Picks and Pans Review: Amazing Grace

updated 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET)


Patty Duke is a newly ordained and unconventional minister—a divorced, former drug addict. She's also a hospital chaplain and parent to a hormonally supercharged teenage girl (Marguerite Moreau) and a rambunctious boy (Justin Garms). Between those responsibilities she has an opportunity to counsel and succor a real cross section of humanity. The solid supporting cast includes Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years), Joe Spano (Hill Street Blues) and Lorraine Toussaint (Law & Order).

No one can put on a look of pained concern quite like Duke. In fact this is the first series since Michael Landon ruled the airwaves to be based on its star's gifts as a listener. Most of Duke's empathy sessions conclude with her proclaiming, "I'm here for you" or "How can I help you?"

When it sticks to the spiritual, detailing Duke's efforts to lead a rigorous Christian life, the show is striking. (Even those scenes where Duke goes to a lonely lakeside to appeal aloud for God's help are moving.) Unfortunately it spends more time trying to imitate Picket Fences, and this mawkish drama doesn't play the card of small-town caprice all that well. You see Amazing Grace, in addition to being tenderhearted, is also a bit softheaded.

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