"I'm smart enough to know that I can't figure out God, but I see him working in you...and it's a good thing."
I know I'm never supposed to talk about politics or religion, but I'm about to break half that rule: I go to church once a year (on Christmas Eve). I'm not an atheist, and wouldn't even consider myself agnostic: I believe there is a higher power, but beyond that I don't belong to any organized religion or school of thought. It may not be important, but it gives you somewhat of an idea where I stood was as I popped in Saving Grace for the first time--with an open mind, but also curious if I would fit (what I perceived to be) its target audience.
Boy, was I wrong to have any concerns--and what a unique, pleasant surprise this show turned out to be. It's easy to see why Holly Hunter was attracted to the show, her first TV series: as Grace Hanadarko, a detective in Oklahoma City's major crimes unit, she plays a complex, confused mess of a person. She drinks hard, smokes hard, talks hard and has one hell of a healthy sex life with a never-ending parade of partners. One night while driving drunk, she slams her Porsche into a stranger. While trying to resuscitate the victim, she makes a plea: "Dear God...please help me." That's when Earl (Deadwood's Leon Rippy)--a tobacco spitting, novelty t-shirt wearing last-chance angel--appears and transports her away, asking non-believer Grace to accept the challenge of faith (he's just FedEx, trying to deliver a message).
When Grace returns to the street, the body is gone. Was it a dream? Was Earl simply a figment of her imagination, or maybe an awakening aneurism? Rattled by the experience, Grace is further intrigued when she discovers that her supposed victim is actually Leon (Bokeem Woodbine), an inmate on death row. Grace learns that Leon saw her in the same dream and also speaks with Earl, who wanders in and out of their lives at various times to challenge them--even talking with other people as an angel in disguise.
Grace tries to piece together the meaning of it all, and various images (a purple door, a dog with a long tongue and other David Lynch-like clues) point to grander revelations down the road. That intrigues Grace's best friend Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), a criminalist with strong religious beliefs. She asks Grace for physical evidence from Earl's visits for her to examine, hoping to one day get a glimpse of him. But Grace has trouble buying into it all, her heart hardened by a rough life that we learn more about as the series progresses. We soon discover one of her greatest losses, which helps us understand her outlook: Her sister died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
But that's just a small part of the series, the framework in which so much more takes place (most of the bigger mystery elements are presented in the opening and closing installments, with teases along the way). While this isn't a procedural series, the cases that fill each episode are always intriguing. They not only hold your interest from a suspense perspective, but more importantly they serve to develop the growth of each character.
Grace's unit includes partner Ham (The Shield's Kenny Johnson, one of the show's more central characters), who cheats on his wife in a long-running affair with Grace; Butch (Bailey Chase), who also has a past with Grace, and whose wealthy family and love of the Longhorns prompts teasing from his Sooner-obsessed squad; Bobby (Gregory Cruz), a family man and the most grounded of the bunch; and captain Kate Perry (the fabulous--and underused--Lorraine Toussaint).
Grace has an equally crowded family: mom, sister, brother-in-law and nephew (Dylan Minnette) are joined by four brothers--including priest Johnny (Tom Irwin)--who pop up at various points to further frustrate her. Hunter fits the challenging role perfectly, and it's not always pretty: Grace--and much of the show's material--may be a turnoff for many people. The series doesn't shy away from sexual themes or horrendous criminal acts--Grace may be touched by an angel, but this show has about as much in common with that syrupy series as Charlie's Angels does. (Della Reese probably wouldn't touch any of the characters here with a 10-foot cloud). Like Grace, the show is complex and has heart, humor and a purpose, one that may not be initially clear--and may change for each viewer as it develops.
One of the unique things about Saving Grace is how it expertly weaves three different aspects together: the family/friends drama, the police case intrigue and the struggle for faith. It's like three shows, and one of the beauties of the series is its openness to interpretation--it will mean different things to different people. The cast is amazing: Everyone has such believable chemistry with each other, no matter what the connection. The detectives feel like longtime friends, and Hunter brings Grace to life, breathing different attributes into different relationships.
