This quirky drama came and went in three short seasons between 2007-09 but is still making the rounds of terrestrial TV in many regions. In a surprise casting, it seems even Oscar winner Holly Hunter believed you haven’t made it on TV until you get your own cop show, seen here as Oklahoma City police detective Grace Hanadarko. Hard-drinking, hard-smoking and generally hard-bitten, Grace would be just another post-feminist cop if not for the genre twist in the show.
Grace has a ‘last-chance’ angel; a scruffy, gravel voiced, semi-vagrant called Earl (Leon Rippy) who has the task of turning her from self-destruction to some kind of salvation. It’s a Wonderful Life meets Law and Order with a touch of Brothers and Sisters on less money. Grace has turned away from God after the death of her sister in the Murrah Building bombing of 1995, not helped by childhood horrors and the police job. Grace’s brother is the local Catholic padre. Earl’s other ‘client’ is death-row inmate Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine), with reminders of The Green Mile. Connections between the two lost souls multiply, as Cooley’s son and Grace’s nephew become friends.
Saving Grace is one of those overtly post-911 dramas still cropping up, a show steeped in Catholic themes of guilt and redemption wrapped around gritty little crime homilies of good and evil. It’s an awkward cocktail that never quite holds together and you can see why it ran short, studio budgets not withstanding.
That’s not to say it was bad. Hunter is superb as the conflicted Grace with an able supporting cast and guests; a stand-out is Grace’s best friend, the deeply religious forensic specialist Rhetta Rodriguez, played by the watchable yet overlooked Laura San Giacomo. However, the show piles on the issues; Grace finally confronts the retired priest (Rene Auberjonois) who molested her as a child. Christina Ricci guests as a single mother detective out to catch a serial killer on the loose (isn’t there always?). There are teen drug problems; race and politics clash with the murder of a Mexican woman; later, the brother of Grace’s married ‘partner’ goes AWOL from Afghanistan. Then Grace falls for a high-profile murder suspect (Elias Koteas) with an unconventional sex life.
There’s enough in here for five or six dramas if only the show could decide what it wanted to be. As it is, angel Earl always pops up to break the fourth wall for the viewer; good as they are, the cast and the scripts just can’t take up the strain.
Hunter remains mesmerising throughout and the episodes stand up well enough as solid, earnest productions, even if the high-concept thing at the centre wobbles and shakes worse than Grace with a hangover. Saving Grace has more heart than your average police procedural; as a bold attempt to do something different you have to salute that. RC