Thursday, August 23, 2007
I'm not particularly religious, but I am fascinated by religious themes. TNT has a show on called Saving Grace that started several weeks ago and I finally watched the pilot episode. (Did I mention I'm a procrastinator?) TV shows with religious content are nothing new, Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel are the one's that immediately come to my mind. But I never watched those shows; they just seemed too saccharine. And I think I have a similar attitude to most people when it comes to religion: You can believe whatever you want, just don't push it on me. So, despite my fascination with how religion is dealt with in an entertainment venue, it still takes something extra for me to watch a show that takes for granted the existence of a Christian God. The something extra in Saving Grace is Holly Hunter. I've liked Holly Hunter ever since I saw her in Steven Spielberg's overly drawn out movie Always, which coincidentally stars Richard Dreyfuss as a guardian angel. Hunter has this great Southern drawl and a way of talking out the side of her mouth that makes her instantly engaging. She takes on unconventional roles, such as a cop-turned-baby snatcher in Raising Arizona and established herself as a solid movie star after winning an Academy Award for The Piano. She's not the first movie star to go to the small screen for a TV show, though it is still somewhat rare. And there's no denying, at least in my mind, that her presence lends credibility to the show. The basic premise really isn't anything new. Hunter's character, Grace Hanadarko, is a hard drinking cop who is definitely living life on the edge. She sleeps with pretty much any man who walks in the room, has a bad attitude and does whatever strikes her fancy at any given moment-- including flashing her elderly neighbor. In the pilot episode Grace is working on a kidnapping (and presumed murder) case involving a little girl. The stress of the case takes a toll on Grace and she, using her normal outlet, goes to a bar and gets falling down drunk after work. Driving home from the bar, weaving all over the road in her Porsche, she plows into a man walking along the road and kills him. After frantically trying to resuscitate the man she quietly, desperately pleads Dear God, help me. And in steps Earl (Leon Rippy): Saving Grace's grumpy, tobacco-chewing angel. The show didn't lose me with Earl, though it could have. Cranky angels are nothing new. John Travolta even played the Archangel Michael, in the forgettable movie Michael, as a butt-scratching, alcohol swilling creep. I can only assume that film and TV writers think a disheveled angel will be more accessible to viewers and that probably is the case. But for me, I think it would be more intriguing if an angel were played as more aloof. Dress the guy up in a suit, looking disdainful of the world around him and then you got my interest. But I digress. Earl casually steps into Grace's life with the words, what'cha need? and thus begins Grace's trip down the rabbit hole. Like anyone would, Grace questions her sanity when Earl reveals he is her "last chance" angel and whisks her off to the Grand Canyon to jar her into believing. Thinking at first the whole thing was a dream, Grace is forced to reconsider the experience when she finds blood on her shirt and red dirt in her boots. I haven't gotten far enough into the series to decided if I think it's hackneyed or not. Some of the elements obviously are, but in a way they have to be. We have to believe in God in order for Grace to be saved from the road to Hell she's on. And obviously Grace has to be a sinner-- with a good soul of course-- to have something to save her from. But I don't know..... What saves (no pun intended) the show right from the start is the cast. Holly Hunter is an excellent actress and her character is much deeper because of it. Grace could be a one-dimensional stereotype very easily but Hunter has an edge to her that keeps Grace on the fine line between vulnerability and hardness. I also like Laura San Giacomo as Grace's friend Rhetta, who accepts Grace's wildness but worries about her too. Still, the main point of this post is to look at the religious aspect of the show. I don't know if the point is to push religion onto the viewers or to simply capitalize on the fact that 90% of all people believe in a God of some sort. Probably the latter. But when the inevitable scenes come that speak of "God's Love" and show Earl blanketing Grace with his wings so she can feel the force of it (to which she replies Oh that is so much better than sex...) I can't help but resist the not-so-subtle image of the angel's wings and the glowing light that represents the feeling of being suffused with God's Love. I will give them credit for one thing though. They don't over-do the question-and-answer session that inevitably appears in shows like this. When asked the age-old question about why God allows suffering and doesn't show himself etc. etc., the short answer Earl gives Grace is but then there'd be no room for faith. Yes, it's the predictable answer, but it's short, sweet, to-the-point and allows the show to move forward without getting too mired down in theology. But I wonder if that can be avoided for very long? I remember watching The West Wing for the first season and liking it. But once the show became successful, and smug, it appeared to feel it could push a political agenda and it lost me. So I'm wondering if Grace can possibly exist without seeming to push Christianity on its viewers. So for now, I'll stick with it because I like Hunter and I'm interested enough to see what happens to Grace. But I wonder if her character, and the show, can walk the knife's edge for very long; or if they'll even try.