SAVING GRACE created by Nancy Miller, with Holly Hunter, Leon Rippy and Laura San Giacomo. Premieres Monday (August 27) at 10 pm on Showcase. Rating: NNNN
In the first hour of this gritty police drama with an unlikely Biblical bent, detective Grace Hanadarko - the titular hero played with ferocious intensity by Holly Hunter - breaks a few of the laws she's sworn to uphold, takes a wrecking ball to a couple of commandments, indulges in at least three of the seven deadly sins, gets hammered and runs over a pedestrian.
She's the latest in the long tradition of damaged and self-destructive detectives with good hearts typified by NYPD Blue's Andy Sipowicz.
She's proudly promiscuous, a liar and a drunk dedicated to sex, booze and busting bad guys (not necessarily in that order). That her beat happens to be an Oklahoma City still recovering from the Federal Building bombing 12 years ago (Hanadarko's sister was killed in the explosion) adds another layer of simmering complexity to the proceedings.
And with Hunter at the controls - a taut, blond firecracker with a smart mouth and size 7 shitkickers - Hanadarko becomes one of the most compelling characters on television.
But this isn't a Law & Order- or CSI-style whodunit. The crimes are more of an afterthought, with method and motive sketched as thinly as a strip of yellow police tape.
As the title suggests, this is really the story of Hanadarko's redemption.
To help her wrestle her demons and find the highway to heaven, she's accompanied by her very own honest-to-god guardian angel named Earl (Deadwood's Leon Rippy). Unlike previous TV angels (that beguiling Roma Downey on Touched By An Angel, say), Earl is a big, burly chaw-chewing redneck biker seraph complete with glowing white wings and a bad attitude.
Thankfully, the theology never digs deeper than a Sunday school sermon. Earl dismisses Hanadarko's questions about heaven and God by saying, "If I gave you the answers, there's no room for faith," apparently oblivious to the fact that a 6-foot angel with powers to teleport across time and space similarly negates the need to believe.
A wrestling match between Hanadarko and Earl in the Parthenon (yeah, the one in Greece) is just as ridiculous (the only thing Hanadarko should wrestle are her demons), although Hunter manages to sell it through sheer force of will.
It's enough to make you wish the show's producers had had enough faith in their lead character to build a show around her that didn't require divine intervention.
Hanadarko is also the latest in a new tradition of tough, flawed, boundary-pushing - and older (i.e. not 20-something with fake boobs) - female characters. Kyra Sedgwick's master police interrogator with candy and commitment issues on The Closer is the most obvious example and certainly influenced Hanadarko, with whom she shares a network (TNT) in the U.S.
There's also CCH Pounder's hard-nosed Detective Wyms and Glenn Close's ball-breaking police captain on The Shield, and, on the other side of the law, Mary Louise Parker's pot-dealing suburban mom on Weeds, all of whom, to one degree or another, owe a debt of gratitude to Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison on Prime Suspect.
They are female characters who for the first time risk being as unapologetically unlikeable as their male counterparts. Even more groundbreaking, they aren't condemned for their bad behaviour.
Which is another of Saving Grace's redeeming qualities.
What to watch this week
Monday, August 20
The Hills (Surreality) Lauren, Whitney, Audrina and Heidi cope with first jobs, first boyfriends, pseudo-marriage proposals and being superficial and stupid in Hollywood in the third season of this shallow, soapy series that's the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. 10 pm on MTV Canada
Wednesday, August 22
Criminal minds (Police drama) Joe Mantegna has signed on for the new season of this under-rated crime show, so these repeats will be the last chance to enjoy Mandy Patinkin's offbeat profiler given his surprising decision to leave the show. 9 pm on CBS