God works in wacky ways. At least in the Hollywood version of the universe.
That daffy deity is at it again in NBC's new sitcom Save Me (8 p.m. Thursday on NBC10), choosing a soused, self-centered Ohio suburbanite as a heavenly herald on Earth.
Beth (Anne Heche, of Men in Trees) is the sort of nasty drunk for whom blackouts are a blessing - because it's hard to be ashamed of the way you behaved the previous evening when you have no recollection of it.
Late one bleary night, standing in front of an open refrigerator, Beth chokes while inhaling a hoagie. And wakes up reborn - with a direct pipeline to the Big Guy Upstairs.
Her family and neighbors have trouble reconciling this radiant, joyous creature with the burry Beth they know and loathe.
The comedy is a congeries of conceits from other series: the unlikely visionary of Joan of Arcadia and Eli Stone; the reformed mean girl of GCB; and the overall tone of Desperate Housewives, right down to the rueful but jaunty voice-over narration and the pizzicato soundtrack.
Save Me's saving grace is its cast, particularly Heche, who gives an energetic and charming screwball performance. Michael Landes (Chloe's dad on Don't Trust the B- in Apartment 23) is also appealing as Beth's dubious spouse, Tom.
Madison Davenport (the young sister-wife Ethel on Shameless) is the couple's twice-bitten teen. Receiving some unprecedented maternal concern, she marvels, "Mom doesn't have a clue what grade I'm in and she calls all my friends Jessica because I once knew a Jessica."
Dylan Minnette (Awake) plays the hormonal kid next door and Alexandra Breckenridge (the young, sexy version of Frances Conroy on American Horror Story) is Tom's mistress, Carly, who is more than a little peeved to find the man she stole being stolen back.
There are some funny lines in the show, as when Tom tells Carly in the middle of a lightning storm, "You might want to step away from the window. According to Beth, God is kind of smitey."
The pilot, the first half of Thursday's double rollout, is enormously engaging. But even though the show has been on the shelf for months and months, NBC made only one episode available to critics. That's never a good sign.
And where does Save Me go after Beth has overcome the vast misgivings of everyone around her? Does she deliver the sermon at the mall? Lay on hands at the yoga studio? (I know a grabby instructor like that.)
The future may be cloudy, but Heche's sparkling presence makes the show worth at least a second look.