Review: Saving Grace 1×1

Saving Grace

In the US: Mondays, TNT, 10/9c

In the UK: Not yet acquired

I watch a lot of old tatt for you guys. I really do. Normally, I manage to sit through it all. Sometimes I can make it as far as five episodes into a piece of old rubbish before decreeing its awfulness, just to save you all from having to do the same.

The last time I couldn’t make it through an entire episode of something was Angela’s Eyes, almost exactly a year ago. I lasted less than a minute with that one.

I lasted 16 minutes of Saving Grace before I decided enough was enough and I couldn’t take any more. What was wrong with it?

It was offensive. It was really, really offensive.

Plot (handed down on stone tablets from the TNT web site)

Academy Award®-winning actress Holly Hunter (The Piano) takes on the role of a cynical police detective facing a personal crisis of divine proportions in the provocative new drama series SAVING GRACE, premiering this July on TNT.

In her television series debut, Hunter stars as Grace Hanadarko, a tormented, fast-living Oklahoma City police detective who, despite being at the top of her field, takes self-destruction to new heights. After seeing tremendous tragedy in her life, both professionally and personally, Grace lives life hard and fast. She drinks too much, sleeps with the wrong men and defies authority. Grace has a tender side with her 22 nieces and nephews, but that is a side that most of the world doesn’t get to see. It all catches up with her one night when, as she’s driving too fast after too many drinks, she hits a man who is walking along the road. In an uncharacteristic moment, Grace asks for help, and she gets it – in the form an unconventional angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, Deadwood). Earl tells Grace that she is in trouble and running out of chances, but he wants to help lead her back to the right path. The journey, for both of them, will not be an easy one.

Creator Nancy Miller says of Hunter, “Holly can break your heart and make you laugh in the same moment. She’s astonishing. Grace is a complex character, deeply troubled but searching for the good, with a heart full of love and pain, and a surprising tenderness when you least expect it.”

In addition to Rippy, the cast also includes Kenneth Johnson (The Shield) as Grace’s partner; Gregory Norman Cruz (Criminal Minds) as detective Bobby Stillwater; Bailey Chase (Las Vegas) as detective Butch Ada; Bokeem Woodbine (The Big Hit) as a death row inmate who figures into Grace’s struggle and Laura San Giacomo (Just Shoot Me) as the criminalist who, despite having strong religious beliefs, is the only one in Grace’s life who does not judge her.

Is it any good?

Let’s start from the outset with a few notes.

  1. I’m an atheist. Sorry, but I am. I’m unconvinced by any religion. It’s not for want of exposure: I went to Christian schools from the age of four. But I no more believe in God, god, Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Ganesh, et al, than I do in chocolate teapots orbiting Mars. When the evidence comes in for any of it, I might reconsider.
  2. I’m not closed minded on the subject. It’s entirely possible that Jesus has visited all Christians everywhere personally, shoved a load of evidence in their faces and explained everything to them (don’t say ‘What? Like the Bible?’ Just don’t). He simply hasn’t reached me yet. So I’m not going to accuse anyone of being wrong/stupid/whatever.
  3. I don’t hate Christian TV per se. I used to watch Highway to Heaven religiously (ho, ho) and I managed to sit through a couple of episodes of Touched by Angel without much difficulty (some would call me a saint for that).
  4. I don’t think of myself as a bad person. Maybe I’m deluding myself – I have had Christian friends tell me that because I don’t believe in God, my life must be empty of love and my soul will go to Hell when I die (thanks guys). But I don’t hurt people and I don’t do anything criminal that I’m aware of. I give money to charity, a proportion of my working life is dedicated to helping nurses care for their patients and I try to be nice wherever possible. I even try to give balanced reviews of really bad TV shows.

But Saving Grace is having none of that. As an atheist, apparently I must be an adulterous, chain-smoking, drug-taking, drink-driving, law-breaking, evil bigot who takes every possible opportunity to knock Christians for their beliefs.

Maybe I’m just being over-sensitive here (I probably am), but it just riled me. She couldn’t be a lapsed Christian, couldn’t be a Christian who had lost her way and had started to gather sticks on the Sabbath or something*. No, she had to be an atheist – the only one in the show. Bah!

The God-angle aside, it’s not a great show, by the looks of its first 16 minutes. Holly Hunter is one of those “ballsy” female cops – naturally, the only one who spends all her time punching sexual harassers, as you do. She has one of those police captains who are there purely for her to argue with and who force her to apologise to the men who sexually harass her. There’s some God-awful dialogue and it’s impossible to take Hunter seriously since Sarah Paulson’s impression of her on Studio 60. although there’s nothing really wrong with her performance (although she can’t really play drunk very well).

So my general advice is to steer clear of it for all sorts of reasons. Maybe it’ll be your cup of tea though. It really just wasn’t mine, so you’ll have to try it for yourself to be sure.

