In “Save Me,” Anne Heche plays an Ohio housewife named Beth who wants to murder her husband as he lies sleeping. He has been cheating on her, but only because she has been such a totally awful, rage-filled, narcissistic person. Her teen daughter despises her, and so do her neighbors, who cringe when she tries to join them for lunch.
But Beth has a near death experience while drunkenly choking on a submarine sandwich, and when she comes to, she is a changed woman. Suddenly, she is a blessed sage, and she dumps all her bottles of booze down the drain and begins to parent her daughter. She helps a neighboring couple rediscover their sex life, and she promises her husband she has let go of her evil side. Occasionally, she receives secret-filled transmissions from the Big Man Upstairs, God, telling her details about her daughter’s relationship or other bits of information that she can use to help others. At one point, she decides that, yes, she is a prophet.
Anne Heche as a prophet — there’s an elevator pitch. There’s nothing funny or fresh about “Save Me,” which NBC is burning off over the next few weeks with back-to-back episodes on Thursday nights. Beth runs around town showing everybody how profoundly she has transformed herself, how she has woken up. It’s like “The Big C,” on which Laura Linney’s character exhibited some of the same qualities after she was diagnosed with cancer. But there’s no poignancy here, and no Linney. Just Heche acting like a madwoman and claiming she has seen the light.
NBC made only the first episode available for review, and it’s forgettable. The show, at 8 p.m. on Channel 7, promises very little beyond the spectacle of Heche amping up her energy to convince everyone in her life that she is saved. Oddly, when the people around Beth roll their eyes about her sudden conversion to goodness, they look like the villains of the piece. The tone of the show is sympathetic to Beth to a fault, as if she doesn’t need to be held responsible for her years of bad behavior. The woman Tom is having an affair with, Carly (Alexandra Breckinridge), becomes the heavy, and gets her due in one overly nasty scene.
There is something potentially powerful in the story of a person who wants to grow, but who is surrounded by people who want her to stay the same. Can she change? Can she change them? “Enlightened” with Laura Dern covered some of the same territory with sensitivity and honesty. “Save Me,” in the premiere, turns this subtle idea into a romp devoid of charm. Beth is self-righteous and annoying, and we’re supposed to celebrate that. Oh please. Save us.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.