“Strange Angel,” the new CBS All Access series, is a show that lives up to its provocative title. It’s based on the life of Jack Parsons, who aimed for the heavens by building rockets — and becoming deeply involved with a “sex magick” cult.
The show, which draws its title from a biography of Parsons, is set in 1930s Los Angeles, when a young Parsons was recently (and unhappily) married and working as a janitor at a chemical company, sweeping up residue to use in his rocketry experiments with a strait-laced friend. That’s where Parsons puts his salary, too, so he and his wife are behind on their mortgage.
Portrayed by Irish-American actor Jack Reynor, Parsons is a brawny fellow with a slender moustache, the bluest of eyes and a desperate longing to succeed in the field of rocketry — a field that, a professor warns him, “does not even exist.” The fact that Parsons has no college degree does not deter him. Then again, his hold on reality seems a bit tenuous. He slips into comic book-inspired fantasies of slaying a giant feline with a bow-and-arrow.
But really, nothing he imagines is as fantastical as the religious ritual he witnesses — the planned sacrifice of an alleged virgin — in a gathering of the Thelemite cult. He ends up joining.
If cultish religions aren’t your thing, there are the rocketry sequences to enjoy. Matches are lit, fuses burn, rockets sometimes flop and sometimes succeed. (Spoiler alert: Parsons is acknowledged as a major contributor to modern rocketry.)
Dropping new episodes each Thursday, the show sets a deliberate pace. Parsons gazes upon the lights of L.A. twinkling at night, like a faraway dreamland. He and mysterious new neighbor Ernest (played with a devilish twinkle by “Homeland” alumnus Rupert Friend) scale the fence of a mansion and go for a homoerotically tinged nighttime swim in a pool with lapping turquoise water. It’s strangely alluring.
So just like Parsons, CBS is making a go of it in a genre that does not exist. This space rocket/occult sex saga is truly the final frontier!