Last television season, the names of Kyra Sedgwick, Holly Hunter and Glenn Close were grouped together so often you'd think they were triplets. The reason? All have lead roles in popular cable dramas, heralding "The Year of the Strong, Mature Woman."
I thought that was every year, so this was a revelation. And permit me a groan at the ubiquitous descriptive "mature," just an update on "a woman of a certain age." OK, so they all play strong, 40-plus female characters, which doesn't exactly qualify them as sideshow oddities or even members of the same sorority -- except in Hollywood. Now may we move on?
"The Closer" and "Saving Grace" have back-to-back season premieres on TNT tonight. Other than the fact that both lead characters are courageous, crime-fightin' women with problems, they're quite different in tone. While Sedgwick and crew tend to bask in bright California sunshine, a transcendental cloud of Oklahoma dust hovers over "Saving Grace."
With three character-establishing seasons behind it, "The Closer" can finally get past gender as plot point. Sedgwick plays Brenda Leigh Johnson, a Los Angeles deputy police chief and master interrogator who oversees some macho guys, but they're used to her now. They may still snicker at her Southern-belle catch phrase, "Thank you very much," but she has their respect.
The 15-episode season begins with plenty of drama as Brenda tracks a murderous arsonist, faces the return of a notorious nemesis and continues to struggle with balancing her personal and professional lives as long-suffering Fritz, her FBI-man boyfriend, stands by.
In "Saving Grace," police detective Grace Hanadarko is the Tramp to Brenda's Lady. She drinks way too much and sleeps with other women's husbands, including her own partner. She harbors dark secrets, including her own abuse as a child by the trusted family priest. And she's dogged by an angel named Earl, who appears in the form of a good ol' boy at various inconvenient times to pester her about her faith. Hunter plays her like a stick of dynamite about to implode from an inner fuse defect.
"Saving Grace" might be most notable for what it doesn't deliver. You get bad behavior followed by occasional consequences, but no moralizing. And spiritual exploration minus the usual side of preaching. In tonight's high-octane episode, Grace takes action after finding the priest who scarred her psyche. Blink and you'll miss something.
In its fourth season, the biggest challenge for "The Closer" is to avoid becoming intolerably formulaic. For "Saving Grace," in Season Two, it will be corralling the show's all-over-the-map story threads to create at least a whip-stitched sense of continuity, without boring early fans.
The challenge for critics is to stop referring to these shows and characters in the same sentence, because each stands on its own, very different, feet. So I'm going to cut it out. Right now.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046