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Promised Land

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Your heart and your mind may start signaling wildly for you to get off the couch and run when Promised Land comes on. This is the drama of emotions turned bitterly self-righteous, a Touched by an Angel spin-off touched by jingoistic fury. The so-familiar Gerald McRaney — from Simon & Simon, from Major Dad, from a devilishly good turn in the revamped Central Park West — is now Russell Greene, a laid-off construction worker who roams the country in a battered motor home, accompanied by his wife (Homefront‘s Wendy Phillips), his mother (the still-luminous Celeste Holm), and three children.

In the pilot, one of Angel‘s angels, Della Reese, tapped Russell to do spiritual good works, to lend a hand to people down on their luck. But Promised Land is less Christian-mystical than populist-fascistic. McRaney barks and bullies his brood into a saintly crew of happy campers. He glares at people with money and power and scolds them into helping the poor and needy. (He tells a plastic surgeon to ”make a difference. All I see you making is money!”) The show also goes out of its way to make an arbitrary, head-scratchingly big distinction between ”America” (good, fair, openhearted) and ”the United States” (bad, corrupt, selfish).

Promised Land decries a country of ”bankruptcy signs and potholes,” exhorting us to ”wake up and get busy” and not ”give in to the cancer of greed and intolerance and apathy.” It speaks of hopefulness and generosity, but it’s less feel-good than feel-guilty. McRaney and company make their mission look like grim, unpleasant work. The show lacks the supernatural hooey that helps make Angel an amiable, New Agey goof; in its place we get Old Testament wrath and judgmental sternness. I think executive producer Martha Williamson, who oversees both shows, is truly onto something in the way she tries to make virtuousness appealing in godless prime time. But this show’s a pious drag. Phillips’ Claire prays a lot; maybe she should be asking her maker for more fun. D