Kelley’s heroes

The departure of Fox’s House last spring from the primetime schedule has left room for a new medical drama that uses its hospital setting as more than a backdrop for soapy sex (yes, Grey’s Anatomy, I’m looking at you), and Monday Mornings, a new TNT series from David E. Kelley premiering tonight, is hoping to be just what the doctor ordered.
If only this prescription didn’t feel quite so generic.
Set at a fictional hospital in Portland, Ore., the new series takes its title from the facility’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, at which chief of staff Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina, sporting an odd Linda Hunt hairstyle) leads a confidential review of the past week’s errors and complications in patient care. As you might expect, it’s not a lighthearted gathering, and Hooten’s unwelcome attention can shift at any moment to any member of his staff, which includes gifted but impetuous neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber, Battlestar Galactica); his supportive colleague Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan, Close to Home); insensitive transplant specialist Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin, who played the Dick & Jane serial killer on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation); and the brilliant but socially inept Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim, Glee), whose shaky bedside manner is further undercut by a woeful command of English. The strong ensemble also includes Ving Rhames as trauma chief Dr. Jorge Villanueva and Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow (Southland) as other staff members.
As creator and/or executive producer of such past water cooler shows as Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal, Kelley developed a reputation for storytelling that blends compelling drama with quirky character comedy, but based on the three preview episodes TNT provided to TV writers, he’s playing things perfectly straight here – understandable, given that these characters are dealing with, literally, matters of life and death. But who are these characters, exactly?
Bamber’s warmth and nice-guy appeal keeps Dr. Wilson from being a hotshot-in-scrubs cliché, but so far, it’s hard to understand why a doctor who is so patient-focused that he literally is haunted by a child who died in his care is also prone to making high-handed judgment calls that even a casual viewer will recognize as ethical red flags, and Finnigan’s supposedly brilliant Dr. Ridgeway overlooks a major medical factor in one surgery that threatens the promising career of her patient, then compounds the error by entrusting the procedure to a young resident who never before has performed that operation. No doubt we’ll get a better handle on these medics as the series unfolds but already Monday Mornings seems to be settling into a seen-it-before formula that is a little worrisome.
Even more troubling is Dr. Park’s shockingly weak communication skills, which have him spouting what approaches pidgin English to his patients (“Not do, die!” he tells one girl who is reluctant to have a procedure). Is this supposed to be funny? I’m honestly not sure, and I also notice his command of English seems to vary conveniently based on the demands of any given scene.
All that said, I’m hoping Monday Mornings can pull itself together and become the medical drama TV could really use right now. There are no obvious weak links anywhere in the cast, and I especially hope Kelley and his team can find a way to use Irwin – a dazzling actor who can handle both comedy and drama with virtuoso ease – to maximum effect.
At present, however, prognosis for this series is inconclusive.

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