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Reviewed by Will Harris
ccepting Holly Hunter as the star of a TV show is hard enough, given how well-established she is as a film actress, but in “Saving Grace,” we’re presented with an even more significant challenge: liking the character she’s playing in the series.
Grace Hanadarko (Hunter) is a police detective in Oklahoma City. She’s also a chain smoker, drinks too much, and is prone to sleeping with just about any guy who comes into her personal orbit. In other words, her life is in a downward spiral, and when she drives drunk one night and strikes a pedestrian, it seems that things can’t possibly get any worse for her. As it turns out, she’s stumbled into an encounter with Earl (Leon Rippy), who describes himself as her “last-chance angel,” tells her that she’s going to Hell, and asks her if she’s ready to turn her life over to God. It’s not going to be easy, of course, but a profound sense of relief definitely washes over her when both Earl and her victim disappear. Neither is gone for good, however. A trace of the blood of her “victim” remains on her blouse, and her pal, Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), a police scientist, discovers that it belongs to death-row inmate Leon Cooley (Bokeen Woodbine), who dreamed everything that Grace experienced. It turns out that Leon’s getting regular visits from Earl, too, and the fact that she has something in common with a killer doesn’t exactly sit well with Grace, nor does the fact that Earl takes to stopping by unexpectedly and checking in on her.
Despite the inherently interesting idea of a highly flawed individual being visited by an angel and ultimately preferring to continue her sins rather than actively work toward being a better person, the issue with “Saving Grace” is that Grace simply isn’t a very likeable individual, and at a certain point, you find yourself realizing that you don’t care if she gets saved. It’s certainly conceivable that an angel could come down from Heaven, approach an individual, and not have the encounter spur them to change their wicked ways, but Earl is popping by Grace’s pad on a regular basis, and she’s so self-destructive that she doesn’t change a thing. As it happens, Earl is a fascinating character. He’s a heavenly creation not unlike Michael, the cinematic angel portrayed by John Travolta, and although he comes across like a white-trash redneck most of the time, there’s a blend of charisma and mystery contained within his sly smile which makes you long for him to appear more often than he does.
Truth be told, once you’ve watched the pilot episode of “Saving Grace,” you can pretty much skip ahead to the first episode on Disc 3, with the only truly important information imparted between those points being that Grace drinks and screws a hell of a lot while ignoring virtually everything Earl has to tell her. In “A Language of Angels,” however, Grace actually to make headway – albeit in a small way – toward redemption. Not coincidentally, this is also when she begins to be someone whose actions don’t annoy or repulse you, becoming a better aunt and finally beginning to settle into a solid relationship. As a result, the final third of the season is actually quite good, leading up to a season finale which contains a revelation that clarifies why Grace’s faith has been so limited for so long and ends in a cliffhanger that, amazingly, made me want to tune in to the premiere of Season 2.
Too bad it took so long for the series to find its feet. Given what’s presented to us for the majority of Season 1, it’s hard to really recommend the show in its entirety.
Special Features: Give the producers credit for filling this set with bonus material. The creators provide audio commentary for the pilot episode and the season finale, with executive producer Gary Randall sitting down for a one-on-one interview as well. There are also individual behind-the-scenes featurettes focusing on Holly Hunter, Leon Rippy and Laura San Giacomo, an on-the-set segment, an overview of the entire season, and the video for Everlast’s theme song for the show.