Holly Hunter is an Academy Award-winning actress, not the least bit unattractive, and she still packs enough big-star name recognition to headline anyone's ensemble cast. So why is it you can't remember three things she's done in this century? (The Incredibles doesn't count; you only heard her as the voice of ElastiGirl.)
Can't be lack of talent. A paucity of appealing material? Semiretirement? Well, the whispers floating from corners of California soundstages suggest Ms. Hunter can be, shall we say, somewhat difficult. That's absolutely no shock to me. I've interviewed Hunter more than once over the years, and next to her contemporary actress-as-empress Bonnie Bedelia I can think of no woman I'd less rather spend an hour with in a quiet room. If she treats the media with contempt, how do you imagine she deals with the second assistant director?
Ah, but leave it to vet TV producer Nancy Miller, architect of such female-friendly series as Any Day Now, The Closer and The Profiler, to turn dung into doughnuts. Miller's inspired solution: create a show where being bitchy is actually an advantageous character trait!
The result, Saving Grace, which joins the ever-growing roster of TNT original dramas (10 p.m. on Mondays), is one of the more intriguing entries of the summer series sweepstakes. And while it trades on a threadbare guardian-angel plot device that should be banished to screenwriter's hell, it's far closer to Road Rules than Highway to Heaven.
Hunter is Grace Hanadarko (great name), a rough-and-randy Oklahoma City police detective who's living life on the margins. The series' opening scene finds her naked and bucking wildly atop her patrol partner, a married cop, in her disheveled bedroom. "Grace, promise me this is the last time," her guilt-ridden lover pleads. "If it's the last time," Grace snaps back, "can we at least finish?"
Grace jump-starts her day with Jack and Cokes, spends more time on her back than a Pilates instructor and would rather drop a loudmouthed jerk with a hard right than slap on handcuffs. Yet she reveals a soft side: When her schoolboy cousin professes his crush on a rosy-cheeked classmate, Grace helps impress the girl by taking the couple on a lights-and-siren joyride through the city streets. And she gets misty at the Oklahoma City National Memorial when remembering loved ones she's lost.
But Grace's hell-on-wheels lifestyle suffers when, while speeding home drunk in her battered Porsche, she runs down a pedestrian on a darkened street. Crying out to somehow right her wrong, her prayer is answered by a grizzled, tobacco-spitting heavenly messenger named Earl (Leon Rippy). The twist? Grace wants no part of being touched by an angel, but given the circumstances she has no choice. Earl returns everything to the way it was before the accident, but his deliverance comes with conditions. Will Grace turn her life around to avoid certain prosecution?
Saving Grace has acres of room to grow and develop its storyline, and Miller has surrounded Hunter with a commendable cast of playmates, including Bokeem Woodbine as her vehicular victim, Any Day Now's Lorraine Toussaint as her police captain and Laura San Giacomo (Just Shoot Me) as her forensics expert and best bud, Rhetta. This show will never be boring, front-loaded as it is with humanity, hijinks and Big Questions about life and death.
You must know the TNT's police drama The Closer is the No. 1-rated cable series ever. The boast has been plastered on billboards along I-94 and tallied more screen time than Chauncey Billups during last spring's NBA Eastern Conference finals. But did you know Corey Reynolds, the Virginia native who functions as series star Kyra Sedgwick's right-hand detective in the role of Sgt. David Gabriel, has undeniable Detroit ties?
Reynolds' fiancee, attorney Tara Schemansky, grew up in the U.P., graduated from Central Michigan and owns a home in Birmingham. He's one of the few non-natives who can use his right hand confidently as a state map. What's more, he says he met his intended through the intervention of former Pistons coach Larry Brown. You can't make up stuff like this.
"I met Larry when I was doing Hairspray on Broadway and he was coaching the 76ers," says Reynolds, in Detroit recently for a promo tour on behalf of The Closer. "He invited me to come to Philly and sing the national anthem, and every time I sang they won. So when he went to Detroit, he called me to sing for Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons lost that night, but after the game I ended up stepping out and meeting Tara, and everything just clicked."
Reynolds hopes to stay in the ensemble cast long enough to afford a honeymoon. In the show's young third season (9 p.m. on Mondays), Sgt. Gabriel has already been dangled as trade bait for another LAPD unit and suspended for police brutality against a murder suspect. If you've missed his breakout performances, you can see clips of recent Closer episodes at www.tnt.tv.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]