Returning for its second season backing up “The Closer,” “Saving Grace” opens with a taut action sequence before segueing into a dark examination of its title character’s inner turmoil, played with riveting gusto by star-producer Holly Hunter. Nothing about the premise frankly explains why this show is as compelling as it is — a credit to series creator Nancy Miller’s writing and the topnotch cast assembled around the diminutive Hunter, whose ferocious performance hardly requires much support.
Season one saw Hunter’s boozing, bed-hopping homicide cop Grace Hanadarko receive unexpected and mostly unwanted visits from an angel named Earl (Leon Rippy), whose ministrations were at best coolly received. (The two actually wrestled at one point, giving new meaning to being touched by an angel.)
The new flight begins with Grace still grappling with her molestation by a pedophile priest (Rene Auberjonois), debating whether to seek vengeance — with Earl, preoccupied elsewhere, offering scant input regarding the peril to her immortal soul.
Hunter’s live-wire portrayal of Grace is practically reward enough, but the show also establishes strong characters around her, including her wry friend Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo); tough boss (Lorraine Toussaint); co-worker/boy toy (Kenneth Johnson); and of course Rippy as the cheeky, tough-love cherub.
Those collective elements manage to trump the premiere’s been-there devices and plot, which feel a little late and predictable in piling on the Catholic church scandal and its grim consequences. Oddly, a secondary storyline about a police dog — and the media’s fascination with the canine cop’s fate — carries considerably more zing.
Still, “Saving Grace” is less about its procedural storytelling than it is about simply creating a venue to showcase Hunter’s undeniable smallscreen star quality. By that yardstick, whether or not Grace is ultimately saved, it’s a role that deserves to be savored.