Not since The Mary Tyler Moore Show has an ensemble cast portrayed so convincingly the petty jealousies and intense loyalties forged in the workplace. Let there be no misunderstanding, however. She may share a marital status, but Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter) bears no resemblance to that 1970s single gal Mary Richards.
Saving Grace is a police drama with a difference. The setting is the Oklahoma City Detective Squad 20 years after Timothy McVeigh. The city and the Hanadarko clan remain marked by the tragic bombing. Grace is at her peak professionally and scraping bottom in her personal life: sex, drugs and raunchy music are just the beginning of her explorations of available vice. An act of wilder-than-usual self-destruction results in a roadside accident with seemingly dire consequences.
Grace, raised in the church, cries out to heaven for help. God’s response comes in the form of a tattooed, tobacco-chewing biker-angel named Earl. Watching Leon Rippy play Earl should be listed as one of the top 10 reasons for inventing TV.
This is not for the fainthearted or those with no stomach for raw language or vivid sex scenes. Grace wrestles with real demons of contemporary life and the viewer is spared little. Though cynical toward organized religion, Grace is not entirely immune to Earl’s insistence about the necessity for change. From the start, we glimpse her potential as a better person. She is a caring aunt to one of her (many) nephews. The relationship she shares with childhood friend and criminalist Rhetta Rodriguez (Laura San Giacomo) feels authentic, filled with quarrels, giggles and mutual memories.
There are deeper, darker reasons for Grace’s wildness; they emerge as we are introduced to the Hanadarko family. There is also more to Earl’s task and the act of intervention in which he is revealed as God’s agent on Earth: Earl has other clients. And, as in all good police dramas, each jam-packed, fast-paced segment features a crime to be solved.
Watching Saving Grace, like all true temptations, is potentially addictive. There is an intriguing paradox: Grace’s problem is that she likes that bad, wild life. Our problem as viewers? So do we. We are hooked and seduced into sharing Grace’s reluctance to reform. As people of faith, however, we must also be inspired by the limitless guises with which hope for redemption is revealed. That is our salvation as viewers. Whither salvation for Grace? Stay tuned.
• Season 1 of Saving Grace will be released on DVD this spring.
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