Save Me is the name of a new 30-minute “situation comedy” that debuted on NBC last week. I had been seeing commercials for it for a few weeks and I recognized the lead actress, Anne Heche. I’ve enjoyed some of her previous work and was intrigued by what appeared to be the show’s strong religious theme, especially on a big television network during a “primetime” slot. How would the show’s creators mix humor and faith? Would it work? Would anyone watch? I had to find out. On its premier night, two back-to-back episodes of Save Me aired before a rerun of old-favorite The Office, providing an hour-long sample in one sitting.
Here’s the show’s premise: Heche plays Beth, a 30-something wife and mother to a teenage daughter. She and her family live in a nice house on a charming tree-lined street. It looks ordinary. But things are about to change!
The first scene shows Beth in the middle of the night standing at her open fridge hunting for something to eat. Mascara raccoons her eyes and she’s obviously drunk. She begins to greedily devour a huge hoagie. She starts to choke. She crashes to the ground. She dies.
I’m thinking: How’s this going to work? Two minutes in and the main character is deceased. I’m wondering if she’ll come back as a spirit to hover over her family members like Touched by an Angel except hilarious. In the morning, her hunky husband comes into the kitchen to find his wife…alive! She greets him with sweet, overflowing exuberance. The audience is meant to understand this is a brand new demeanor for her. In quick flashbacks and with the help of a voiceover, we see that Beth’s life had been circling the drain. She had been partying way too hard, and making a complete fool of herself at social gatherings. Her friends are avoiding her, her daughter hates her, and she readily admits her behavior has driven her husband into the arms of another woman. Basically, she’s a sad sack of a lady: pretty on the outside but loathsome on the inside. Not at all the sort of person one might expect God to speak to directly (or, perhaps, just the sort?), but that’s exactly what Beth realizes is happening.
The audience never hears God talking to Beth. She insists that the voice is audible and, in a politically correct detail that might appeal to contemporary tastes, she describes it as “gender neutral.” She refers to its source as “He/She.” It tells her things that are about to happen or that she shouldn’t otherwise know. If any of her friends is inclined to doubt Beth’s new skill, it appears to be accompanied by an ability to channel electrical currents. When her husband’s mistress shows up on the front lawn, Beth seemingly cracks her over the head with a lightning bolt in front of an audience of neighbors.
A neighbor invites her to church, and Beth’s face lights up. If she was ever a church-goer it was a lifetime ago, but it suddenly seems to her like the best idea. The church scene is idyllic: congregants milling and chatting congenially, one strumming a guitar leading a sing-along. It’s a None’s fantasy of fellowship and good vibes. No mention is made of the denomination, but Beth instantly feels at home. She grabs the microphone to sing the hymn, baffled that she knows all the words by heart.
She confides in the minister that God is talking to her. He seems not-at-all surprised. In fact, while they’re together another congregant approaches to deliver a “message from God.” This congregant is obviously mentally ill, so the minister might assume that Beth, too, is a bit deranged.
Is this a show about a woman whose near-death hoagie choking somehow changed her brain to be more God-oriented? Or is it about a less-than-perfect suburban-mom-turned-prophet? Or both? Either way, its appearance on mainstream television raises some interesting questions. Are we hungrier for spirituality than we recognize?
This quirky show probably won’t last. Its premier at the start of the summer season is apparently a bad sign. However, the network has a handful of already-completed episodes that are supposed to air in the coming weeks. I’m curious to see where it goes.
So far, the messages God provides Beth are mundane. He/She tells her the location of her missing daughter (the park) or to return a cappuccino machine she stole from a neighbor. It’s not that this isn’t good information to help her be a more attentive mom and sympathetic friend, but I’m wondering if she’ll move from fixing her own wrecked life to helping heal her community or even the world. Can she be a real prophet if her mission never goes beyond her street?
I’m also curious to see if the show will explore why Beth had become so messed-up in the first place and how her new-found connection to the divine addresses whatever pain had worsened her predicament. Will the storylines stay superficial or will they attempt to say something profound about the human condition? Can a sitcom be used to explore faith in a meaningful way? What does it suggest that the creators of this show are even trying?