Review: Christina Ricci joins Holly Hunter to find on God on Saving Grace

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Love her or hate her, the foul-mouthed, tough, uncompromising Oklahoma City cop Grace Hanadarko is one of the most difficult characters on television. The unique character is so challenging it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing her except Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter.

TNT's Saving Grace returns with the second half of season two with "The Heart of a Cop," an episode that introduces guest star Christina Ricci in a three-episode arc as a young patrol cop named Abby Charles, who is on a 28-day rotation with the squad.

Since Grace's partner Ham (Kenneth Johnson) is still dealing with the death of his brother in Afghanistan, he decides to partner with Butch (Bailey Chase) for a while. That leaves Grace with Abby.

When Abby shows up on her first day late, Grace rips into her. However, Grace doesn't know how to deal with her new partner when Abby starts crying at a crime scene. But a woman's been murdered, and the new partners begin to work as a team. Grace soon discovers that there's a serial killer on the loose, which can only mean one thing ... it's time to pass out the cigars.

While Grace is focusing on catching a killer, Last Chance Angel Earl is on a mission of his own. He wants Grace to look into the case against death row inmate Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine), because he believes Cooley's soul depends on it. It seems Cooley has lost faith, and he's asked for his execution date to be moved up. Meanwhile, Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo) looks into Cooley's case herself, and Ham and Butch discover some challenges when it comes to being partners.

If you've seen past episodes of Saving Grace, Grace has been a bit less combative this season, and that makes her easier to like. Earl has also mellowed.

"The Heart of a Cop" quickly takes us back into Grace's gritty world, offering a solid mystery along with a good performance by Ricci, who contrasts Hunter's Grace nicely. It's also a good place to join the series if you've been wondering what all the fuss is about.

It's not a world in which everyone will want to spend time. Grace's world is filled with violence as she takes on killers every day while suffering through the continued devastation of losing a sister in the Oklahoma City bombing. She drowns herself in alcohol and men so that for a moment she'll feel better and forget about the bad parts of her world. And all the while Earl is there in the background where issues of God, faith and second chances play out.

No, it's not an easy show to like. But there are humor and sadness and real life. And, better yet, there's Holly Hunter in the role of her life.

Saving Grace premieres on TNT on Monday, March 2, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The series has been renewed for a third season.