By Henry Goldblatt
Updated July 22, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Erik Heinila
  • Movie

In the first few episodes of Saving Grace, Det. Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter) breaks at least five of the Ten Commandments, indulges in four of the deadly sins, and runs over a guy with her black Porsche after drinking heavily. An intriguing heroine is born.

A liar, an unapologetic adulteress, and an exhibitionist — not to mention, a big boozehound — Grace is like no woman on TV. Her surroundings are unique as well: Oklahoma City 12 years after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. This is an O.C. where the toilet-seat lids are covered in carpet and an elementary school is named for Ronald Reagan. The whole city and her family still swell with pain.

Right after the car accident, a guy named Earl (Deadwood‘s Leon Rippy) appears, claiming to be an angel. Unfortunately, some dreaded exposition comes along with him. ”You’re headed for hell, Grace,” he explains, ”but God’s given you one last chance [and] sent me to help you. I’m not going to be around all the time, so you can’t just snap your fingers and expect me to show up…. There’s a lot of people going to hell these days.” Shortly after Earl compares himself to a Fed Ex deliveryman, Grace comes to and the body of the guy she ran over has disappeared. So has Earl. Was it all a dream? Is Earl real?

Oscar winner Hunter — blond, taut, and crackling — makes a terrific transition to television. And it’s nice to see Just Shoot Me‘s Laura San Giacomo again — this time as Rhetta, Grace’s longtime friend who’s a forensics expert in the same office and wants to ”prove” Earl’s existence. However, Grace is one of the most frustrating shows to hit the small screen in a while: Somewhere inside of all this is a terrific series trying to establish itself, but the producers will be damned if they’re going to write it. They don’t seem to have faith that their antiheroine and setting are compelling enough on their own, so they’ve added this superfluous otherworldly layer to keep viewers intrigued. (FX’s Dirt was similarly tainted.) We deserve more credit, right?

And wow, the religion is heavy-handed — so much so that the underwritten crimes Grace solves seem like afterthoughts. Grace’s brother Johnny (Tom Irwin) is a priest. Rhetta trots out this old trope: ”Miracles happen all the time, you just have to believe.” And Grace has a hallucination — or is it? — that every radio station in her car is playing Tavares’ ”Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel.” The nadir occurs partway through the show’s second hour, when Earl transports Grace to Athens and they wrestle around in some Parthenon-looking ruins. Such a shame. It’d be so much more entertaining to see Grace wrestle with her demons. B-

Saving Grace

  • Movie
  • R
  • 93 minutes
  • Nigel Cole