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20th Century Fox presents
Saving Grace: Season One (2007)

Grace: You ever had sex, Earl?
Earl: No.
Grace: You eat our food. You wear our clothes. Why not?
Earl: Well, my wings would get in the way.

- (Holly Hunter, Leon Rippy)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: July 14, 2008

Stars: Holly Hunter
Other Stars: Leon Rippy, Kenneth Johnson, Bailey Chase, Laura San Giacomo, Bokeem Woodbine, Gregory Cruz, Dylan Minnette, Jessica Lundy, James Marsters, Tom Irwin, Mark L. Taylor, Lorraine Toussaint, Chris Mulkey, Malcolm David Kelley, Roger Aaron Brown, Jessica Walter
Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Guy Ferland, Dean White, David Von Ancken, Gloria Muzio, Artie Mandelberg, Tricia Brock

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, sexuality)
Run Time: 09h:36m:00s
Release Date: July 15, 2008
UPC: 024543530381
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B-B-C+ C+

DVD Review

I'm not a big fan of cop shows, and I'm not what you would consider religious in any way, shape or form. That's probably not the perfect storm of attributes to take in all of the intricacies of the TNT series Saving Grace, in which hard-living, hard-drinking atheist Oklahoma City Detective Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter) is suddenly given the opportunity to change her ways: courtesy of a tobacco-chewing good ol' boy angel—wings and all—named Earl (Leon Rippy). And changing won't be easy for Grace the non-believer, because she loves Jack Daniels anytime of day, as well as frequent casual sex with different people, including an intense friends-with-benefits relationship with her married partner, Detective Ham Dewey (Kenny Johnson).

Those expecting a warm, fuzzy family-friendly Touched By Angel vibe from this will likely have their feathers ruffled a little, as there's plenty of sex and language, broken up by occasionally grim crime-of-the-week situations that happen around them. This is hardly 7th Heaven territory, and though nearly every character talks about praying, God or church (almost to the point of being eye-rolling), there's still an attempt at an undercurrent of prickly discourse, especially between Grace and Earl. And things become even more complex for Grace in the first episode when she gets liquored up, goes for a drive and kills a pedestrian, though here it becomes a magically dramatic vehicle for Grace to regularly communicate with mysterious Death Row inmate Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine). Cooley, it seems, also has a relationship with scruffy Leon, and prisoner and detective periodically do the whole yin and yang thing, discussing their shared "last chance angel" experiences.

An Oscar-winner like Hunter steps down to episodic television for the first time with this series, and she's the primary reason that it merits a peek. She's a good cop that isn't against bucking the rules now and then, but it is her rocky personal life that allows Hunter to transform Grace into the sort of daringly coarse female lead seldom seen on a typical television series. She's cynical. blunt and horny, and the very first scene in the pilot has Grace enjoying some rather energetic (and refreshingly graphic) sex, which in and of itself is a fairly bold move meant to imply that this is not going to be your grandmother's inspirational programming. And Hunter is more than up to the task, rendering Grace with the sort of shady, complicated 3-dimensional textures not often seen in cop dramas, and certainly not in a show layered with religiosity.

Hunter's scenes with Rippy's cornfed Earl are meant to be the big moral talking points of the show, but these seemed to blow a hot and cold with me. A little of Earl's pontificating goes a long way, and his tendency to just pop in whenever he wants—and perhaps cook up a big greasy breakfast—while heaping on another of his "get praying" spiels did not always resonate particularly well. I soon took more pleasure in her interactions with her cop partners. Perhaps Laura San Giacomo—as Grace's childhood friend and police lab analyst pal—comes off a bit too whimsical as she investigates her friend's angelic claims, with her overly theistic ramblings that I suppose are meant to reflect the beliefs of the masses. Even when the nature of the crime storylines dipped a bit, the bulk of the principal characters (yes, even San Giacomo) held it all together, much in the same way that a show like Medium worked best when it was just about Patricia Arquette's family life rather than her solve-a-crime psychic abilities.

But here's where it gets weird. For all that I disliked about some of the trite cop show plot structures and what I perceived as central writing that didn't always know the meaning of subtlety, I fell in with the flow of Saving Grace in a way that I hadn't expected. The Earl character was actually my weak link overall, but Hunter is really something to watch here as she undergoes an experience that may be driving her mad. And just when I thought this was going to go by the book, the sudden loss of a supporting character very early in the season pushed the show in the kind of unexpected directions that I wished could have been sustained over all 13 episodes.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: All 13 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality waffles across the series' run, ranging from respectable to mediocre. Fleshtones largely appear natural, and colors are evenly balanced, without being overly vivid. Edges are soft throughout, and occasionally evidence of moiré patterns (most prevalent on skintones during semi-dark sequences) rise up.

Not wholly awful, but instead rather ordinary.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Maybe it's all those Okie-accents, but the disappointing Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track just lacked the consistent clarity necessary to make all the dialogue clearly discernible. I had to rewind and go subtitle a few times just to make out what was said, and accent or not that just doesn't seem right. There is some modest directional movement across the front channels, but not enough to make up for the questionable dialogue issues. Not much in the way of flashy surround cues, though certain elements—such as the Everlast theme song—sound rather beefy.

A Spanish 2.0 dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 156 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Burn Notice
1 TV Spots/Teasers
8 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Nancy Miller, Gary Randall, Artie Mandelberg
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This 4-disc set comes packaged in a pair of thinpak cases (2 discs per), inside of a fairly thin slipcase. Artwork on the inner cases has brief episode summaries, along with original airdate info.

Only two discs carry any supplemental material, with disc one holding a trailer for Burn Notice, a Saving Grace season two teaser, as well as with a commentary for the pilot episode from series creator/executive producer Nancy Miller, executive producer Gary Randall and director/executive producer Artie Mandelberg. Not a terribly in-depth track, and while the three participants clearly have a nice relationship, the level of input rarely seems anything more than things we've heard before ("this was a difficult scene to shoot..", etc), like serving up high praise to the talented cast.

The other extras show up on disc four, kicking off with another standard issue commentary from Miller, Randall and Mandelberg, this time for the season ender Taco, Tulips, Ducks and Spices. Also found here is an Everlast music video for the title song Saving Grace (03m:07s), presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. A set of 6 TNT promo pieces for the series—promising to get "behind the drama"—are also issued in nonanamorphic widescreen. The content tends to repeat across these segments, and they also come off as rather gushy about the whole experience. The segments are:
Behind The Scenes With Holly Hunter (04m:17s)
On The Set (03m:15s)
Conversation With Executive Producer Gary Randall(07m:23s)
No Ordinary Angel: Behind The Scenes With Leon Rippy (03m:00s)
Rhetta: Laura San Giacomo On Her Character (03m:30s)
Saving Grace:Overview (05m:46s)

Just in time for the start of season two—and those perhaps too lazy to watch season one—is Saving Grace Season 1 Rapid Recap (04m:19s), a fast summation of all 13 episodes.

Each episode is cut into 12 chapters, with optional subs in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

A terrific cast—especially with a boundary-bending performance from Holly Hunter—that sometimes gets overshadowed by far too much of what I refer to as "you have to pray" talk, with Grace seemingly the only person in Oklahoma to have doubts. This is certainly an odd mixture for a television series, and while I applaud the concept and the performances, I was still a bit underwhelmed by many of the storylines.

Still, I curiously find myself recommending this as a rental during the summer DVR doldrums, even with a lackluster audio mix. You may find something here to glom onto that I didn't, and at any rate Hunter is a compelling study of a character on the edge. I always will find a soft spot for an unconventional lead that is far from the typical television norm.

 


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