The Closer / Saving Grace
Tonight, cable’s most popular show returns with a Christmas special. Riding hot on its coattails is cable’s somewhat-popular show, which begins a four-episode arc held back from its summer run for reasons I can’t explain.
Frankly, with both series I’m at a loss. I’ve never seen either show before, and neither takes the time to re-establish regular and recurring characters. I tried to leap into the fray but found both shows left me cold. Since I don’t exactly have the time to rush out and rent DVDs of The Closer or track down episodes of Saving Grace, I did the next best thing: I read episode synopses. Very unhelpful episode synopses.
I’d ignore all the stuff I didn’t understand about either show and try to concentrate on everything else, but the problem is that these shows stories are so tied into characters I’ve never met, all I can do is try to grope in the dark and hope I get some things right. If I don’t, you can blame the show’s writers for not giving even small hints of the characters’ relationships to one another.
I guess, at the end of the day, that qualifies as the major drawback of each show: the supporting actors in both shows don’t do much more than prop up Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter. Even in their own subplots, none of these characters showed any real spark. The best thing I can compare it to is Monk, which very much exists as a vehicle for Tony Shalhoub, leaving even seasoned pros like Ted Levine in the background more often than not. It’s a disappointment that The Closer has J.K. Simmons and Jon Tenney and Saving Grace has Leon Rippy and Laura San Giacomo, but their roles feel nonexistent.
It becomes a more significant problem when the cop-show plots’ rote nature reveals itself. These should be shows about the characters above anything else — and by that, I don’t mean “main character.” Why have an ensemble if they only exist to further the plot? One-man shows are cheaper to produce.
Maybe The Closer served itself better by only offering one (two-hour) episode. Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Johnson may have the least convincing Southern accent in the history of television, made especially bad next to the vastly superior Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen (guest starring as her parents), but Sedgwick is solid enough as a lead. The storyline was a little humdrum — especially the machinations of getting her to fly to Georgia under dubious circumstances — but it does contain a few legitimate surprises. Above all, this is a story of Johnson’s strained relationship with her parents. Since guest stars are required by law to dive into heaping helpings of backstory and exposition, this journey was more palatable than the subplots in which Johnson’s unit…sat around until she got back.
Saving Grace, possibly because these shows were produced to run along with season one, suffers greatly in comparison. It tries to toe the line between dark comedy and brooding drama, with mixed results. Holly Hunter is a skilled actress, and she has (mostly) able support, but I was completely lost. Characters kept saying and doing inexplicable things. Episodes kept having subplots that, I assume, called back to previous episodes, but they made no sense to me. I usually like subtle writing, so I don’t want to complain, but I can say that what I did see hasn’t encouraged me to seek out reruns. Aside from self-conscious attempts to be risqué with language and sexual content, it’s a routine cop show.
Saving Grace’s season finale contains a cliffhanger, which I will not spoil, but the episode illustrates exactly why I have a problem catching a show like this in the middle of its season: it brings to us a story that — one assumes — has been mentioned on the show in the past and has Holly Hunter doing things I’d assume are out of character (based on spending three previous hours with her). Whether it’s out of character or not, the surprise ending felt like the writers were merely continuing their uneasy quest to make the show edgy.
Overall, the inclusion of Earl the Angel and Hunter’s deep-seated lapsed-Catholic rage, Saving Grace feels like it wants to tackle heavy theological and philosophical issues without saying anything new. At least The Closer, while nothing special, doesn’t have such pretentious ambitious.