By Ken Tucker
Updated November 04, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Much has already been made of the fact that Touched By An Angel (CBS, Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m.) is a throwback to decade-old shows like Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven and Aaron Spelling’s Fantasy Island. Touched certainly possesses those shows’ forced naïveté, but at least it has more appealing stars. Touched features Della Reese as a veteran angel supervising a novice, played by Roma Downey. Even if you remember Downey as the lead in the 1991 miniseries A Woman Named Jackie, it won’t prepare you for the twinkly-eyed, sensuous colleen she is here. Downey is always taking off her shoes and, long skirts billowing, running off after some poor human in distress. Each week, Reese assigns Downey a life to brighten; recently, for example, it was that of a bullying high school baseball coach, played by Knots Landing‘s Kevin Dobson. ”It seems to me that encouragement goes a lot farther with a person than yelling,” Downey said, all a-twinkle and a-brogue, and really, as ) banal as her advice is, who could resist her? Touched by an Angel‘s idea of magic realism is to have Downey hit a baseball that turns into a dove. This series is relying on sugary spiritualism to draw viewers, but it benefits most from Downey’s vinegary earthiness.

Touched by an Angel succeeds in being so unpretentiously, innocently pure-minded — this is the Forrest Gump of fall ’94 — that it’s possible to feel sympathy for its ratings plight: Positioned on Wednesday nights against powerhouse Roseanne and the persistent Dateline NBC, it’s got a slim chance of survival. C