Tornados Are HOT and TNT's Saving Grace Is Back!

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Three series this weekend jump start with disaster scenarios.   Tornados - the new plot device.  Last night’s Tin Man (SCI FI’s Wizard of Oz reimagining, reviewed here) and Desperate Housewives, and tonight’s Saving Grace launch on TNT,  all feature tornados.

The DH tornado was preceded by shrill ABC promos like "the most devastating event is about to hit!!" or

"This is the. Best. [crash] Episode. [scream!] of the year!"

Riiight.

"Each of them had learned something about friendship. forgiveness and redemption," said the DH voice over, which grows more saccharine by the day.

Wisteria Lane was trashed at the end though, a little like a scene from War of the Worlds.  And Victor (John Slattery) was fittingly culled from the cast after the wind drove a white picket fence slat through his chest.  Suburbia kills.  (There will presumably be more of Slattery in Mad Men, so fear not.)

Will the residents of Wisteria Lane duke it out with their homeowners insurance companies as they try to collect for damages?  They should bring back Karl, Susan’s ex.  He’s a lawyer.

Tonight, on Saving Grace, tornados rip through Oklahoma City where Saving Grace is set (but rarely filmed).   The plot device makes far more sense in this series since the weather monsters are a deadly annual event in tornado alley.

Saving Grace starts out quietly and ominously -  in a bar.  Grace’s partner Ham shares a drink with Earl, the irreverent angel assigned to save Grace from her hard livin’ ways.  In the background, overlooking the bar, a television set displays the latest weather alert and the doppler is tracking blotches of orange and red moving toward the city.

"Sky like that makes you think about the big things…Life.  Death.  How they get the squiggly lines on them cupcakes…." muses Earl.

Earl can’t think of what the sky reminds him of…then,

"Got it …Pompeii."

Okay - first, things first.  Saving Grace has the most memorable theme on television right now.   I love this song, performed by Irish-American rapper Everlast, beyond all measure.  

Saving Grace was a little unsure of itself at first.  But this episode, the first of the new season (or perhaps season 1.5), comes together nicely: slick pacing and editing, and snappy dialog.

SG revolves around Holly Hunter as Grace.  Holly Hunter IS this series, just as Kyra Sedgwick IS The Closer.  Warm suns at the center, they define star power. 

The difficult, cranky, boozy Grace -  who strikes out like a scorpion at those she loves when she’s in pain - is one of the most flawed, relatable characters on television.  But never so flawed that, like her partner Ham, you can’t help but love her.

I’m rather reminded of my conversation with Mad Men’s Matt Weiner whose confessional nature - whose willingness to disclose, affably, his imperfections - makes him all the more the mensch.

At the height of the storm, with the tornado bearing down, Grace corners a suspect and gets between the guy and his car.

"Me or the tornado shithead…take your pick!!"   He wavers.  Grace is one tough chic.

Holly Hunter is an Oscar winner, and there could be an Emmy in her future, but creator Nancy Miller never lets Hunter overshadow the series.  Miller has assembled a fine cast, one that is actually stronger overall than The Closer,  and they are more than mere place holders.

Tonight, the drama shifts to and fro among several story lines.  One thread is the story of Leon, the death row inmate.  Leon finds Islam and there is a small, touching and funny scene at the end between Leon and Earl.  I won’t give it away, but it’s these sweet moments that define Saving Grace.

Butch, the ex-quarterback turned detective, and Ham run low on patience. They beat the crap out of one another.    Medical examiner Henry and Rhetta from forensics, trapped inside the morgue, drink too much champagne and Henry confesses a long held secret.  Another colorful character is sweet, nerdy Henry.  Henry seems to be the preferred name for nerds these days - Ugly Betty’s Henry Grubstick is a nerd hearthrob.  SG’s Henry loves his cat.  He’s not even listed on the TNT/Saving Grace website, as far as I can tell.

Grace tears out to interrogate a bus company owner responsible for a deadly crash and gets caught in the tornado, but soon finds herself trying to save the prime suspect, trapped in the rubble.  Mary Kay Place, who guest stars as the suspect, is a surprise treat.

If I had a nit-pik with Saving Grace it’s the writers’ penchant for the occasional, over-the-top melodrama set in the homicide unit, when a suspect or a perp or a distraught parent blunders in to create havoc.

In Dexter, Lila saunters into the Miami homicide unit, seemingly at will.  Don’t they have security in these places?  Or cards swipes, or…whatever?

Tonight’s SG ep concludes with a little, wrenching plot twist.  Again, it’s another unexpected but perfect moment.

With all the dreadful crime dramas on CBS, Nancy Miller (a CSI vet, or perhaps survivor) restores my faith in the genre. 

Now if TNT would just shoot the series in Oklahoma….

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