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TV Series Review

Don't mistake TNT's new drama Saving Grace for Touched by an Angel or even Joan of Arcadia. Here, Oscar-winner Holly Hunter portrays Grace Hanadarko, a selfish detective with an addiction-fueled personal life. When she's not solving mysteries, Grace indulges in shockingly explicit sex romps with her married police partner. She also guzzles liquor, smokes incessantly and unleashes s-words like a character in a Kevin Smith film. Whether flashing bare breasts at an appreciative elderly neighbor (nudity not shown) or taking children for joy rides in her squad car, Grace's game is a reckless one … until she mows down a man while driving drunk.

Grace's desperate plea of "Dear God, please help me" is answered in the form of an angel named Earl (the leathery Leon Rippy). This tobacco-chewing good ol' boy informs Grace that God is giving her a final shot at redemption if she cleans up the profane mess that is her life. "You're headed for hell, Grace," he says, "but God's giving you one last chance."

That supernatural opportunity begins with the erasure of the accident. Was it just a dream? Nope. Earl returns, dispensing more moral exhortations. Still disbelieving, Grace gathers physical evidence from the angel—including his chaw—for analysis by her friend Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), a crime-lab technician and flaky-but-sincere Catholic. Hard science confirms Earl's otherworldly origins, but Grace's atheism causes her to stubbornly kick against the goad.

The show's strange relationship between sin and redemption is tangled at best. For starters, we're given a voyeuristic look at Grace's immorality. The camera exploits her failings, especially her predilections for sex and substance abuse. Producers relish showing us every side of this bad girl's life. Then there are the condescending looks at religion, blasphemous uses of Christ's name, and the fact that Grace's priest brother responds to her divine encounter by telling her she's "full of s---." Totally unacceptable.

Paradoxically, Saving Grace does differentiate between right and wrong while recognizing that eternal consequences exist for disobeying God. For example, Earl warns Grace to end her adulterous relationship. Other characters give positive nods to prayer, faith and church, though Earl—the "authority" on spiritual matters —articulates a breezy universalism. When Grace says she'll have to begin attending church again, her winged advisor responds that any temple or mosque will do.

Indeed, the show's gospel seems to demand little more of sinful people than a vague intention to try harder. That one-step-forward, two-steps-back journey toward the light is, apparently, all it takes to earn salvation. And the name of Jesus is just an exclamatory profanity. Given Saving Grace's "all paths lead to God" attitude, don't expect its unholy view of redemption to shift much as these racy, profanity-strewn episodes drag out.

Episodes Reviewed: July 23, 30, 2007

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Adam R. Holz

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