Pittsburgh, PA
Thursday
September 18, 2014
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
A & E
 
Tv Listings
The Dining Guide
Movies
Travel
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  A & E >  TV/Radio Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Columns
'State of Grace' has some of its own

Sunday, June 24, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Sometimes the best TV shows can be found in the most unexpected places.

You'd certainly never think to look for a well-written, heartfelt, nostalgic comedy-drama series on Fox Family Channel, a network still trying to get a firm footing after it was reformatted from the old Pat Robertson-owned Family Channel in 1998.

Yet that's the home of "State of Grace," a delightful new half-hour series that easily qualifies as one of the best new shows of the year.

Set in 1965 in Ashmore, N.C., "State of Grace" is a female "Wonder Years." Unseen adult narrator Hannah Rayburn (Frances McDormand, star of "Fargo" and "Wonder Boys") recalls stories from her youth after moving to Ashmore from Evanston, Ill.

Shy young Hannah (Alia Shawkat) is in awe of gregarious Grace (Mae Whitman), a spitfire of a girl who represses nothing. That's in stark contrast to Hannah's family, who consider emotional issues "a non-topic."

 
 
TV REVIEW

"State of Grace"

When: 9 p.m. June 24 on Fox Family Channel.

Starring: Mae Whitman, Alia Shawkat, Dinah Manoff, Michael Mantell, Faye Grant, Eric Yohn and the voice of Frances McDormand.

   
 

"So, Hannah tells me you all are Jewish," Grace says matter of factly at dinner with the Rayburns. "That is so neat! I have always wanted to be tortured for my faith."

That line from tomorrow's first episode (two air back to back beginning at 9 p.m.) would be insensitive if it came from an adult. From a child, it's naively honest.

Sometimes light and fun, other times serious, "State of Grace" balances both tones well. After Grace's gleeful outburst at the dinner table, she's almost reduced to tears while doing dishes with Hannah's father (Michael Mantell). Grace asks about numbers tattooed on his arm and he explains concentration camps to her.

The openness of Hannah's father and mother (Dinah Manoff) in dealing with Grace makes Hannah jealous. She'd never heard her father discuss the Holocaust until Grace blurted out a question.

But it becomes clear in tomorrow's first two episodes that as much as Hannah covets the glamour of Grace's life, Grace would gladly trade it for the traditional stability of Hannah's home life.

Grace's widowed mother, Tattie (Faye Grant), is a chain-smoking, martini-sipping Southern belle gone just a little bad. She clips roses in her undergarments and must be tucked in by her 12-year-old daughter after getting drunk at a party in the family's opulent home.

Created by Brenda Lilly ("Second Noah," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The Series") and Hollis Rich ("Grace Under Fire"), "State of Grace" could have been another run-of-the-mill Fox Family series like "S Club 7" or "Total Access 24/7." Instead, it has an uncommon depth that should make it appealing to children and parents alike.

Lilly and Rich wrote the first two episodes, directed by former "thirtysomething" star Melanie Mayron, and the dialogue crackles with wit. Listen as the adult Hannah describes Grace's family: "Their lives were like a Noel Coward play written by Tennessee Williams."

That will go over the heads of children watching, but they aren't forgotten for the sake of high-minded literary references.

"Walker is my half brother, so I only listen to half of what he says," Grace deadpans.

It's not just the writing that makes this series special. Casting accounts for an equal measure of its success.

Whitman is terrific as Grace. You may recognize her from her recurring role on "Chicago Hope" as Christine Lahti's daughter. Her Southern accent waxes and wanes, but she captures the complexities of Grace's personality that bubble to the surface.

As young Hannah, newcomer Shawkat eases into her role, but before long comes to fully inhabit the perceptive character.

"State of Grace" also gives a new outlet to several actresses who have been missing from TV in recent years. Faye Grant, who rose to stardom fighting aliens on NBC's sci-fi saga "V" in the mid-1980s, clearly has a blast as tipsy Tattie. And Dinah Manoff ("Empty Nest") gives a nice vulnerability to the rigid, purse-clenching Evelyn Rayburn.

A thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment, "State of Grace" raises the bar for all programs on Fox Family Channel and puts plenty of broadcast network series to shame, too.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections