And then a by-the-numbers cop show broke out.
Stay tuned for more drama
Welcome back to TNT, which knows drama. It does, really. Why, if you aim the clicker toward the network, chances are you'll land on something that makes a profound dramatic statement about the human condition: "Charmed" reruns, commercial-crammed replays of "The Wedding Date," even old people walking slowly.
When the network isn't shattering our hearts with such wrenching fare, it blows our minds with cops and lawyers acting all cop-like and lawyerly. TNT may spend its afternoons in the pursuit of dramatic knowledge, but it moonlights as the home of the emotion-free investimagative police procedural.
Indeed, most of the network's offerings are one-hour-and-out dealies that demand little more from the viewer than sporadic attention. Those who prefer to invest emotionally need not bother. If you tune in to an hourlong TNT drama -- "The Closer," reruns of "Bones" and "Law & Order" -- you can rest assured that, 44 minutes later, everything will be as it once was. Order (and law!) shall be restored.
One conflicted lady
"Saving Grace," which launched its second season last week, is the network's first real attempt to merge its two half-defined personas. The show focuses around Grace Hanadarko, an Oklahoma City detective with ... well, let's let the TNT.tv marketing-copy scribes take it from here: "a fiery spirit and audacious life ... a top-notch, forceful investigator whose wild personal life translates into a no-holds-barred approach to her detective work." Yeah! Drink that tequila, boink that drifter, and solve that case! Eat moxie, Clarice Starling!
Of course, since this drama is produced by TNT and not HBO, Grace's personal peccadilloes don't weigh her down professionally. One minute she kicks back shots, the next she chases a sneering tough through the streets. She may not clean her apartment, but she always solves the case -- think Columbo, but with a disturbingly toned bod and less ear hair. Along the way, Grace communes with an angel, Earl, who has descended from wherever angels descend from to save her ("Saving Grace" -- get it?).
"Grace" can't have it both ways. The show effects dramatic (natch) mood swings about 13 times per episode, ping-ponging between the detective stuff and the train-wreck-Grace stuff so often as to give viewers tonal whiplash. It doesn't help that the straightforward cop material is rendered in the most amateurish fashion imaginable, with rehashed plots and dialogue that's more "Police Squad!" than "The Wire" ("say, look! Here comes the evidence guy! I bet he'll have some evidence for us!").
And it definitely doesn't help that Holly Hunter plays the title role as if shot out of a cannon. Dating back to "Raising Arizona," Hunter has milked the spitfire-pixie thing to great effect. As Grace, however, she seemingly can't make up her mind about the character she portrays.
Thespians gone wild
Check out this scene from this season's first episode, where she messes with a priest who had abused her as a child, alternately berating him and lying across his lap. If an actress with less credibility in the bank had played the scene similarly schizo, we'd be strafing her with barbs, not showering her with Emmy nominations. Somebody give Hunter a tape of Glenn Close's performance in "The Shield" before she scarfs down any more scenery. And jeez, somebody buy her a cheeseburger or something. Ropy forearms ain't becoming.
Ads? Meh. "Saving Grace" seems to have caught on with the usual mature-mainstream suspects, ranging from Sherwin-Williams to Volvo to Centrum Silver. Of some interest are the booze spots; I haven't seen Sam Adams Light and Smirnoff's fruity-tooty vodka pop up on basic cable in some time. Meanwhile, not that this is a commercial-critic column or anything, but thank you to whoever created the spot that presents Hot Pockets as a healthy diet alternative. You've validated my current approach to nutrition.
While I may consider "Saving Grace" lazy, generic TV masquerading as something totally deep, it's not hard to discern why the show has attracted a reasonable following. It boasts an ideal lead-in ("The Closer," its smarter and cooler TNT big sister), comatose people can follow its narratives, and everybody likes to gawk at cute detective chicks in low-cut tops and skinny jeans. What's impossible to understand are the warm critical notices. Is that all it takes to get some love from the Tee Vee cognoscenti? All you have to do is slop a flawed-but-functional character atop a generic police procedural?
If so, I'm writing my first-ever show treatment this afternoon. It'll be about a tough, charismatic leprechaun who, when not struggling with his breakfast-cereal issues, works homicides in San Antonio. No, make that Pittsburgh. We'll call it "Little Man of Steel." It'll be a smash.