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Wednesday, December 12, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State Of ‘Grace’ Patty Duke’s New Show Premieres Tonight

Coeur d’Alene and Spokane make their network debuts in Patty Duke’s “Amazing Grace” tonight on NBC. Not that anybody will be able to tell.

The location is never mentioned, not even hinted at, in the first three episodes of the show. Even the license plates on the cars are generic, black-and-white, non-committal.

Which leads to the question: Will we want anybody to know it was shot here? Tentative answer: Sure, why not? Based on these three episodes, the show has moments of humor, intelligence and gentle spirituality. It also has moments of contrived plot twists and simplistic resolutions. But all in all, it is solid, promising family drama. People magazine gave it a C-plus grade in its April 3 issue, which sounds about right: A passing grade, with plenty of room for improvement.

The first episode, which airs tonight on at 8 on KHQ-6, establishes the basic premise of the series. Duke plays Hannah Miller, a former pill-addicted emergency room nurse who has reformed, become ordained and landed her first ministerial job in her (generic) hometown. The church elders think she’s a bit flighty, but she gradually wins them over with her undeniable spunky charm.

She is a single mom with a teenage girl and a younger boy. And she has two significant male acquaintances. One is a friend, lawyer Harry Kramer, played by Dan Lauria (the dad on “The Wonder Years”). The other is more like an enemy, the sneering, snarling Detective Corso, played by Joe Spano (“Hill Street Blues”). Yet we get the feeling that Corso will turn into something resembling a human as the series continues, thanks, of course, to Hannah’s gentle influence.

Lauria and Spano are both outstanding character actors; their performances help keep this show afloat.

So does Duke’s performance. Nobody does empathy, sincerity and earnestness quite as well as Patty Duke. She does those emotions a lot in this series. Somehow, Duke never comes off as phony; you get the idea that this is a woman who has paid her dues.

In the first episode, she takes on the cause of a hospital aide who has kidnapped her own son and gone into hiding. Suffice to say that it ends with Hannah’s entire congregation singing “Amazing Grace” while Hannah and the nurse exchange heartfelt and heartwarming glances.

The second episode (scheduled for April 8) is titled “Hallelujah” and it’s the best of the three shows provided for preview.

This is the Burt Reynolds episode, in which he plays a charismatic evangelist who beguiles one of Hannah’s elderly parishioners. The woman decides to give $35,000 to the slick-talking evangelist instead of to Hannah’s fellowship hall fund.

This episode poses some interesting moral questions: Is Hannah upset because she believes that the evangelist is a fraud, or merely because she’s jealous of his gifts for converting lost souls? Also, is she really concerned about her parishioner, or merely worried about her fellowship hall? To the credit of the writers, Reynolds is not the stereotypical crooked evangelist. His character is not nearly so black and white.

Yet Reynolds still gets plenty of opportunity to ham it up on the stage of Spokane’s Masonic Temple, exhorting the Lord and taking baseball-style slides down the stage’s ramp.

Unfortunately, this episode also demonstrates the “Amazing Grace” weakness for easy plot devices. When the elderly woman is taken to court, she conveniently faints in the middle of the hearing, thus setting up a contrived conflict: You can’t take this woman back to court. You might kill her.

This episode has by far the most Spokane atmosphere. We see the outside of the Masonic Temple, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Archdiocese of Spokane, The Spokesman-Review building and the downtown Post Office. We also see many local faces in the jam-packed Masonic Temple auditorium.

Coeur d’Alene is on display in tonight’s episode as well as in the third one (scheduled for April 14). In fact, they have done a good job of making a block of downtown Coeur d’Alene look urban and gritty. The third episode is about a young man shot by Detective Corso during a drug bust.

Yet it also does a good job of showing the pastoral beauty of Lake Coeur d’Alene. One of the show’s recurring vignettes consists of Hannah walking the lakeshore, asking the Almighty for guidance.

