of the angels reveal themselves to a human, they glow to make their true nature clear.
Demonic beings like Kathleen have this, too; their glow is of the eerie blue variety, while the angels have bright white. Satan doesn't glow, but in his first appearance, he was backlighted in red when he revealed his true self.
Poorly Disguised Pilot: "Promised Land", which would lead to a 3-season series of the same name (which followed Touched on Sunday nights.)
Recurring Character: Several other angels. Out of the many "assignments" the angels take on, mentally challenged Joey and his brother Wayne show up multiple times after their introduction in the Season One Christmas Episode "Fear Not", and appear in the Grand Finale.
Rousseau Was Right: One of the repeated themes is that humans are born with a great capacity for love, forgiveness, mercy, and charity, and simply need to be reminded of it occasionally.
Satan: Several appearances, each time in a different form (including that of Bo Duke!) In the Grand Finale, he's the prosecuting lawyer at the trial, and was actually responsible for the deaths of the kids — he tricked Joey into setting the boiler in the school basement too high, and that's how the explosion occurred. Satan also appeared in the first season as the leader of a white supremacy group, the fourth season as a car repair man, the sixth season as a little boy and a lion, and the seventh season as himself (in human form) to tempt Monica after she witnesses a terrorist attack.
Send In The Clowns: Invoked by Little Leroy in "A Clown's Prayer." The use of the trope turns into Shoo Out the Clowns when Leroy plans to be the circus' human cannonball on opening night. Andrew tells Monica this will kill him, because he is severely claustrophobic. He backs out just in time.
Show Within a Show: The angels sometimes work with theatrical or circus performers, or perform roles themselves.
Springtime for Hitler: In "Nothing but Net", a professional basketball player has this happen when he agrees to throw a game in return for a large sum of money from some gamblers who will win big. They may well kill him if he doesn't follow through. Already known as a showboat, he figured it won't seem too out of character for him to take a bunch of ridiculous low-percentage shots, which he tries to miss on purpose, but thanks to the heavenly intervention, he makes every bucket anyway. (Andrew takes the gamblers aside when they try to confront the player afterward.)
Star-Crossed Lovers: The kids of the two women that are the assignments in the ep "Last Dance". One of the kids is played by Harmony. In fact, the angels' intervention here is to defy this trope.
Straw Vulcan: Gloria several times came close to being this, especially in her first full episode, as she's brand new and it's explained that her brain works like a computer. (She's the first angel created in the 21st century, and God apparently wanted to try something new.) Her flat, unemotional response to a tragedy, combined with the tragedy itself, gives Monica a Heroic BSOD, and thereafter occasionally infuriates Tess too, but that's actually part of the point... she's there to make them reexamine why they react to certain things the way they do.
Theme Naming: if one can call it that; there are two different episodes named "The Perfect Game". One revolves around bowling, the other revolves around baseball.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Surprisingly enough, some assignments do get these. Tess is usually the deliverer, but Monica has handed down a few. For example, she did it to a cult leader in "Into the Fire," and to a mother who refused to let her child have a free operation for a cleft lip/palate in "Operation Smile."
Title Drop: Done by Satan, of all people, in the finale.
The Troubles: "Life Before Death" has Monica (who was "born" in Ireland) convincing a group of Protestant and Catholic teens from Northern Ireland to foster peace between themselves and others.
What the Hell, Hero?: Or should that be, "What in heaven's name, angel?" Monica falls into this a couple of times, once when she lies to cover up the actions of a guilty assignment because his perfect persona blinds her and then when she slaps an assignment in a later season, a soldier who told a horrible lie to a dying friend. Sam gives a mild one to Tess when she sinks to Satan's level, verbally, over the behavior of a white supremacy group.
Who Would Want to Watch Us?? In season five's "The Medium and the Message," Monica is assigned to help a TV producer. She ends up pitching him an idea for a show about angels, resulting in a Clip Show. Later, Andrew tells Monica he liked her idea, to which she says, "Nah, it'd never work."