May 23, 2013



SAVE ME:  Thursday 8PM on NBC – Change the Channel

Note:  This review was originally written after last year’s Upfronts, before it was known that SAVE ME would be held by NBC until the summer.  It’s possible that the pilot underwent changes during the months that followed, although if it did, NBC didn’t publicize them.

I’d say SAVE ME has to be seen to be believed, but that would require watching it–which I wouldn’t recommend.  Although if you’re the kind of viewer who can’t get enough of WTF train-wreck television, this is clearly going to be the half-hour of the season for you.

To be fair, if we’re going to criticize NBC (and we have) for the fact that its shows like Guys With Kids and Animal Practice are painfully tired and unoriginal, some credit has to be paid to the network for producing a show that certainly isn’t like anything else on the air.  In this case, however, that’s for good reason. Save Me is a mixture of sex, spirituality and sitcom convention that’s an unholy mess.

What Save Me does resemble is a flop movie from 10 years ago called Life Or Something Like It, in which a newscaster played by Angelina Jolie was told by a mysterious magical homeless man that she was going to die, which made her decide to change her shallow life and find true love.  The similarity is no coincidence, because Save Me, like the movie, is written by John Scott Shepherd.  This time, the heroine is Ohio housewife and former TV weathergirl Beth Harper (Anne Heche), whose husband Tom (Michael Landes) is cheating on her with his secretary Carla (Alexandra Breckinridge), and who’s become a suburban drunk, neglectful of teen daughter Emily (Madison Davenport) and of her former best friend Jane (Heather Burns).  One drunken night, Beth tries to inhale a giant sandwich, and chokes seemingly to death.  But she finds herself miraculously alive and apparently touched by God with a gift of… well, not exactly prophecy, but what, at least in the pilot, amounts to knowing the sex secrets of those around her.  She also has the seeming ability to call down lightning bolts on her adversaries.  Beth decides to use her powers to win back husband, daughter and friends, and become an overall better and more caring person.

Beth’s messianic bubbliness (she jumps up and down on the bed to express her new joy) is unbearable, and the fact that other characters find her unbearable too is no help, because really she’s meant to be utterly lovable (by the end of the pilot, her previously sullen daughter is confiding in her again, her straying husband is finding himself attracted to her, and her friend is happily providing her own hubby with oral sex for the first time in years).  The show doesn’t even pretend to question the idea that Beth is really in communication with the Almighty, since all her revelations are very specifically accurate, and about things she couldn’t possibly have known about otherwise.  In a particularly idiotic scene, when Beth and Tom get her a CAT scan to see if she’s having hallucinations induced by illness, even the neurologist tells her the effected areas in her brain prove she’s been touched by God.

Who on earth is Save Me intended for?  It’s far too bawdy for the religious audience, and too insistent on its nondenominational religiosity for sex comedy fans.  Heche was recently the best part of HBO’s Hung, but she can’t ground Beth in any kind of reality, while the other characters are stuck in sitcom witlessness.  Director Scott Winant, who’s worked on everything from Breaking Bad to Californication to True Blood can’t find a consistent tone for this thing, because there isn’t any.  Maybe, possibly, a story like this could work for the length of a 90-minute movie, but spun out into episodic television?  Not likely.

It’s great–honestly–that NBC is willing to take a chance on one genuinely risky, unconventional project amidst all its familiar dross.  But some kind of judgment has to come into play, and the executives who went with Save Me need to be rescued from themselves.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."