‘Save Me,’ maybe yes, then maybe no
NBC series is part dark comedy, part old-fashion sitcom
May 20, 2013
When creators try to push the envelope or be edgy, sometimes they wind up coming full circle and being old-fashioned or corny.
NBC’s new sitcom “Save Me,” starring Anne Heche as alcoholic housewife who begins receiving what she thinks are messages from God after a near-death experience, seems to be striving for the pungency of cable satires like HBO’s “Enlightened” and Showtime’s “Weeds.” But its premise often makes it feel like something out of the era of situation-heavy sitcoms like “Bewitched.”
Like most shows that try to pull off balancing acts, “Save Me” is going to start leaning one way or the other. The premiere episode is worth sampling, but it will probably leave most viewers on the fence.
In the premiere, airing this Thursday, May 23, at 8 p.m., Beth (Heche) comes home from a night of drinking and making a fool of herself at a neighborhood party and grabs a huge sub from the refrigerator. “Hello, lover,” she says before taking a huge bite, choking on it and passing out.
Although Beth is convinced she has died, she wakes up the next morning with a new lease on life. She resolves to work things out with her estranged husband, even though he’s having an affair with a colleague, Carly (Alexandra Breckenridge). He thinks Beth has suffered brain damage.
She takes up jogging, pours the booze down the sink and tries to reach out to her teenage daughter, Emily (Madison Davenport). When Beth asks Emily if she wants to go to a movie, Emily says, “This is me pretending to get a text about something else I have to do.”
Fortunately, in addition to her new perky attitude, Beth seems to have received the ability to hear messages from God, which are accompanied by one of those twinkly ring-tone-like sounds that TV shows and movies use to signal that something magical has happened. She suddenly realizes that Emily is having a friends-with-benefits relationship with the boy next door. This insight helps Beth and Emily reestablish a rapport.
Although Beth’s neighbor Jenna (Heather Burns) tries to blow her off, Beth gives her a piece of rude but divinely inspired advice that revitalizes Jenna’s marriage.
The show’s humor may be more cynical and sarcastic than anything on TV during the “Bewitched” era — Darrin never had an affair, and Tabitha never accepted booty calls from the guy next door — but its view of suburbia as a land of joggers, mean girls, man caves and Starbucks is as clichéd and stylized as the working-dad, perfect-mom sitcoms of the ’60s.
Despite the cynicism, we’re still watching a show in which a housewife with supernatural powers uses them to fix various messes in her life.
Anne Heche, however, is perfect in the role. In the few “before” scenes, she’s convincingly dissolute. Playing an occasionally blissed-out, reborn woman who says she may be a “prophet of God,” she glows. The actress’s bumpy biography may add extra resonance to the portrayal.
Whatever the source of Beth’s insights, the show makes it clear that they’re not the result of self-delusion. Much of the show is a feel-good story of renewal that could suck softhearted viewers in.
But then the premiere episode ends with a potentially horrible incident that’s played for black comedy. The ending leaves it unclear exactly how black the joke will be.
“Enlightened” never made it clear whether it was mocking its heroine’s quest for meaning and purpose or admiring it. That may be a commendable artistic choice, but it didn’t draw an audience.
Broadcast viewers are markedly less tolerant than pay-cable subscribers. “Save Me” deserves a chance, but that title may soon start to sound like a cry for help.
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