I’m not going to bash NBC’s new comedy ‘Save Me’, because it’s so clearly dead-on-arrival that not a whole lot needs to be said. Additionally, it’s a show with a generally optimistic worldview, so there’s no reason to dance on its grave. Save your schadenfreude for when grimly cynical shows like ‘The Following’ finally get canned, please and thank you.
It’s also worth nothing that the very best comedies – ‘Parks and Recreation’, ‘Happy Endings’, ‘Community’, etc. – got off to rather rough starts before finding their stride, so it’s unfair to judge ‘Save Me’ against shows like that. As bad as these first two episodes were, I think it’s possible (theoretically, at least) that if you gave it a season, ‘Save Me’ could find its stride and settle in as a perfectly pleasant vehicle for a mostly enjoyable Anne Heche performance.
But ‘Save Me’ won’t get the chance; and based on these first two episodes, it probably shouldn’t.
Let’s sum it up quick, because again, this show won’t be around long. Anne Heche plays Beth, an awful person who dies while choking on a sandwich, then is brought back to life as a prophet with a direct line to God. She’s instantly committed to reinventing herself, so the goal of the series (which isn’t actually established until the second episode) is for Beth to convince all her friends and family to like her again.
The pilot episode, “The Book of Beth”, was a hot mess that made the fatal mistake of combining breakneck pacing with an utter lack of jokes. In fact, the first moment where it felt like ‘Save Me’ was even ATTEMPTING comedy came near the end, when one of the neighbors refers to sexting as “sex texting.” Not exactly a lofty peak, especially in comparison to the deep lows the episode hit. Picking a nadir is tough: you could go with the unpleasant and unwatchably bad material involving Beth’s daughter Emily, the icky and uncomfortable affair between Beth’s husband and his mistress, or the horrendously ill-conceived use of a ‘Family Guy’-style flashback (something that continues in episode two, with similar results).
But I’ll go with the ludicrous final sequence, where the mistress confronts Beth in the rain, and Beth strikes her down with lightning. Every aspect of this scene felt wildly wrong, particularly the use of jaunty, light music over what felt like (and turned out to be!) a dangerous confrontation.
In the second episode, “Take It Back”, we find out that the mistress is in a coma following the lightning strike. She’s IN A COMA?! It’s of course casually brushed off by all characters involved (“If she had died, it would have been a felony!” exclaims Beth, the character that WE ARE SUPPOSED TO LIKE AND ROOT FOR!).
Look, a show like ‘Save Me’ has to know that it’s not funny. It has to. It’s written, acted, and directed by professionals, and everyone involved HAS TO know the jokes are few and far between. The only possible appeal for this show is as a sort of family comedy, where nice Christian families can gather in front of their televisions and enjoy a pleasant 22 minutes with these characters. I do not understand, then, why the show is so cavalier about making its central characters do deeply unlikable things.
The rest of “Take It Back” was a marginal improvement over the pilot, but again, was hamstrung by the series’ inexplicable desire to make the audience hate all of its characters. I’m thinking of the church scene in particular, where Beth behaves like a crazy person and it’s…supposed to be funny? I guess? Actually, what even was the purpose of that scene?
Of course, the problems went deeper than that. The arc of the episode was a muddled mess that didn’t become clear until very late, and the ending – played with SUCH sincerity – felt unearned and manipulative. If you’re going to be the group hug show, ‘Save Me’, then act like the group hug show – don’t also try to appeal to the “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23” crowd along the way.
In short, ‘Save Me’ does not work. It wastes an interesting Anne Heche performance with baffling tonal shifts, poorly-drawn supporting characters who exist entirely to be skeptical, and tepid (at best) jokes. I’m very comfortable recommending that you skip ‘Save Me’ entirely.