Patients, Virtues

Saved is about an EMT with a heart of gold.

Tom Everett Scott in Saved 

The title of the new show Saved (TNT, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET) may lead you to believe that its subject is evangelical Christianity—perhaps a sitcom adapted from the 2004 Macaulay Culkin film or a reality competition starring cutthroat itinerant ministers. You would be wrong to think this, but not by much. While Saved is a drama concerning a Portland, Ore., paramedic, it’s somewhat more interested in the salvation of his earthly potential and eternal soul than with the cute kids and pretty women whose damaged lives he’s trying to rescue. Further, it is obsessed with addiction: Our hero, Wyatt Cole, has a gambling problem, and his loan shark seems to smoke a lot of weed. The pilot finds Cole treating both a junkie and an alcoholic, and in case any of the above went by too quickly for you, the soundtrack features both Kurt Cobain’s tired wail and Jimi Hendrix’s stony one. This is the beautiful-loser hour.

As played by Tom Everett Scott—whose playfulness is essential to making this show a pleasurable trifle instead of a sodden one—Wyatt is a haggard and brilliant young man who isn’t getting any younger. He’s got a scabrous wit and a four-day growth of beard. He seems to have styled his hair with some combination of beaten egg whites and used motor oil. He doesn’t just wear a weathered leather jacket—he sleeps in it. By this point, you will have guessed that his methods are not strictly orthodox. In short, Wyatt Cole is the first-responder equivalent of Fox’s Dr. Gregory House. Medic, heal thyself.

The main thing eating Wyatt is a cocktail of daddy issues and girl trouble: Both his doctor father (“a giant” of the aloof and withholding school) and his doctor ex-lover (a babe of the next-door type) are concerned that he dropped out of medical school after two years. (“I flunked sucking up,” Wyatt explains.) Then there’s the $10,000 of debt he’s racked up at card clubs. (If there remains any doubt about whether Texas Hold ‘Em has jumped the shark, the first moments of Saved, noxiously choked with poker lingo, should dispel them.) Then there’s the stress and the guilt and the unearned superiority of those moron ER doctors. Of course, it helps ease Wyatt’s pain that central casting has sent over co-workers with strong shoulders—the sassy Latina, the white-bread innocent, the black partner with the tidy goatee, the older Indian gentleman eager to share wisdom about karma.

If I were Martin Scorsese, I would have my attorneys draft a letter kindly asking TNT to donate some money to one of my favorite film-preservation causes. It is said that good artists borrow and great artists steal. How do you classify artists who raid Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead for its every cinematographic tic? At least Saved puts its buggy zooms and anxious quick cuts to good use. On TV, this stuff passes for stylistic daring, rhyming with Scott’s why-the-hell-not? performance and juicing up what would otherwise be overly familiar. This show won’t save your soul, but it does resuscitate a few genre conventions.