After keeping up with all of our “appointment television” in the fall, my Bonnie and I are generally ready to take a break in the Spring and Summer. However, as avid readers of EW, we generally try to pick up one or two shows that come with high recommendations, hoping to find something we like enough to watch each week. In addition to our rather lengthy Sunday nights on HBO, we’ve picked up a few new shows—TNT’s Saving Grace—starring Holly Hunter and FX’s Glenn Close vehicle Damages. The viewing of our first week with each show was positive enough to guarantee that we’ll be back again.
Here, I’d like to focus on Saving Grace and some of the questions it raises about God, and what God wants. The show is just barely on this side of schizophrenic—it almost feels like you’re watching two different shows, each starring the same characters. On the one hand, we have a fast paced and gritty narrative with Holly Hunter starring as a single, hard drinking, hard partying cop, who seems connected emotionally only to her nephew, whose mother died in the Oklahoma City bombing (Note: The show is set in Oklahoma City, and they’re doing some interesting work with the locale). Hunt is having an affair with her partner, a hard drinking married cop whose wife evidently kicks him out routinely. The pacing and soundtrack are beautifully textured. You move with the characters; you want to drink with them. And dance. When Holly Hunter’s Grace takes a swig of Jack and chases it with a bottle of Bud, you want to be there--whether you drink or not. Talk about effective product placement.
On the other hand, and this is where we have the problem, the show has an interesting religious angle which makes up its second personality. Driving home drunk one night with the music in her car blaring, Grace hits a pedestrian, killing him on contact (the link shows this portion of the show, FYI). When she gets out of the car and discovers the guy is dead, you can see the emotions running across her face—her life is ruined; is there anyway out from under this curse? When she looks to the heavens and pleads for help, an old hick appears, claiming to be an angel and spitting tobacco into a plastic bottle. He swoops Grace off to the Grand Canyon and tells her she has one last chance to keep from going to hell (indeed: it is that specific). He’ll save her from this situation if she promises to save her soul, to change her life around.
This part of the show is partially moving in that we get to watch Grace struggle with her beliefs as a result of this experience. She’s not a believer, but the evidence for God continues to grow throughout the show. Clearly, this guy—Earl is his name--must be an angel; clearly, Grace needs to begin worrying about eternal damnation. Yet, herein lies the rub: at several points, the angel reappears and scolds Grace for some of her behaviors, evidently behaviors that would keep her from getting through the Pearly Gates. But these behaviors are all on the relatively facile side of things, at least in my mind: he asks Grace is she wants to keep drinking, if she really wants to keep cursing. I love the show; I’m a Mass going person. But I cannot believe that God’s concerns lie with her cursing and drinking. Driving while impaired--yes; having a beer--that's a little more iffy. I hope that we all strive to live in ways that do not hurt others, that we work to be “good people,” but I have a difficult time believing that God’s primary concerns lie with our language, with smoking and drinking.
You could argue that it’s a waste of time for me to worry about this, that a television show is simply telling a story. And yet, I always find myself worrying about the “common sense” of television, the assumptions it asks us to accept if we are to enjoy the show trouble free. In this case, the spiritual life adds up to a series of rules, behaviors that we should follow. It’s less about a quest for the spiritual life and more about following Rules 1-22 in order to make sure we ultimately win. Ultimately, I would rather have an angel who reminds me to try my best to treat others as I do myself, rather than an angel who watches over my alcohol intake.