Here’s a YouTube trailer, although it’s not very good. You’ll notice that God stops her cell phone from working when she wants to call for an ambulance to save a man’s life. Bad God – or at least bad scriptwriting. Tsk, tsk.

PS “Laura San Giacomo (Just Shoot Me) as the criminalist who, despite having strong religious beliefs, is the only one in Grace’s life who does not judge her.” How’s that? Because she has strong religious beliefs, she’s the one expected to judge Grace? What about “Judge not, that ye be not judged”? Something odd there, even on the show’s own terms. It’s probably the God-less marketing department’s fault though. Although they seem to regard defying authority as a sin, as well.

* Oops. Punishment for gathering sticks on the Sabbath: death by stoning. Maybe something less terrible than that then

  • I feel slightly sick after reading this. It just ooozes being all the things that I would hate.
    And yeah, another atheist here so definitely with your responses.

  • Actually, I remember feeling slightly sick, too. On a par with Angela’s Eyes. Must be some sort of critical “spider sense” that’s available to my stomach.

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  • Persephone

    Can I just say my piece, then forever hold my peace? I liked this show. I watched the full season. I was startled by your violent reaction to it, having missed any of the “offensiveness” you detected during your sixteen-minute (by your own admisson) viewing. I found Grace to be an interesting and well-rounded character, psychologically scarred by the 1993 bombing in Oklahoma City that cost the lives of 168 people (including 19 children at a daycare) in the Murrah Federal Building. Grace was one of the responding police officers to this tragedy (largely forgotten in the wake of “9/11”). One of the fictional victims turns out to be Grace’s sister. We learn, much later in the series, that Grace was sexually abused as a preteen by her parish priest. Earl, her raggle-taggle angel, also looks out for a condemned prisoner who is a convert to Islam. This makes no difference to the angel who is from God, not from any particular religion.
    I won’t argue with your views on the quality of the show. That’s a matter of personal taste. I’ve always been a fan of Holly Hunter, and I’m looking forward to the second season of this show, believing the writing to be good and the acting excellent. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever seen on television, but it’s a cut above most of the schlock out there. I do, however, strongly feel that you are mistaken in the agenda of this show, and I hope you don’t mind someone saying something in defense of it.

  • MediumRob

    Well, everyone’s allowed to have an opinion and to disagree with me – although obviously they’ll be wrong if they do. 😉
    Generally, and joking apart, my philosophy on this is relatively clear. Everyone has different tastes and different life experiences and we’re all unlikely to agree on everything. So when you’re looking for TV reviews, you look for someone you tend to agree with and if they point you towards something, it’s probable you might like it and you’ll have a brand new thing to enjoy; if they point you away from it, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed so it’ll save you some time. I’m not heading off to the Christian TV reviews site any time soon because I don’t think our tastes will coincide. That doesn’t mean their tastes won’t coincide with their readers’.
    On Saving Grace, my suspicion is that people who generally agree with me on other programmes and who have similar life views and interests will probably be offended within the first 16 minutes. Imagine a Catholic coming to an atheistic programme where the hero spends the first 16 minutes saying “God be praised” then abusing a small child directly afterwards; taking communion then shooting up a small shop; and then reading a passage of the bible to him before nailing a squirrel to a tree. Then they suddenly have a revelation, realise there’s no God and decide to turn their life round and be a good person.
    Okay, exaggeration. But Saving Grace had as clear an equation between being sinful and immoral and being an atheist as it’s possible to get in a drama short of everyone wearing a T-shirt saying “If you’re an atheist, you’re evil.”
    Now it might well be it got better. It might be well rounded after that, and I missed out on a treat and that’s my loss. But by that point, I really just wasn’t feeling much of an inclination to watch any more of the show. Sorry! I’m glad you enjoyed though! And if anyone is of a similar to inclination of mind to you rather than me, I hope they get to enjoy it, too! If they’re not though….

  • Not being a Christian, I don’t hang out at Christian TV review sites. I rather suspect that most of them (except the more liberal sites) would tear Saving Grace to shreds on theological and moral grounds. For the record though, I’m a liberal theist married to a (reasonably) liberal Christian and am lucky enough to count people of many religious views (from atheist to fundamentalist, and most positions between) among my friends. I’m very careful not to discuss religion with the atheists or the fundamentalists, though. As you suggest, they’re always right! I’ll shut up now. I promise.

  • Shannon

    Actually, you find out she’s a backslidden (or whatever word you want to use) Catholic, not an athiest. She keeps saying she doesn’t beleive in God, yet she’s investigating the other guy who gets visited by Earl. Later in the 1st season she makes it a point to tell Earl that she’s dating an athiest, but she doesn’t call herself one. She says to him a few times she doesn’t believe in God, but you see that she does because she’s angry at him for what happened in her past.

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