RedEye

Television review: 'Save Me,' with Anne Heche, goes unrescued

If there were an Emmy for Most Disturbingly Apt Title of Series, NBC's new comedy "Save Me" would win hands down. It just works on so many levels.

"Save me" is certainly the phrase that surges to a critic's mind moments into the ludicrous machinations of the pilot. It is easily imagined in thought-bubble form above the head of the show's star, Ann Heche.


FOR THE RECORD:
"Save Me": A review of the NBC comedy "Save Me" in the May 23 Calendar section misspelled star Anne Heche's first name as Ann. —


More important, it is becoming the network's not so subconscious mantra. Not only did "30 Rock" and "The Office" end, but all the NBC comedies that premiered this fall were canned (we'll miss you, "Go On").

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In fact, with Heche on the marquee, "Save Me" was originally envisioned as a Big Fall Show. Then, apparently, someone with sense actually watched it and off it went to quick summer burn-off. (Insert sizzling sound effects here.)

The action opens, in full voice-over, with suburban housewife/drunken mess Beth (Heche) standing over her sleeping husband with a hammer in her hand and murder on her mind. He's cheating on her, but she knows she deserves it.

So she drops the blunt instrument and stumbles to the kitchen where, between obligatory pulls on a beer bottle, she shoves a strangely large sandwich in her mouth. She begins choking, falls to the floor, dies.

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If only. Instead, next morning finds her alive and well and chock-full of epiphany — apparently she was saved via divine intervention and in return God intends to use her as a prophet. God, apparently, being Dr. Ruth. (In the pilot, one of Beth's heaven-sent directives involves women using sex to please and hold onto their men.)

It really is that awful. And it absolutely need not have been.

Heche is an engaging comedian. Brittle and high-strung, but flexible enough to show a little soul when necessary. As her perplexed, but still-caring husband, Michael Landes is handsome and appealing while Madison Davenport, who plays their mouthy daughter Emily, is just fabulous.

Even creator John Scott Shepherd's premise, while not dazzling, is not terrible either. A broken soul attempting humorous reclamation has fueled many a good comedy, including most recently HBO's excellent and inventive "Enlightened." Any comparison, however, between "Save Me" and "Enlightened" is a sin against HBO, comedy and television as an art form.

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The problem is not "Save Me's" many silly stereotypes or even the idea that alcoholism can be cured, literally, overnight. No, the problem comes when you drag God into it.

Not because God is too sacred for TV or mentioning him/her will turn off all the blue-state atheists. The almighty, as a plot point, simply adds too much pressure than this slight comedy can bear.

While every prophet need not establish a new religion or save the world, surely the supreme being has other things to think about besides the bedroom habits of Beth and her snippy neighbors.

And if God doesn't, I certainly do.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

-----------------------------------

'Save Me'

Where: NBC

When: 8 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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