Saving Grace: Season Three Premiere

Saving Grace looks close to becoming Twilight for the 40something set. In two new episodes from Season Three, a supernatural sort-of love triangle develops, in which two aggro male angels fight over Grace (Holly Hunter) and her apparently very desirable human soul. Angel feathers, cowboy boots, and lightning bolts: oh my! Even if the TV show stops short of the vampires’ romantic abjection, it’s clear that dynamo Holly Hunter can give them a run for their money in the blissed-out, obsessive magnetism department when she wants to go there.

The kitschy storyline in “We’re Already Here” (airing 16 June) actually helps the show’s usually awkward metaphysics. At this point in the series, the Oklahoma City Police Department detective and her crew have a well established, compelling camaraderie, but the angel plot has always been hard to integrate. The angels’ smackdown makes that plot’s focus more like the one in the workplace, involving emotional and physical bonding rituals.

The contest pits too-slick Matthew (F. Murray Abraham, chewing scenery like an angel version of Gordon Gekko) against Grace’s regular angel Earl (Leon Rippy). Matthew has missed recruiting one million souls, and Earl only 17, who haven’t given themselves over to God (or, as Matthew says, whatever “their understanding” of God is). About to be called on the carpet for his shortcomings, Matthew’s trying to horn in on Grace, so he can finish the job Earl has not quite. Matthew claims his previous failures were unfairly hard sells (Idi Amin, Hitler), while Earl has gotten off easy (Mother Theresa, though Earl protests could actually be very difficult!).

When Matthew tries to bribe Grace into faith, offering to help solve her cases and give her cash-strapped friend Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo) a winning lottery ticket. Cruising through Grace’s life in a slick suit, tossing money around, and sending her flowers, Matthew argues that she deserves better than the low rent Earl. Still, as Earl is committed to a crazy little thing called free will, he’s the obvious choice. Especially as Matthew appears convinced that he’s the deserving BMOC, and so resents Earl’s success.

The angel competition sheds light on Earl’s own struggles as it also tests Grace’s values and beliefs. Following the execution of Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine) at the end of last season, Earl now introduces a new fellow traveler, a young woman somehow mixed up in a local terrorist group. In the season premiere, Grace revisits her personal terrorist-related trauma (the sister killed in the Oklahoma City bombing). When Earl implies she’s destined for some kind of greatness, Grace is set on a path to battle large-scale forces of violence and anarchy.

While later episodes focus on more local crimes (like a home invasion and murder, in “What Would You Do?” [30 June]), Grace returns repeatedly to this question of her fate. A complex, scrappy soul, she remains determined to fight for what she believes in. and Saving Grace keeps focused on her efforts to figure out what that is.

RATING 8 / 10