I’ve been a fan of Holly Hunter’s since I saw her in “Raising Arizona” and “Broadcast News”, as the actress has been remarkably consistent and reliable, delivering performances either believably dramatic or funny. Given the crowded genre, I was a little disappointed to see Hunter joining a police drama, but "Saving Grace" remains a nice surprise - it’s a solid show about humanity and redemption.
Holly Hunter plays Grace Hanadarko, a policewoman for the Okalahoma City Police who is far from perfect. While the restless cop and the imperfect detective are not new characters, “Saving Grace” manages to take the idea to new heights. The writing delves into Grace’s life, as well as the many characters who make up her friends, colleagues, family and lovers and turns out a collection of raw and well developed people.
Still, this isn’t your usual cop drama and that’s not only because of the closer look at the character’s lives. In season one, Grace is driving drunk and hits a man. Consumed by the horror and sorrow of she’s done, she cries out to God for help. An angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, “Deadwood”) appears, looking rather rough around the edges. It’s only when he spreads his wings and restores the health of the man Grace hit, that Grace finally believes what she sees.
As it turns out, “Saving Grace” isn’t really about the police investigations, it’s about saving Grace from herself, from her past, her present and her doubts. Earl is her last chance angel and is there to help Grace, even though she’s not too keen on the idea at first. That’s not to say there aren’t crimes to be solved: every episode sees Grace faced with a new mystery of some sort to solve. The storylines revolving around the investigations are usually interesting and the lessons learned are never heavy- handed. In fact, its Grace’s near reckless abandonment that is often shoved the most in your face.
Surrounding Hunter's character are a collection of equally interesting and well rounded individuals. Her best friend Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo) is a forensic scientist who is a welcomed balance and calm to Grace’s wild behavior. There’s also her nephew Clay (Dylan Minnette), who she feels very protective of. Then there’s other cops Ham (Kenny Johnson), Butch Ada (Bailey Chase) and Bobby Stillwater (Gregory Cruz) who are all different enough and bring a nice variation and add interesting storylines to the series. Adding to the drama is the fact that Grace sleeps around quite a bit and her co-workers are certainly not off limits which creates a decent amount of drama.
“Saving Grace” isn’t like other faith-driven dramas (i.e. “Touched By and Angel” and “Joan of Arcadia”, not that those were bad shows), as the moments between redemption and Earl’s wisdom are far from angelic. Grace is human and wonderfully flawed. Yes, Grace is human and it really is the fragility of humanity and the quest to find actual grace that makes the series as successful as it is.
The first two seasons of “Saving Grace” focus on Grace and Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine), the man she hit with her car. As it turns out he’s on death row and Earl is also sent to earth to help Leon find peace. As the seasons progress, Grace learns that she and Leon are connected via her sister, who was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. The death of her sister is one of the events that haunts Grace and one she must ultimately try and find peace with. The relationship between Leon and Grace is extremely compelling, especially as season two wraps itself up with people coming to a head over whether or not Leon should get the death sentence.
By season three, Grace is still working to find a little bit of relief from her past, as well as dealing with the fact that her Angel appears whenever he wants to help guide her. Grace continues to swear, drink, smoke and sleep around, but as “Saving Grace” reaches season three you start to notice slight changes in Grace that are necessary for the audience to feel Earl’s wisdom is actually sinking in. Much like seasons one and two, season three is full of emotional episodes, outstanding performances and compelling storylines. Picking up where season two left off, Grace tries to find out more about a woman she saw in her dreams who is also visited by Earl. The woman is Neely (Yaani King), who is in an abusive relationship and afraid to talk to Grace. However, Grace’s persistence in finding answers ends up getting Neely hurt. Neely, much like Leon in seasons one and two, becomes a part of Grace’s life.
Despite the drama, there are several comic relief moments throughout the series, which Hunter handles incredibly well. Rippy and Hunter work superbly together, and the cast has solid chemistry. Laura San Giacomo is a refreshing addition to the cast and gives such a warm engaging performance. No one falls short here and it’s a shame that performances and writing like this only lasted three seasons.
Despite being its final season, season three is strong and packed with interesting storylines. Some of the standout episodes include: “Watch Siggybaby Burn” where her brother John’s (Tom Irwin) church is bombed in an attempt to get to Grace. In “Am I going to Lose Her” Grace is abducted while investigating a case. In the episodes “Let’s Talk” and “Hear the Birds” Grace is determined to get out all of her feelings to God and deal with her emotions after surviving a traumatic event. A lot takes place for all of the characters is season three, but it’s Grace’s story that is most compelling, especially as the series comes to a close. The series doesn’t lose its momentum and Grace’s character remains flawed up to the final episode, making the ending that much more rewarding. The final three episodes are both heartbreaking and promising. The series does an incredible job of wrapping up in what is a satisfying and emotional series finale.
VIDEO: "Saving Grace" is presented by Fox in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality throughout was generally very good, especially considering the show's TV origins. Sharpness and detail were very pleasing; while the show didn't appear razor sharp, it at least boasted good, consistent definition.
The picture did show some slight grain at times, but I'm not sure if this was an intentional element of the photography or not. Edge enhancement and pixelation were kept to a bare minimum, and the elements used seemed to be in excellent shape, with no visible wear or damage. Colors remained natural and seemed accurately presented, with no smearing or other faults. Flesh tones also appeared spot-on, too.
SOUND: "Saving Grace" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital 5.1. Surrounds do kick into gear at times to deliver occasional sound effects and mild ambience, but the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue, well-recorded effects and a full, crisp score.
Final Thoughts: While it's too bad that this solid series came to a close, the third season is a strong final round for "Saving Grace" with another top-notch performance from Hunter. The DVD edition boasts very nice audio/video quality, but no extras. Recommended.