Save Me is a remarkably strange show, made even stranger by where it airs. There has been much said over the last twelve months – the show was shelved this time last year and remained unscheduled until now – about how Save Me is an obvious refugee from Showtime’s old model, which was established by now NBC head Bob Greenblatt, but I think that’s an oversimplification. Certainly those elements are present here – it’s a cutting high-concept comedy about a middle-aged female anti-hero housewife – but they are tempered with the affectations and animus of a regular Network sitcom, which is what makes the show seem far stranger. Save Me is torn between two worlds: torn apart tonally, conceptually and characteristically which makes it interesting to watch, but only in the way that Vicious was, as an oddity rather than something that stands on merits of its own.
That high-concept that I mentioned earlier is that Anne Heche’s drunk and disaffected housewife dies briefly and awakes an apparent prophet of god, hearing his voice in her head. It’s a seemingly controversial concept but it drives a show that seemingly abides by the god-fearing morals of the spiritual American-suburbs in which it is set as all sitcoms should. It treats the topic of religion with a treasonously light touch – praying in the privacy of the toilet, etc. – which will likely offend the fervently faithful and yet it does this in service of stories that are utterly Christian in their intent: Heche uses her ‘powers’ to enhance the strength of her traditional family and the community in which they reside.
There are some seemingly subversive beats of humour in the episodes that I’ve seen, such as the protagonist’s stringent selfishness and irreverence, but these are offset by basic puns, zany antics and over exaggerated slapstick, such as the pilots shocking finale. This contrast in the comedy is mirrored in the thematics of the show, some of the ideas are interesting but they’re mostly swallowed up by saccharine end-of-episode morals and cliche character arcs. Outside of Heche the roles here are all fairly shallow stereotypes, tropes of traditional family and friends that don’t do much to intrigue but maybe that will change as the show expands, though its interest doesn’t appear to be here.
These juxtapositions could make for a complex drama, or at least a challenging comedy but Save Me is too crude and childish to truly operate effectively on either level. Nor is it really any good on that one, but despite this lack of clear direction the show has intrigued me enough that I may stick with it as a brisk distraction over its swift summer burn off. Maybe it will discover a meaningful vision during its own midlife though I don’t have much faith in it being anything but a failure; either way though it will have tried to do something new and earns it a basic level of belief.