Why, then, does the show go to such lengths to conceal the location? Why do the cops wear insignia that say only “Metro Police”? For one thing, it spares the network legal trouble down the line. If the show does a story about police corruption, then it’s not about Spokane or Coeur d’Alene police corruption. It’s about Metro police corruption.

Still, you’d think that they’d want to brag a bit about their unusual, non-Hollywood location. Patty Duke has made Coeur d’Alene a major theme of her many interviews. Why not make the Northwest a character in the show, the way Rome, Wis., is practically a character in “Picket Fences”? Maybe that will happen later, if the show gets picked up as a regular series. Six episodes will be shown this spring. If the ratings are good, it will be put on NBC’s fall schedule, and the crews will be returning for more months of filming this summer.

“Amazing Grace” does, however, face an uphill battle. It will normally be up against “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” on CBS, a show which attracts the same family audience that “Amazing Grace” is after.

Tonight, however, it has a reprieve. “Lonesome Dove” replaces “Dr. Quinn” this week.

MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: Other views of ‘Amazing Grace’ “‘Amazing Grace’ - how sweet it ain’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, there’s an amazing amount right with this NBC drama … is no sugar-coated simpleton sop to the ‘family values’ crusade. … Duke has found a way to build a compelling TV drama centered on the importance of responsibility and reconciliation today. ‘Amazing Grace’ may not be perfect, but it is amazing.” - Diane Werts Newsday

“God help ‘Amazing Grace.’ On paper, Patty Duke’s new series looks as if it has all the right ingredients: the timely topic of spirituality, solid supporting actors … and the star herself. … But somebody forgot to hire writers. In the first episode … the cliche-riddled dialogue shifts between painful attempts at humor and sticky melodrama. … (And) every character is painted in the same colors: a tough exterior hiding sensitive innards.” - Manuel Mendoza Dallas Morning News

“… an odd and altogether uninvolving drama series. … Pointless, strained and illogical, ‘Amazing Grace’ brings together a lot of talented people … and thoroughly wastes them on a drama that wants to be inspirational but is clearly clueless about how to pull it off. … Duke seems as committed to the role as this pat, hokey material will allow. She is woefully miscast. … ‘Amazing Grace’ will require some divine intervention to survive …” - Ray Richmond Los Angeles Daily News

“The Idaho locations are stunning, yet ‘Amazing Grace’ is neither amazing nor graceful. Everyone means well, but that’s not the same as doing well.” - Hal Boedeker Orlando Sentinel

This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: Other views of ‘Amazing Grace’ “‘Amazing Grace’ - how sweet it ain’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, there’s an amazing amount right with this NBC drama … is no sugar-coated simpleton sop to the ‘family values’ crusade. … Duke has found a way to build a compelling TV drama centered on the importance of responsibility and reconciliation today. ‘Amazing Grace’ may not be perfect, but it is amazing.” - Diane Werts Newsday

“God help ‘Amazing Grace.’ On paper, Patty Duke’s new series looks as if it has all the right ingredients: the timely topic of spirituality, solid supporting actors … and the star herself. … But somebody forgot to hire writers. In the first episode … the cliche-riddled dialogue shifts between painful attempts at humor and sticky melodrama. … (And) every character is painted in the same colors: a tough exterior hiding sensitive innards.” - Manuel Mendoza Dallas Morning News

“… an odd and altogether uninvolving drama series. … Pointless, strained and illogical, ‘Amazing Grace’ brings together a lot of talented people … and thoroughly wastes them on a drama that wants to be inspirational but is clearly clueless about how to pull it off. … Duke seems as committed to the role as this pat, hokey material will allow. She is woefully miscast. … ‘Amazing Grace’ will require some divine intervention to survive …” - Ray Richmond Los Angeles Daily News

“The Idaho locations are stunning, yet ‘Amazing Grace’ is neither amazing nor graceful. Everyone means well, but that’s not the same as doing well.” - Hal Boedeker Orlando Sentinel


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