Saving Grace: Strong Southern Women Rule at TNT

TNT has a way with women from the south.  They’re older, willful and attractive.  First, TNT introduced Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson in The Closer.  Said one critic a couple of years ago — from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (I believe) — during a TNT/TCA panel, "Kyra, I believe you’ve discovered your inner barracuda."

TNT’s newest series, Saving Grace, spotlights yet another tough female barracuda cop, Grace Hanadarko — but she has way more issues than The Closer’s Brenda Johnson.  This hard drinking, hard lovin’, beat-up-Porsche drivin’ detective with Oklahoma City’s Major Crimes unit is drinking herself to death.

A tobacco-spitting angel (Leon Rippy, Deadwood) shows up to give her a last chance at redemption, and occasionally makes her breakfast, too, because she has a weakness for Coke and whiskey in the morning.  Kenneth Johnson (Lemansky in The Shield, a character I still mourn) plays Grace’s partner on the force and illicit love interest.

As Grace, Holly Hunter brings her trademark hyper-kinetic energy to the role. Think: the Broadcast News taxi scene where she spat directions at the driver like a Gatling gun. 

She may be older, but she’s still hot.  And she bares (almost) all, frequently.  The writer’s don’t run away from anything, and especially not this character’s sexuality.

Being raised Irish-Catholic and having developed an allergy to the church and religious dogma of any kind, I thought I might be put off by the religious overtones. I wasn’t. Grace was raised Catholic, too, and she has a little trouble believing in the good lord, at one point ranting to her angel about Father Patrick "Satan" Murphy.

Suddenly, I could relate.

But this angel is ecumenical and doesn’t really care what spiritual path his assignees follow, just as long as they hew to one. To this end, TNT and executive producer/creator Nancy Miller have built a very big gathering tent for viewers.

In a later episode, the religious message is more overt but still manageable.  Grace grabs some beers from the fridge.  She says alcohol helps her relax after a long day. "Why don’t you just pray?" asks her born-again house guest.

"I pray the beer is cold," shrugs Grace.

I hope Grace doesn’t improve too much.  The sassy, irreverent Grace is way too much fun.

The overt religious themes make sense, given the setting.  Oklahoma City is a place Oklahoma native Miller calls the "buckle in the Bible Belt."

Miller (her list of television credits, from Profiler to CSI, is long) is deeply Catholic.  But she wasn’t always.  Her father’s death when she was a freshman in college drove her into a 15-year tail spin, she admitted while we chatted in the lobby immediately after last Sunday’s TCA panel.  "That’s when I started writing," she said, “I didn’t know what to do with that pain, so I started pouring it out on paper."

Miller returned to her faith after working on a show that was clearly agony for her.  "It took me back on my knees," she said ruefully, "I can’t tell you what it was but it was a horrible experience."

A small cluster of press pestered her for an answer but she graciously fended them off.  "I’m not going to tell you where it was," she kept repeating.