Eternal Law (ITV1)

Rachel Cooke is entirely baffled by a soppy, celestial drama about lawyers.

I hate January and need something to pull me through. But what, exactly? Stella (Sky1), a "comedy-drama" written by the usually brilliant Ruth Jones, reminds me weirdly of Last of the Summer Wine, a sitcom that outstayed its welcome by at least two decades. New Girl (Channel 4), an American import starring Zooey "Am I kooky enough for you?" Deschanel, is about as appealing as warts.

As for Eternal Law (ITV1) . . . Uh oh. All I can tell you is that the last time I was this baffled by a television series, I was seven and marooned in front of Tomorrow's World while I waited for my hair to dry (I was not allowed to go to bed with wet hair, probably because the upstairs of our house was so cold, it would have frozen the moment my head hit the pillow).

The series is written by Ashley "Life on Mars" Pharoah, and it's about a couple of angels, Zac Gist (Samuel West) and Tom Greening (Ukweli Roach), who have been sent down to earth by "Mr Mountjoy" - I guess he's God - to work as lawyers. Yes, lawyers. They live in York, in a house that looks a bit like the senior common room of an Oxford college, with a matriarch figure called Mrs Sheringham (Orla Brady). She used to be an angel, too, but then she fell in love with a human and asked Mr Mountjoy to make her mortal so she could enjoy conjugal bliss. Only the human went and died, as they do. She's still mortal - her wings are in a trunk in the attic - but knowing the ways of both angels and humans so intimately, she is good for kindly advice and, er, ironing shirts. Oh, yes. One other thing. There is also a dark angel/lawyer on the scene: Richard Pembroke (Tobias Menzies). Why? I don't know. I would have thought that, for plot purposes, regular human lawyers were plenty rapacious enough to facilitate the weekly battle between good and evil.

Truly, I don't know where to begin with this one - though a good start might be to send a quick memo to Pharoah and whoever commissioned this nonsense, along the lines of: what on earth did they put in your tea? I know everyone is mad for fantasy right now. As David Cameron would say: I get that.

But the fantasy element of Eternal Law adds nothing to the way this otherwise conventional series works. The angels cannot use their special powers; they are not allowed to interfere with free will. Mostly, then, they act exactly like normal lawyers, with the small difference that, once the case is closed, they like to sit atop York Minster and relaxingly flex their wings (according to an interview I read with Sam West, wings are used only sparingly in the series, for "impact").

And what sappy, saccharine cases they are! In the first episode, a man was accused of firing a gun at a crowd from the roof of York Minster (this is another weird thing about the series: the producers have contrived to make York, a fairly large city, seem the size of a village; all the action takes place in the same three streets and, helpfully, the protagonists have only to set foot outside their front door to bump into an important witness).

But, as Zac soon revealed, he was only covering up for his little and rather distressed daughter. Cue group hug. In the second episode, a small boy asked for Zac's help as his parents fought a custody battle over him. Needless to say, Zac soon got ma and pa talking again (no group hug this time, but the small boy did present Zac with a drawing of some angels).

One final thing: the performances. They're all fine, except for West, un homme sérieux - I know; I've interviewed him - who regards the use of the word "luvvy" by us non-acting civilians as heinous and offensive bigotry. West is an exceptionally good actor and he gives this part everything he's got.

Unfortunately, the result is that you feel rather embarrassed on his behalf. Poor bloke. He thinks - or perhaps he merely hopes - he's starring in Wings of Desire. But this is just Kavanagh QC gone soppy and, being strictly non-angelic myself, I hereby sentence it to an eternal stay at the great TV archive in the sky.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Britain