Praise the lord and pass the remote controls!
Big-screen heavyweights Glenn Close and Holly Hunter have arrived to offer comfort to viewers who've spent what seems like months wandering the reality-show desert. They're like basic cable's version of Baker, Calif.
But if Close's "Damages" (10 p.m. Tuesday, FX) is the one-of-a-kind, something-for-everyone Mad Greek, Hunter's "Saving Grace" (10 p.m. today, TNT) is the Alien Fresh Jerky hut -- it sounds like a great time, but can't live up to all the hype.
Close stars as Patty Hewes, Manhattan's most feared litigator, in the gripping legal thriller. Unlike her fellow multiple Oscar nominee James Woods in CBS' "Shark," Close isn't the front-and-center, scenery-chewing showboat you'd expect. She doesn't even play the lead character in her own series.
That honor goes to Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, the working-class, straight-outta-law-school associate Patty takes under her morally questionable wing.
As a result, "Damages" feels a lot like John Grisham -- back when that was, if not necessarily a good thing, at least an entertaining one -- meets "The Devil Wears Prada." Although I might just be saying that because I always confuse Close with Meryl Streep. Regardless, the series is unlike anything else on FX.
When we first see Ellen, she's staggering out of an apartment building covered in blood and very little else. "Damages" cuts back-and-forth between what happens next and what happened over the past six months to illustrate her fall from promising legal mind to prime suspect in a murder.
Because of that mystery, there's not a lot that can be revealed about "Damages," except that it feels bigger than a TV series.
Maybe it's the cast that, in addition to Close, also boasts Ted Danson -- as the billionaire who Enron-ed his 5,000 employees out of their savings -- and the always-underrated Tate Donovan -- as Patty's charming second-in-command. Maybe it's the fact that all three actors are locked in a race to shed their character's final scruple. Or maybe it's just because, by its very nature, "Damages" seems designed to last only a season. (Although that has never stopped other series from sticking around past their one-season expiration dates. Cough. "Prison Break." Cough.)
Speaking of things that should last only one season -- but not in a good way -- "Saving Grace" features Hunter as an Oklahoma City police detective.
The first few minutes establish Hunter's Grace Hanadarko as a belching, smoking, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, handicapped-parking-space-abusing, vigorous-sex-with-her-married-partner-having atheist. Before the first commercial break, she has done everything short of greasing an old lady's walker.
But when she causes an "Afterschool Special"-worthy drunken-driving accident, Grace -- in a moment that should be confined to Kirk Cameron's "Left Behind" movies -- recognizes the error of her ways. "Dear God," she says, none too convincingly, "please help me." And before you can say "Awww," help arrives in the form of a tobacco-chewin', good ol' boy guardian angel named Earl (Leon Rippy).
At least Hunter isn't the only one slumming. Rippy's last gig was as a regular on "Deadwood." As Grace's partner, Kenneth Johnson must have burst an eardrum going straight from the highs of "The Shield" to the lows of "Saving Grace." Even Laura San Giacomo -- who plays Grace's best friend with a baffling, sporadic accent that surely came from the same dialect coach Kyra Sedgwick uses for "The Closer" -- is capable of much better.
"Saving Grace's" biggest problem is that it likely will come across as a little too Jesus-y for the mainstream and a little too coarse for the devout. I'm not sure how many of the church ladies TNT is counting on to embrace the series will stick around through the rampant swearing, gratuitous sex and Grace's near-orgasmic response to "the power of faith." "It's almost better than sex," she says, in full-on rapture -- and not the biblical kind.
A better series could overcome this. Maybe even make the conflict interesting. But a chunk of the pilot is spent setting up a joke involving a cow with spots that allegedly resemble Jesus. (I never saw it, although there was something that looked like one of the Oak Ridge Boys after a knife fight.)
When the payoff to that joke is -- and stop me if you saw this coming about 30 words back -- somebody saying "Holy cow," one thing becomes as obvious as the show's title: "Saving Grace" doesn't have a prayer.
Christopher Lawrence's Life on the Couch column appears on Mondays. E-mail him at email@example.com.