Can Anne Heche find heavenly funny in a comedy about God, redemption and penance?
For too long, Anne Heche has been searching for a vehicle worthy of her considerable talents, not to mention one that can rehabilitate the image created by some infamously strange behavior. In other words: Redemption. In 2006, ABC gave her a shot at being a primetime leading lady with the Men In Trees, but the dramedy was cut down during its second season. With NBC’s Save Me, Heche takes another swing, this time in a sitcom that seems to wink at her own history: It’s about a fallen, foul soul who is blessed (or cursed) by God himself (or so we are to believe) with another chance at being a better person.
In an energetic performance, Heche plays Beth, a bad mother, bad friend, and bad wife, or so we are told, repeatedly. Consequently, Beth’s husband Tom (Michael Landes) is having an affair with a coworker (Alexandra Breckenridge) and plotting divorce, her teenage daughter Emily (Madison Davenport) has no respect for her authority, and all her friends kinda hate her. Beth is also either an alcoholic, or a party girl on perpetual spring break. It’s time for this wretched rake to progress, already.
After a night of outlandish, inebriated antics, Beth, famished, returns home, tries to wolf down a sandwich, chokes on it, dies — and then finds herself born again, in more ways than one. Beth is not only walking and talking again, but she’s also on fire to live a better life, to be a good mom, good friend, and good wife. She’s an anti-zombie: This undead creature hungers for righteousness, not brains; she lives to give, not consume. And she has supernatural powers: The ability to see into your mind and life, the way many believe God can — and the ability to strike you down with a lightening bolt of judgment, the way many believe God does. Good lord! What hath Beth become? We are told she’s a prophet with a connection to Heaven. I wonder if there’s more to the story.
Save Me could be an interesting examination of redemption. We use the word a lot. ”Redemption.” But what does it mean? What does it look like? How does it play out in relationships and in the world? Is supernatural conversion a necessary ingredient? Is the threat of damnation a prerequisite for righteousness? Do we need God to change? If so: Which god? These questions (and more) are ones that Save Me could and should explore and from which can even wring some great comedy, irreverent and otherwise.
But Save Me leaves you with troubling doubts that the show can ever be as deep and entertaining as it could be. The pilot gives short shrift to the part of personal transformation that’s most interesting — the actual transformation of personhood. It perpetuates the myth/lie of spiritually oriented character change as instantaneous supernatural enlightenment, as opposed to, say, the product of much reflective work and psychological struggle. I suspect the show thinks the fun of the show is watching wacky Beth awkwardly bumble and fumble through acts of penance. But because we don’t see and feel enough of the wrongheaded wretch she used to be, it’s hard to fully appreciate the amazingly graced do-gooder she’s become or invest in her quest to make amends. The show is so interested in making sure that we always find this potentially alienating character ”likable” that it subverts it own premise. At times, I felt Beth was being wayyy too hard on herself, taking wayyy too much responsibility for Tom’s adultery and Emily’s petulance, as if she’s solely responsible for pushing them away, and pushing them into ”sinfulness,” if you will. Perhaps Save Me will fill in Beth’s blanks in the weeks to come, or perhaps the show thinks we’d find it easier to project ourselves into Beth’s shoes with fewer specifics.
The biggest problem with this sitcom is pretty simple: It’s just not funny enough. I think what Save Me really wants to be is a sly, prickly black comedy, not the broad, feel-good yukker that it tries to be for most of the pilot — an approach that actually yields few laughs. (The basis for my theory: The literally shocking tonal turn in the final scene.) With more courage and clarity, Save Me might save itself. C+