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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen “Saving Grace” premiered in 2007, it caught a lot of eyes for two reasons: it was Holly Hunter’s first-ever venture into series television, and it was a series that dared to offer a main character – police detective Grace Handarko, played by Hunter – who was about as unlikeable an individual as has ever been seen on TV. Although the premise of the show was certainly intriguing, with an angel named Earl (Leon Rippy) giving Grace an opportunity at redemption, her actions were so consistently reprehensible that it’s somewhat amazing that the series survived into a second season. Indeed, in Bullz-Eye’s review of Season One, it was observed that, “once you’ve watched the pilot episode, you can pretty much skip ahead to the first episode on Disc Three, with the only truly important information being imparted between those points being that Grace drinks and screws a hell of a lot while ignoring virtually everything Earl has to tell her.”
It would be an outright lie to suggest that, in the intervening time since we last saw Ms. Handarko, she has found spiritual peace, but it can be comfortably suggested that she’s at least more interested in the possibility by season’s end. Still, when Season Two kicks off, she’s just as much of an alcoholic as she ever was, and her on-and-off sexual relationship with her partner, Ham (Kenny Johnson), gets more complicated when he makes the decision to leave his wife. Grace isn’t exactly the settling-down type, as you may have suspected, but the two of them still manage to maintain the spark between them. Things get rocky when Ham’s brother is killed and he opts not to invite Grace to the funeral because he’s afraid it will only cause tension with his wife. But it’s a decision which ultimately proves to be a pivotal moment in the Grace / Ham relationship. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Ham’s brother is only introduced a few episodes before his death, so his demise isn’t as traumatic as it would’ve been if we’d known him for awhile. Still, his first appearance occurs in one of the season’s best episodes (“A Little Hometown Love,” in which a murder occurs in the bathroom while Grace and Ham are getting it on in a nearby stall), and the episode in which he dies (“Do You Love Him?”) provides an extremely funny excuse for bringing on Barry Switzer for a guest role.
Arguably the best part of Season Two is the further expansion of the parallel storyline about Death Row inmate Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine), who’s been tied to Grace since the pilot episode, when Earl caused her to believe that she’s struck and killed Leon while she was driving drunk. As it turns out, Leon was very much behind bars at the time when she supposedly killed him and, well, there’s no point in rehashing the whole story. Suffice it to say, however, that things start to develop rather poorly for Leon in Season Twp, as he opts to stop fighting his fate and accept his impending death, even as others – including Grace’s brother, Father John Handarko (Tom Irwin) – attempt to stop his execution. Woodbine gets a lot of great stuff to work with this season as a result.
That’s not to say that Hunter doesn’t also work her ass off in “Saving Grace: Season Two.” In fact, you can tell she’s working it off, because she’s not afraid to flagrantly show her naked bum on several occasions. Grace still isn’t the kind of person you’d want to spend an extended amount of time with, but there’s enough forward motion that she’s definitely not as unlikeable as she once was. The scenes between Grace and her longtime friend and co-worker, Rhetta (Laura San Giancomo), are consistent highlights, and the relationship between Grace and Earl is less confrontational and more comfortable this time around. Speaking of relationships, there’s also further insight into the bond between Grace and her young nephew, Clay (Dylan Minnette), particularly in the second half of the season, when his father, Doug (Chris Mulkey), pops back into the picture, now dating Maggie the bartender (Kathy Baker).
Sticking with “Saving Grace” is easy to recommend but tough to execute. Both seasons of the show are rough going at first, but both have ended strongly; the problem is simply whether or not you can stand to watch Grace make an ass of herself long enough to see your way through to the end. Season Two is considerably easier to swallow than Season One was, however, so one hopes that the trend will continue into Season Three.
Special Features: No commentaries, but we do get two featurettes, and although the first – “Have A Little Faith: The Successes of ‘Saving Grace’” – is mostly just an opportunity for the cast and crew to acknowledge how far they’ve come since the beginning of the series, the second – “The Wrap Party Red Carpet: Hosted by Dylan Minnette” – is particularly enjoyable. As the youngest member of the cast, Minnette gets the cast members to respond to questions about the show in a loose, casual manner; as a result, what could’ve been a standard back-patting session ends up feeling more honest and open than average.