They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere; in Los Angeles, if you can make it in your garage, you might just make it to the moon. Strange Angel premieres tonight on CBS All Access, a show I’m excited to tout, and not just because I wrote for it. Creator Mark Heyman (Black Swan, The Wrestler) and Mega-Producer Ridley Scott have finally brought to the screen the truth-is-way-stranger-than fiction tale of Jack Parsons, co-founder of the famed Jet Propulsion Lab who helped get a man to the moon by day, and performed esoteric sex magick rituals by night. In other words, a typical L.A. story.
I can offer up no shortage of reasons to put Strange Angel on your watch list: our stellar cast led by Jack Reynor, Rupert Friend, Peter Mark Kendall and Bella Heathcoate; the orgy of art direction and costume design CBS let us get away with to bring 30s L.A. to life; or just the flat-out bizarre bullet points of Parson’s life, which gave us no shortage of subject matter. (Just google “Jack Parsons” and start anywhere. You’ll see why it was such a fun writer’s room to work in.)
But as a native Angeleno, what thrilled me most about the show was the chance to sketch the arc of the quintessential L.A. crackpot: the person who tinkers in their backyard with insane dreams and no sense of boundaries to hold them back. Sure, most times that person ends up in an insane asylum. But every once in a while, the sun-parched L.A. basin produces someone like Simon Rodia, building a Gaudi-esque masterpiece in his Watts backyard, or Walt Disney, starting a globe-conquering entertainment conglomerate from his garage.
And then there’s Jack Parsons. A college drop-out whose wide-eyed ambition was to turn science fiction into science fact, Parsons was the kind of person you’d be afraid to get a beer with: boastful; untethered from practical concerns; credulous of all the wrong things… one of our Caltech consultants quipped that Parson’s greatest contribution to science might have been his willingness to blow himself up. Yet, without him, we wouldn’t have modern rocket fuel. The same things that compelled Jack to join legendary "ceremonial magician" Aleister Crowley’s sex cult, gave him the drive to turn fantasy into reality. And Los Angeles may be the one city in the world where an inability to tell the difference is a competitive advantage.
To see exactly what I mean, I enthusiastically recommend you check out Strange Angel. Yes, there will be rockets and sex magick, as advertised. (And for Roger Rabbit fans, yes, there will be a Red Car—it’s 1939 L.A. after all.) But in between all the sizzle, I promise you we also tried to tell the tale of what it means to dream impossible dreams, the dark places it takes you, the glorious heights you can reach, and the dizzying journeys in between. Premieres on CBS All Access today.