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Save Me

Anne Heche's summer sitcom tryout for NBC feels whimsical but awfully slight

Cast:
Anne Heche, Michael Landes, Madison Davenport, Alexandra Breckinridge, Heather Burns, Joy Osmanski

Anne Heche’s TV roles have hewn toward the whimsical, and “Save Me” – a half-hour premiering with back-to-back episodes on NBC – is no exception. Echoing the movie “Hello Again” (which makes sense, since at times Heche seems to be channeling Shelley Long of post-“Cheers” vintage), Heche plays a suburban woman who has a spiritual epiphany after a near-death (or was it actual death?) experience. So is she really talking to God, or just mildly daft? Despite its lightheartedness, this summer tryout seems far too generic to warrant an affirmative response to the inherent plea in its title.

As the single-camera half-hour opens, Heche’s Beth Harper is debating whether to murder her philandering husband (Michael Landes), describing herself (in a heavy-handed voiceover narration, seemingly more suited to the CW) as “an angry drunken bitch, in a good marriage gone bad.”

Instead, she decides to wolf down a sandwich, nearly (or maybe actually) choking to death on it.

Spared, Beth seeks to rehabilitate her various relationships, from her marriage to her surly teenage daughter (played by Madison Davenport, and honestly, there must be a TV-only sale on snotty kids at Sears) to her various neighbors. At first no one really knows how to process this apparent change of heart, least of all her husband’s mistress (“American Horror Story’s” Alexandra Breckinridge), who angrily accuses him of “cheating on me with you’re whacked-out wife.”

Created by novelist John Scott Shepherd (“Henry’s List of Wrongs”), the program is at least initially too mired in sitcom conventions and flourishes – including musical riffs seemingly lifted straight out of “Desperate Housewives” – to derive much mileage out from the “Is God really talking to Beth?” conceit. And while tapping into religion’s ratings power shouldn’t be taken lightly, given the tone, situations and scheduling, “Save Me” seems unlikely to be granted enough time to fully explore those possibilities beyond the once-over-lightly approach exhibited in the pilot.

For all the talk about original summer programming, moreover, it’s hard to escape the nagging sense this is strictly Amortization Theater – burning off completed episodes of a concept the network ordered and then thought better of scheduling in any serious way.

Granted, that happens with some frequency, and hey, to err is human. It’s just to forgive … is not standard reviewing policy.

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