TV Review: Hunter's humanity sparkles in uplifting 'Grace'

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A religious-themed series that takes up where "Joan of Arcadia" and "Highway to Heaven" left off, TNT's excellent "Saving Grace" is a welcome TV newcomer.

"Grace" (10 p.m. tomorrow) is a tougher show than "Joan" or "Highway," and some God-fearing viewers will disapprove of the protagonist's behavior. Holly Hunter stars as hugely cynical police detective Grace Hanadarko, who drinks too much, smokes too much and has too much casual sex.

After driving drunk and running down a man, a tobacco-chewing angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, "Deadwood") appears to Grace and gives her a second chance. The dead guy is alive again, and Grace's car is no longer smashed up. Grace, a real spitfire, demands answers from Earl, but he deflects her, saying, "I give you the answers, there's no room for faith."

The heart of this spiritually-tinged show is a police procedural, giving TNT its second Southern-fried crime solver after Kyra Sedgwick in "The Closer."

Regardless of whether you see "Saving Grace" as a "Closer" rip-off, it's undeniably stronger from the outset than "The Closer" was at its start, though "Grace" does sometimes suffer from police cases that wrap up too neatly.

Hunter, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, excels at playing this damaged character, and she's aided by strong performances from Laura San Giacomo ("Just Shoot Me") as her more religious lab technician friend and Kenneth Johnson (Lem on "The Shield") as a likable love interest.

Writer/creator Nancy Miller ("Any Day Now") imbues the show with touches both subtle -- Grace has an elderly, harmless peeping-tom neighbor -- and a little overwrought -- the show is set in Oklahoma, so of course Grace's sister died in the 1995 Oklahoma City federal office building bombing -- but the divine "Grace" still offers stronger characters and better stories than many other summer series.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv/questions under TV Q&A.


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