Saving Grace is truly one of the best programs on television today—serious, intelligent, creative, and with a strong set of positive values shining through its gritty subject matter. The series’ producers are as willing to confront the dark side of American life today as anyone, yet they never give in to fashionable bleakness or despair.
On the contrary, the program delivers a realistic sense of hope while never papering over the difficulties involved in living right in a greatly imperfect world. The combination of police drama and frank, explicit spirtuality is fresh and successful, and the lead character’s reluctance to give herself over fully to what is good and true is something with which most viewers can sympathize.
As a police officer, Grace is supposed to be rescuing others from disaster, yet she desperately needs help herself because her life has little meaning as she is living it. She knows that there is more to life and that some people find a way to live in relative peace, but she cannot find fulfillment in sex, alcohol, tobacco, parties, thievery, and lying, the only things she knows and is willing to try.
Finally, Holly Hunter’s brave and compelling performance as the central character of the program goes beyond even our previous expectations for this highly talented and frequently honored actress.
Nancy Miller, creator of TNT’s spiritual themed drama Saving Grace, seeks out topics that are “taboo” in Hollywood: race, death, and religion. Her series, about a boozin’, fornicatin’ homicide detective named Grace (Holly Huner) who meets Earl (Leon Rippy), a last chance angel, lays down some unusual ground rules.
“It’s not airy-fairy, believe what you want to believe,” she told me in a recent interview, “There is a God, and Earl represents God.” The concept that God exists and cares enough to send an angel to woo Grace back to Him is the bedrock of the show.
“This show is not like other shows with angels,” she said. Saving Grace is more willing than previous shows about faith to explore the depths of man’s depravity, partly because an exploration of sin illuminates grace and partly because it’s on cable, where anything goes. Grace drinks to excess, sleeps with almost every man she meets, and swears enough to keep up with the other homicide detectives. Her natural tendencies to act in compassion and seek justice are often tripped up by her self-destructive behavior. She’s a winsome and stubborn mess.
Ms. Miller, a practicing Catholic, has put a lot of thought into the world she creates for Grace. “I was very upset by the pedophile scandal in the Church and thought it was handled horribly,” she said, “I wanted to touch on that, but I also wanted a good priest. I want to talk about the good side as well.” Grace’s backstory includes childhood abuse by a priest. The past is balanced by her brother John (Tom Irwin), also a priest. He’s a caring man, if a sometimes exasperated brother.
Grace’s best friend, Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), is another of Miller’s key characters. “She’s a believer and a scientist,” said Ms. Miller, “Sometimes people don’t think those two things can go hand in hand.”
Finally, Miller set the story away from the usual big city settings, in Oklahoma City. “I wanted Grace in the Bible Belt,” she said, “Surrounded by people who believe in God and are vocal about it.”
A presence of evil infuses the show, from the brutal murders Grace and her coworkers investigate, from the senseless Oklahoma City bombing that took the life of Graces’ sister, and from the lies and pain Grace herself visits on those who love her. It can be unsettling, without a neat wrap-up at the end. It’s intentional. “This is not a ‘Christian’ show,” said Ms. Miller, “It asks the questions, but doesn’t answer them.” But it does create a unique setting in entertainment in which the answers come from dialogue with God instead of rejection of Him.
Saving Grace returned to the TNT lineup this week after a short break, to finish its first season. It airs Mondays on TNT at 10.
For a recap of the season 1 episodes that have aired so far, click here.