At heart, the series is about family, friends, love, faith and forgiveness, and it's mature enough to handle ideas and themes without being preachy or pandering. If nothing else, it wants you to think about what you believe, how you behave and how to become a better person. But beyond all that, Saving Grace is simply an amazing show, a unique experience led by a fabulous cast and first-class writing.
The 13 episodes from Season 1 are presented on four discs; all run about 43-44 minutes, with the pilot a few minutes longer.
1. Pilot (aired 7-23-07) Grace launches an investigation when a 10-year-old girl vanishes. Elsewhere, the hard-living, self-destructive detective's spiritual awakening begins, as do her encounters with an angel, when she's involved in a fatal drunken-driving accident.
2. Bring it On, Earl (aired 7-30-07) Grace and the team investigate the murder of an oilman, using Lt. Yukon's troubled brother as an informant. Meanwhile, Grace sets out to prove her mettle by challenging angelic Earl to a wrestling match; and Ham discovers Grace's romantic past with Butch.
3. Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned (aired 8-6-07) A maid materializes as the prime suspect in the murder of a manager of a seedy hotel. But religious and political complications ensue when a local priest offers her a safe haven via the right of sanctuary. Meanwhile, Grace gradually comes to accept the recurring presence of the angel Earl in her life.
4. Keep Your Damn Wings Off My Nephew (aired 8-13-07) Grace must protect a devoutly religious young man who is the only witness to a murder and is set to testify at trial. The case becomes more complicated when vicious death threats hound the witness, prompting Grace to bring him into her home. Meanwhile, Grace has unsettling visions involving her nephew Clay.
5. Would You Want Me to Tell You? (aired 8-20-07) Grace's team combs for clues in the vanishing of a bull statue. Among the suspects: a testy ex-wife, a peeved artist and an employee who was injured during the statue's installation. Meanwhile, Grace's eccentric aunt arrives for a salute to Grace's father, a hero during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
6. And You Wonder Why I Lie (aired 8-27-07) Grace investigates an ever-twisting case involving the slaying of a reporter who was working undercover as a prostitute. Elsewhere, Earl confronts Grace about her chronic lying---something that could even jeopardize her friendship with Rhetta.
7. Yeehaw, Geepaw (aired 9-3-07) Grace heads an investigation when a body is discovered in a shallow grave in an apparent Native American burial ritual. She seeks insight from her Native American grandfather, but grows concerned when he displays signs of Alzheimer's disease.
8. Everything's Got a Shelf Life (aired 9-10-07) The squad's effort to hunt down a killer results in the death of a well-regarded policeman, a tragic turn-of-events that causes Grace and her colleagues to confront their own mortality issues. Meanwhile, death-row inmate Leon, granted time with his son, mulls over the boy's possible adoption by the mother's new boyfriend.
9. A Language of Angels (aired 9-17-07) A case turns personal for Grace when the murder of a young woman is chillingly reminiscent of a crime 11 years earlier. Meanwhile, Rhetta continues her quest to learn more about the otherworldly Earl by collecting physical items the angel leaves behind.
10. It's Better When I Can See You (aired 12-3-07) Grace investigates a possible negligent homicide involving a bus accident that resulted in the deaths of three children, but the case takes a backseat when multiple tornadoes touch down in Oklahoma City. Leon's spiritual journey takes a surprising turn.
11. This Is Way Too Normal For You (aired 12-10-07) Grace's investigation of a deadly drive-in robbery swirls around a man with Down syndrome and a home for the mentally challenged. Elsewhere, a romance blooms between Grace and the atheistic son of her voyeuristic neighbor.
12. Is There a Scarlet Letter on My Breast? (aired 12-17-07) A murder trial results in the arrival of a big-gun Los Angeles defense attorney, whose work may bring to light the team's potentially sloppy investigative work, not to mention the muck of their personal lives. Meanwhile, Ham considers disclosing to Grace his heretofore hushed feelings for her; and Grace is slated to attend her nephew's dawning confirmation.
