Crime procedurals on television seem to have reached a point where nothing can be done routinely anymore. One cannot just have a show where someone solves crimes; the detective has to be obsessive-compulsive, pretend to be a psychic, be a modern day Sherlock Holmes, or be a savant at solving crimes and incapable of relating to others. Enter into that crowded field Saving Grace, a TV series featuring a detective who is a hard drinker, sexually promiscuous, tough as nails, and just happens to be visited by one of God's angels on a fairly regular basis. The angel's task? Save Grace from herself, of course.
Saving Grace features Holly Hunter in the title role of Grace Hanadarko and Leon Rippy as Earl, her “last chance Angel.” The premise of it all is rather easy to understand – Grace is slowly but surely destroying her life and Earl has been tasked by the Big Guy to put her back on the right track. As with so many “tough as nails” folks though, Grace is entirely unsure that she wants, or even needs, to be saved. After all, she has yet to cause irreparable damage and is still really good at her job.
The series also features the members of her police unit: Ham Dewey (Kenny Johnson), who is having an on again, off again affair with Grace; Butch Ada (Bailey Chase), who Grace has had a relationship with; Bobby Stillwater (Gregory Cruz), who is a little too strait-laced to have a relationship with Grace; Kate Perry (Lorraine Toussant), the boss; and Rhetta Rodriguez (Laura San Giacomo), who seems to be in charge of all lab tests, crime scene photos, and various miscellanea in the office. It is certainly a diverse bunch of supporting players, made that much more diverse by the inclusion of Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine) as a death row inmate who also has Earl as an angel.
While, on the whole, the supporting cast is up to the task, Laura San Giacomo's performance is uneven. She is fantastic as Grace's best friend from childhood, the one person Grace can truly confide in. In this role, she is capable and sympathetic and wholly believable. In her lab coat, ministering over DNA test results and photographing crime scenes, she is less than credible. One never truly gets the sense at that times that she is who she claims. It's really unfortunate, as some of the best scenes in the first season of the show are with her and Grace in friendship mode. Her desire through the season to find out about Earl and his greater purpose is one of the things driving the storyline and, as she's in friendship mode at the time, San Giacomo seems perfectly suited to the role.
Season one of Saving Grace is currently available on DVD in a single set which features all 13 episodes as well as some behind the scenes featurettes. While some of the cases that Grace Hanadarko solves over the course of the 13 episodes are nominally interesting, it is really the Grace/Earl/Leon storyline that is the only truly compelling thing about the series. The question of why Earl is there and what exactly his larger purpose may be in bringing Grace and Leon together is really what holds the series together.
Neither the battle for redemption nor the question of the existence of God are anything new, but they are both still intriguing. Grace's internal battle (whether she acknowledges that there is one or not) is something that the audience can relate to. Few of us have quite as much to deal with as Grace, but there are bits of her struggle in all of us.
As an addition to the ever-expanding detective-who-solves-crimes-but-is-also… genre, Saving Grace may not be the best of breed, but it asks interesting questions and usually eschews easy answers. Though Grace is a lapsed Catholic, and the series may focus more on that religion than any other, it most definitely does not push one religion over another. Religion must, necessarily, enter such a story, but not having a single doctrine espoused as true was a wise move on the producers' part. Saving Grace doesn't always view organized religion as a positive force, but nor does it always find it negative. Much like Grace Hanadarko herself, the series is walking a tightrope, one misstep away from having the whole world standing at its door, pitchforks raised.
In addition to the first season of Saving Grace being on DVD, season two can currently be seen on TNT.