If Anne Heche can continue to make a living acting, all the more power to her. But her new show Save Me on NBC makes it unclear why anyone really thinks she's got something amazing happening, something worthy enough to give her a leading role on a TV show for the second time in less than 10 years. This is a woman for whom its difficult to even pinpoint a particular time she "freaked out" because she's been freaking out since the '90s (and probably earlier). Let her go.
Save Me is an apt name for her new half-hour comedy, not because that's how I felt while watching the first two episodes that aired Thursday night, but because it is, like the title, completely unoriginal and doesn't actually make a ton of sense. Heche plays Beth Harper, a suburban mom who, after finding out her husband is cheating on her, goes to the fridge in a furious rage to stress eat and chokes on what appears to be some sort of Philly Cheesesteak. She lives through the ordeal – or dies and then lives again – and afterwords, she can talk to God. God tells Beth what's going on in other people's lives, like when their husbands need blow jobs.
Before Beth choked, she was hated by her family and her neighborhood, but the root of the hatred is unclear. There are numerous references to her having a drinking problem, and perhaps some sort of multiple personality disorder, but no explanation or hint of why. It's like they wrote this show about Heche herself; I found myself sympathizing with her neighbors and family, who seem exhausted to be around her, trapped into dealing with a woman who has no real fascinating qualities. This premise – accident leads to a change in personality for a blonde who used to be hated but is now trying to do right – has been done before, and better, by Christina Applegate on the short-lived Samantha Who?. The flashbacks to a time prior when the female lead was meaner and had a different, longer hairstyle remain intact.
I'd like to shift some of the blame off of Heche and onto the supporting cast, but they're equally uninteresting. On Heche's previous television go-rounds, she benefitted from a strong supporting cast – Men in Trees was a good example of a utilization of a Gilmore Girls-esque group of weirdos that can work so well. It was cancelled after two seasons, but definitely left its mark as precursor to that Kristin Chenoweth Lifetime movie 12 Men of Christmas: high-powered New Yorker suffers personal breakdown and moves to middle of nowhere Alaska to reboot her engines, makes new friends, meets hunky guy, enjoys the slower life.
Heche suffers a likeability problem; it's not that she's not particularly likeable, but that she's not unlikeable and interesting. She's no Carrie from Homeland. Heche isn't even living up to her version of ex-wife crazy that she successfully tackled in Hung. This is Heche's problem; she's only equipped to play different, crazy versions of herself, but they never go far enough. She was great in Spread as the youth-obsessed cougar that let Ashton Kutcher crash in her house. But these watered-down versions of her personality tailored to a more soft-stomached television audience aren't nearly crazy or obsessive enough.
On Save Me, the characters around her seem to feel the same way; Beth's husband doesn't like her, but he's not even fascinated by her because she's just not insane enough. It's only when she gets this God thing going that he's sort of intrigued. And even then, there's no commitment to the crazy; people start believing that she is a prophet way too quickly. Beth's self-obsession, the one part that makes her sort of delusional and weird, is explained away by the fact that she is talking to God, okay? She's not really self-involved – anymore.
The only moment I smiled while watching this show wasn't even Heche related; it was when Beth's daughter Emily says she wants to be emancipated (who can blame her, her parents suck). Beth asks her what she'll do for money. Emily responds, "I could start a blog," before being cut off because Beth is trying to listen to a message from God. Ah, we veered so close to the real delusional insanity that is Anne Heche, and then it was cruelly taken away. I'll miss her, but I won't miss Save Me when it's inevitably cancelled.