13. Tacos, Tulips, Ducks and Spices (aired 12-18-07) In the first-season finale, burning questions are raised when a charred vehicle is discovered. Found inside the car: photos of Grace's sister, Paige, which compel Grace to snoop into her sibling's life. Meanwhile, physical clues left by Earl could reveal a shocking truth from Grace's past.
Each episode is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. It's a very "brown" series, and lacks bold colors. But the biggest thing you'll see is how incredibly soft the image is. I'm guessing that's intentional--it almost has an "angel glow" to it, a sometimes foggy hue (with a few random shots a tad blurry). You'll notice plenty of edge bleeding (particularly around various objects in the frames), and there's nary a sharp line to be found. It suits the series, but it isn't impressive from a pure visual perspective.
The 5.1 surround track is stronger, with plenty effects putting you into the moment--the rear channels get good use. I sometimes found the dialogue to be a tad "distant", not quite as strong and crisp as it could be. But you'll never have a problem understanding anything. Also provided is a 2.0 Spanish track, and subtitles in English, Spanish and French.
While the extra list looks lengthy, the bulk of it is TNT promo pieces that were created to help garner series interest as "commercials in disguise", not created specifically for this release. That includes Behind the Scenes with Holly Hunter (4:12), brief clips of the actress talking about her attraction to the "extremely unpredictable" role and script, noting it was a departure from what she's normally offered in the feature film world ("She lives impulse to action"). Then you get On the Set (3:10), with executive producer Gary Randall and some of the actors talking about the show. That's followed by A Conversation with Executive Producer Gary Randall (7:18), one of the more interesting pieces where he talks about the show, cast and characters. He notes how Grace tries to break feminine stereotypes, giving many attributes that are usually looked down upon for women but forgiven for men.
No Ordinary Angel (2:56) has the cast talking about Earl, and Randall provides an interesting observation about the show: "We're trying to keep them as grounded in the real world as possible. It's not fantastic--we're not doing a science-fiction show. The only leap of faith the audience needs to take for our show is that there actually might be angels." Rhetta: Laura San Giacomo on Her Character (3:25) is a self-explanatory interview, while Saving Grace Overview (5:41) is a show overview comprised of mostly recycled actor interview clips. Saving Grace: Season 1 Recap (4:16) is like a commercial catch-up before Season 2 starts. Also included is an Everlast music video for the show's theme song (the singer also appears in one episode), and a Burn Notice commercial.
The only extra created for this release are the audio commentaries on two episodes (the pilot and the season finale) with series creator/executive producer Nancy Miller (sadly missing from the other extras), Randall and director/executive producer Artie Mandelberg. The trio has a fun time--and a great sense of humor--as they talk about the show, the shoots and the cast, complimenting Hunter ("As an actor, she is fearless," Miller says) and everyone else. "It's the best of America," says Randall. "This is the first show that has really been about the heartland of America, and faith and God, without being preachy and sappy."
They point out some filming tricks, and we learn a little more about Miller and the show's autobiographical elements: she grew up in Oklahoma (and loves to throw in Longhorn jabs!), and also lost friends in the bombing. "That day, that bombing, the way Oklahoma City came together..." she recalls. "I was here in Los Angeles and I stayed in my house for three days and wept for the pain, but also [for] this enormous sense of pride in my home town."
Don't be confused...this isn't Touched by an Angel. Playing a hard-living Oklahoma City major crimes detective, Holly Hunter invigorates Saving Grace with a complex, confused heart that doesn't shy away from sexual themes or horrendous crimes. Part faith exploration, part crime thriller, part drama about our relationships with family and friends, this unique show is about love and forgiveness, faith and redemption. It's a series with a purpose, and one of the beauties of its construction is how if can provide different interpretations for different people. But more than anything, it's simply a beautifully written, superbly acted show that entertains--and will make you think. Highly Recommended.