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'Strange Angel' Brings Rocket Science with an Edge to CBS All Access
June 14, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Okay, I’m convinced. Jack Parsons was one of the weirdest people, like, ever.

CBS All Access, the network’s pay streaming service, rolls out a series on Thursday called Strange Angel, chronicling the life and career of Parsons, who among other things helped develop modern rocketry.

He also helped spread Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, an occult belief system with deep links to Scientology.

Strange Angel is set in the late 1930s when the young Parsons (Jack Reynor, top, right) is developing primitive rockets with his equally brilliant and slightly less bizarre friend Richard Onsted (Peter Mark Kendall, top, left).

Pooling all their resources to buy parts and fuel, they’re launching a series of flimsy homemade test rockets in the California desert.

These rockets are mostly failing, which is making Richard increasingly nervous and putting a strain on Jack’s marriage to Susan (Bella Heathcote, right). She supports him and his work, but her wealthy family thinks she may be indulging him a little too much.

Jack is convinced the rockets will work once they get the fine-tuning in order – and in retrospect, of course, we viewers realize he’s probably onto something because rockets would play an enormous role in the upcoming world war that looms heavily over Strange Angel.

Jack is, however, anything but the monomaniacal science geek who spends every waking moment obsessing over equations until things click into place. Richard, a Cal Tech student, is that. Jack is not.

Jack prefers to obsess over fantasy novels about great mythical warriors who maximize their human experience by finding ever-greater challenges that in the best-case scenario enables them to stare death in the face.

His latent adventurism explodes into full bloom when a social anarchist named Ernest (Rupert Friend, resurfacing after his death in Homeland) moves in next door.

While Ernest sometimes just climbs the fences at rich people’s houses to swim in their pools, he also leads Jack to a secret and exotic quasi-religious gathering that will become Jack’s gateway drug into the occult world.

Elements of spirituality mingle with sex, among other things, and as one might expect, this will be affecting the course of Jack’s relationship with Susan.

The early Strange Angel episodes, however, focus more on Jack’s rocketry. As Jack explains to a professor he’s trying to impress, he’s been shooting these things off in his backyard since he was a kid, and he’s going to be the one who cracks the code on how they can be propelled high enough to travel around the world or even to the moon.

Strange Angel takes a few liberties with the real life of Jack Parsons, who was killed at the age of 37 when one of his rockets blew up. But he was sufficiently weird that even a partial biography will illustrate both his genius and the highly unusual prism through which he came to see the world.

It takes a while to get the “angel” part of Jack Parsons. The “strange” part, you can’t miss it.

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