If you’re one of the uncounted millions who wished the cast of “Touched by an Angel” had spent less time imparting lightweight Christian morals and more time busting murderers, drug addicts and child rapists, then your prayers have been answered. TNT’s new series “Saving Grace” is just what you ordered: an unholy smushing-together of “The 700 Club” and “Law & Order: SVU.”
Academy Award-winner Holly Hunter joins the actor’s exodus from movie theaters to basic cable to play our titular anti-heroine, Grace Hanadarko. Grace is a fast-living Oklahoma City police detective who drinks, smokes, sleeps with married men and parks in handicapped spots. She’s not a bad girl, she’s merely ... wayward. What could possibly set Grace back on the path to righteousness? How about a grizzled, tobacco-chawing angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, late of HBO’s “Deadwood”)?
Yup. Out of the blue, Grace gets her very own guardian angel, wings and all, and becomes witness to a whole host of miracles, all designed to put her on the straight and narrow. Despite being told that she’s on the slippery slope to Hell, Grace takes her own sweet time becoming a convert. See, she doesn’t actually believe in God—mostly because her brother is a Catholic priest, and partially because she was molested by a member of the clergy at a young age (or so the storyline insinuates).
As a result, Grace has got a few choice questions for the man upstairs: Like, “Why does God let bad things happen?” The Big G’s winged representative sidesteps the philosophical questions. (They always do.) He also refuses to help her catch criminals (which would have made some sort of sense in context). Instead, our redneck angel offers up a bunch of prophetic dreams laden with mysterious symbols. What does it all mean? Well, that’s for Grace to puzzle out. In this world, apparently, angels are a cross between John Travolta in Michael and The Riddler.
Hunter tears into her role with a certain unhinged abandon. It’s a raw portrayal in terms of both the emotions and the amount of sex she’s asked to engage in. She spends the first five minutes of the pilot buck naked, which is something you don’t see many 49-year-old actresses signing up for. More power to her. The supporting cast has got a couple ringers in it. It’s good to see Laura San Giacomo (“Just Shoot Me”) back on TV as Grace’s best pal, a nerdy criminologist. Bokeem Woodbine (Dead Presidents) exudes sotto voce menace as a death row inmate sharing Grace’s symbolic dreams. And Rippy seems well cast for a role that Sam Elliot obviously turned down.
Ultimately, though, “Saving Grace” is one seriously strange mix of elements. It’s both sanctimonious and salacious. It’s both a gritty detective series and a preachy religious lesson. In other words: It’s just the sort of thing for people who wish their church sermons had more nudity and cursing.