Leave it to Holly Hunter and Glenn Close to make summer sizzle.

As we mentioned last month, summer is turning out to be the season for prime time women. And now, finally, two of the most-anticipated new series are starting: "Saving Grace" starring Hunter as an Oklahoma City detective, debuts tonight on TNT (10 p.m. EST), and "Damages," the legal thriller starring Glenn Close, airs Tuesday night on FX (also 10 p.m. EST).

TV critic David Bianculli today praised both series during this "Fresh Air" segment. "Saving Grace," he said, is "close, though not yet as good as ‘Joan of Arcadia’" — quite a compliment as anyone who watched "Joan" regularly knows — while the quality of both the acting and writing on "Damages" was "a delightful surprise."

Melissa Silverstein at the Huffington Post gives both shows a quick look. And The New York Times did separate longer pieces on Close, who recently turned 60, and Hunter, 49.

The quality of cable television has risen exponentially in recent years — giving increasing acclaim to actors like Close (who appeared in season four of FX’s "The Shield") and Kyra Sedgwick (the star of "The Closer," Pat’s favorite show) that make the leap to small screen. In this context, the following NYT question directed to Hunter seems a bit out of touch. We certainly understand, though, where the writer is coming from concerning the lack of quality film roles:

There is an obvious question, and not a particularly pleasant one, to be asked of a woman in her 40s who turns from decades of film roles, one of which garnered her an Oscar for best actress, to a series on cable television. That is: Can you no longer get good roles?

Ms. Hunter insists that she does not fear the question, or the answer. "I may be afraid of some stuff but that’s not one of them," she said. "What people have thought of me, of the turns that I’ve taken, has never really played into my decisions.

"When I got an Academy Award nomination for ‘Broadcast News,’ the very next thing I did was a television movie called ‘Roe vs. Wade,’" she said. "Which may not have been the right move in terms of, hey, you’ve got to take advantage of this career bump." The next thing you do, she added, shouldn’t be a TV movie of the week. "But that is what I did, because I wanted to. There are reasons I wanted to do it, and I did it with no regrets.

"To me," she concluded, "all one would have to do to answer that question would be to watch this series. Why would I do this? Check it out, because the character is phenomenal."

For more on the lack of quality film roles and the abundance of good roles for older women on cable television, read Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel TV critic Joanne Weintraub.


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