When first we meet Neil Truman (Matt Passmore) in Satisfaction, the excellent new USA Network drama series premiering Thursday night, he’s deep in a midlife funk, and he can’t understand why. After all, he has an 80-inch 3D TV in his luxurious home, which he shares with his beautiful wife of 18 years, Grace (Stephanie Szostak), and their 16-year-old daughter, Anika (Michelle DeShon), an aspiring musician.
As he enters his 40s, though, Neil is growing more aware that his all-consuming job as an investment banker isn’t leaving any time for family or fun of any kind, really. Working 70 hours a week in a job he is starting to hate, Neil tries to grab odd moments at his desk to read a book on Zen principles, hoping to restore some order to his life, but when his abrasive boss (Spencer Garrett) orders him with little notice to fly to New York to work over the weekend, Neil has a little breakdown on the airplane that is captured for posterity and posted on YouTube.
After an explosive leave-taking from his boss, Neil arrives home much earlier than expected and discovers Grace having a steamy encounter with Simon (Blair Redford), who, we soon will learn, is a paid escort – and, more to the point, a paid escort who accidentally leaves his cell phone behind. Stunned and shaken by Grace’s infidelity, Neil is in a vulnerable place when that phone rings, a call from one of Simon’s clients confirming their amorous appointment in one hour at a nearby hotel.
I don’t want to reveal much more than that about Satisfaction, which kept surprising and delighting me during its first episode. The promos have made the show look somber and heavy, but while it’s true the characters of Satisfaction are playing for some high emotional stakes, the drama unfolds with flashes of the kind of unexpected, out-of-left-field comedy that is a fact of most lives. And that, in brief, is what I love most about Satisfaction, the way it feels loose, unpredictable and a little messy, just like life.
When we get to the scene in which Neil discovers Grace with her paid playmate, the narrative abruptly jumps back six months, to show us how Grace got to this reckless juncture in a marriage she still values with a man she still loves. While Neil has spent the past several years buried in his work, Grace – a once-promising designer who had been forced to give up a scholarship to study abroad when she got pregnant with Anika – has seen her life limited to mornings at the gym and evenings in a book club where the members are far more interested in swilling wine than talking about literature, or life in any larger sense. Now that Anika is nearly an adult, Grace has tried to find work in the design field, only to be told that – metaphor alert! – she lacks life experience.
By the end of Thursday’s pilot, Satisfaction has admirably sketched in the back story of this couple who sense they are drifting apart yet have no real notion how to stop that drift. Grace has no idea that Neil saw her with Simon, partly because Neil frankly doesn’t know how to broach the subject with her. Neil also isn’t sure where Grace stands in terms of their marriage. Is she preparing to leave him?
Szostak shrewdly uses a light touch in her scenes, skirting soapiness while showing us the escalating tension Grace is feeling just under her calm surface. As good as the actress is, however, Passmore is an absolute revelation. The Aussie-born actor broke out as police detective Jim Longworth in A&E’s The Glades, but his performance here is on a whole new level. Passmore looks like he could be a Hollywood action stud, but he gives Neil a fumbling lack of confidence, a vulnerability, that I haven’t seen from him before. When Neil stumbles on Grace and her lover, his first reaction is to fight back his overwhelming urge to vomit, and he momentarily seems to lose control of his body, as if he can’t quite remember how to get his arms and legs moving in sync. It’s just a great performance, tentative, sweet, a little frightened and often sadly funny. I have a feeling spending time with Neil Truman this summer is going to provide a lot of satisfaction to USA Network viewers.
If only that were true of the main character in Rush, a new medical drama that immediately precedes Satisfaction on Thursday night. British actor Tom Ellis stars as Dr. William Rush, who used to be the top attending surgeon at a leading Los Angeles hospital before his fast-lane lifestyle caused him to crash and burn. That debacle cost Rush his job, his relationship with his father (Harry Hamlin), and his romance with beautiful hospital colleague Sarah Peterson (Odette Annable, House).
That was six years ago. Now Rush makes a comfortable living providing a private doctor service to a rich but shady clientele. Forget the Hippocratic Oath. When Rush runs into a person in medical distress, he negotiates a hefty payment up front, usually in cash, before he’ll render assistance.
Rush is, in other words, what is known in medical jargon as “a giant tool.” As Thursday’s premiere opens, he’s snorting vast quantities of cocaine with a blonde party girl, who overdoses and has a heart attack. After Rush brings her around with a portable defibrillator, he drops her at the hospital where his best friend, Dr. Alex Burke (Larenz Tate), works, pausing only to size up a comely new staff worker before dashing off into the night.
Alex is one of three very decent people we meet in the first episode who, for reasons that escape me, treat Rush with kindness and loyalty. The other two are Eva (Sarah Habel), his resourceful assistant, and his old flame Sarah, who has returned to L.A. after undergoing a double mastectomy.
Ellis is a really splendid actor who can deliver highly technical medical jargon at breakneck speed in a very credible American accent, yet I watched the first episode looking for some reason I should care about Rush. He shows up high on coke at a birthday party for his little godson (Alex’s son), shocks some of the guests by demanding a cocktail at this kiddy function, then adjourns to the bathroom to smoke a joint. Is this someone you would want to have in your life, or even spend an hour with each week via your TV?
By the end of the series premiere, Rush has had a couple of scary encounters that may have opened his eyes to how big a train wreck he is. Or maybe not. Time will tell. I like the cast enough to give Rush a couple more weeks to see if this empty suit of a character starts to grow a soul. Maybe he could borrow Neil Truman’s book on Zen, but he – or, more accurately, the screenwriters – need to take some serious measures, stat, or this show is going to flatline in no time at all.