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Veteran film actresses make the move to cable

Holly Hunter, an Academy Award winner, had to know the question was coming while promoting her new TNT series, "Saving Grace."

Did she have any theories why feature film actresses over the age of 35 (the questioner was being kind, Hunter is 49) have gravitated to television series?

"Well, I mean Glenn Close and Kyra Sedgwick and Mary-Louise Parker and the women on 'Sex and the City' and I got together about seven years ago..." Hunter responded in her Southern twang. She never finished the joke before turning serious.

"It's undeniable that something is going on, you know -- zeitgeist," said Hunter. "Often people go, 'OK, we're on the threshold of a big change in cinema or something,' and it never really holds true. It's always just a trend, and hopefully that's not the case here.

"But I actually believe that it's probably because of cable. It probably really and truly is that cable has kind of changed the landscape, semipermanently, because it's a moneymaker and it happens to be alternative. It happens to be made for less money. And so risks can be greater because less cash is at risk."

The march of film actresses to cable continues with two new, promising series headlined by Hunter and Close. We really shouldn't be surprised that they have headed to the small screen for meatier roles. Hunter in "Saving Grace," Close in FX's "Damages" and Sedgwick in TNT's "The Closer" join Minnie Driver of FX's "The Riches."

Before "The Riches" premiered, Driver told television critics that TV became more attractive because most of the top movie roles were going to someone named Kate -- as in Winslet, Bosworth and (Cate) Blanchett. Additionally, basic cable dramas attract actresses because they have shorter seasons than network dramas (13 episodes a year compared to 22) that allow for a better family life. They also have fewer creative and language restrictions.

In the first scene in "Saving Grace," Hunter's character, Oklahoma City Detective Grace Hanadarko, is having hot, carefully filmed sex with her married partner. "Grace" premieres at 10 p.m. Monday after "The Closer."

In explaining why she was drawn to Grace, Hunter mentioned the character's "sexuality" at least six times in two minutes. But before conservatives start another petition drive and raise concerns about the decline of civilization and TV's values, be advised that Hunter's series has religious aspects that balance her character's behavior. Thus the title.

The series features a gruff, scruffy-looking old angel, Earl (Leon Rippy), who smokes cigars, likes disco and wrestles -- physically and verbally -- with Hunter's character in an attempt to save her soul.

Grace won't be easy to save. Besides her very active sex life, she smokes, drinks and drives, parks in handicapped spaces and packs a powerful punch if any man foolishly treats her like a piece of meat. She also is a helluva cop with a good heart. She cares about her nephew, who was an infant when his mother died in Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City massacre.

Created by Nancy Miller ("Any Day Now"), who was raised in Oklahoma City, the first two episodes are much more compelling setting up the relationships in the Oklahoma City Police Department than they are developing the cases being solved.

Kenneth Johnson ("The Shield") plays Grace's married partner and Bailey Chase ("Las Vegas") is another detective who has known Grace biblically. Laura San Giacomo ("Just Shoot Me") excels as Grace's friend, a religious criminalist who doesn't judge her. Bokeem Woodbine ("The Big Hit") plays a Death Row inmate who is partly responsible for Grace's newfound interest in religion.

Rippy, who starred in David Milch's HBO series, "Deadwood," shows up as Earl at odd times. His appearances aren't as strange as the events in Milch's new series, "John From Cincinnati," but it's in the neighborhood. After awhile, the angel moments and Hallmark messages may get a little tiresome. But Hunter's amazing, tireless star turn more than compensates for the over-the-top moments and makes "Grace" worth savoring.

Close, who starred in a season of FX's "The Shield," is back in "Damages," a series more reliant on plot than "Grace." It premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday. Close stars as Patty Hewes, a brilliant, manipulative and ruthless New York City litigator who fights big corporations, gets huge judgments for her clients and admits to being a bad mother. Few actresses are better than Close playing tightly wound ruthless characters who are difficult to read.

In the plot-rich pilot, Hewes hires a young in-demand attorney, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), and immediately assigns her to join a case against an ethically challenged billionaire, e-businessman, Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson). Tate Donovan co-stars as Hewes' top assistant. He doesn't always know what his boss is up to. Michael Nouri is her supportive husband.

With Close, Danson, Donovan and Nouri aboard, it is easy to place your money on "Damages." The fast-moving pilot has some intriguing plot twists that make it look even more like a sure bet.

Finally, a new testosterone series, "The Kill Point," about a bank robbery that goes horribly wrong and ends in a hostage situation premieres on Spike TV at 9 p.m. Sunday.

John Leguizamo stars as the leader of the heist, an Iraq War veteran who planned it with several members of his unit after coming home and discovering that America didn't care about its veterans. Donnie Wahlberg co-stars as the hostage negotiator who is obsessed with proper grammar. Steve Cirbus, a Buffalo State College graduate, plays the driver of the heist team who escapes and eventually will plot to save the team. Set in Pittsburgh, the two-hour pilot is extremely loud, dumb and predictable, right down to the discovery that Leguizamo's character is a villain with a heart.

***

Damages

Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

*

"Saving Grace"

Review: 3 stars

*

"The Kill Point"

Review: 1 1/2 stars

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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