Monday, November 12, 2012

Watch These Doctor Shows Before They're Canceled

I’ve been addicted to TV since the days when there were only three channels; when you had to turn a knob to change them. (OK, technically there were four if you counted PBS, but that channel usually just brought in snow.) The first show I remember obsessing over was The Addams Family. I believe this was in 1975 and the show was on in syndication in the mornings. I thought it was just the sexiest thing ever the way Gomez would kiss Morticia’s arm when she spoke a word of French. I was seven years old, so my ideas about romance weren’t very sophisticated.

As I got a little older, my obsessions tended to fixate around medical shows. I loved M*A*S*H and General Hospital, which only had in common scenes in operating rooms and blonde women with sharp tongues. Thanks to Hawkeye Pierce, I actually know what an end-to-end anastomosis is, if not how to perform one. If I’d had any talent whatsoever in math and science, I might have gone into medicine rather than trying to make a living peddling words.

My love for TV and medical shows hasn’t changed. And even General Hospital has gone back to its roots. These days I love Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, and I tried out two new doctor shows – The Mob Doctor and Emily Owens, MD. Unfortunately, both of these new shows are on the verge of cancelation. I can see what the problems are, and I hope the producers step in to provide some new direction before the shows get pulled.

The Mob Doctor. The title says it all. She’s in the mob, and she’s a doctor. Hijinks ensue! Well, maybe not hijinks but certainly enough plot to keep anyone happy. Grace is a resident in Chicago hospital; her boyfriend is a resident there too. She grew up on the wrong side of the city, and she still has its dirt in her hair. When her brother racked up a debt to a mobster he couldn’t pay, Grace stepped in and offered to work off the debt in his place.

This is a concept that should work. From “Hannah Montana” to “Superman” to “Once Upon a Time,” viewers are drawn to stories about characters who live double lives. It gives twice as many settings for plot, and the tension over the possibility of getting caught. Besides, doesn’t everyone secretly wish there were some sort of real life parallel universe, where we could be the superhero or the rock star or the fairy princess?

Or the mobster. Grace’s problem is that her two lives are too close together. The show itself has a grimy, dirty feel; so different than the brightly-lit, fast pace of other medical series. Grace’s dead father was a low-life mobster alcoholic; her brother works for the mob, and so does her high school boyfriend, toward whom she still has feelings. She still lives with her mother in the city rowhouse near the drug dealers and bartenders she went to school with. If she has a secret life, it’s her one at the hospital, not the one on her street.

“The Mob Doctor” should be Grace’s show, told entirely from her point-of-view, but it often slips into mob war scenes, or her brother doing dirty work, or her mob boss trying to romance Grace’s mom. None of these characters are sympathetic or appealing in any way.

Still, this is a show with potential. Grace herself is a compelling character, and her efforts to pacify her boss foreshadow a Grace who takes her own power and perhaps becomes a factor in the mob herself.

But the rest of the show needs to be cleaned up. The women who watch medical dramas about women aren’t going to stick around for mob wars. “The Mob Doctor” needs to remember that “Mob” is the adjective and “Doctor” the noun, not the other way around.

Emily Owens, M.D., has no such problem with gray lighting and grimy streets. The show is as bright and sunny as its blonde star, Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter. Emily’s an intern, and she ends up at the same hospital as her high school rival and her medical school crush. The series premise is that working at a hospital is just like being in high school.

Only, of course, it’s not. The premise is the problem. In high school, it might have seemed like life-or-death if the guy you liked asked out the girl you hated, but it wasn’t. Here, it is. If you put the central line in wrong because you’re too busy making eyes at the nurse, your patient dies. People are sick and dying here, folks! They’ve been in accidents! They have cancer! You look petty and self-absorbed next to them!

The show has been compared to Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s not. Sure, Grey’s started with that awkward thing that happens when your one-night-stand turns out to be your boss, but Meredith was also mired in an original, compelling situation with her mother, famed surgeon Ellis Grey, who was battling Alzheimer’s and had forced her daughter to promise to tell no one. This plot put the life-and-death stakes up close and personal in the protagonist’s life. In addition, all the interns – save Christina, of course – were so clueless and so open about it, you just knew they were going to kill people.

The show Emily Owens resembles more is that 1990s sensation, Ally McBeal. Ally was a clever but ditzy lawyer who ended up in the same law firm as her high school sweetheart Billy and his wife, Georgia. Ally still loved Billy and was worried that she’d never get married and have kids. For some reason, this show caused a pop culture sensation, even ending up on the cover of Time magazine, as if Ally had something major to say about the current state of feminism. Really, though, Ally was nothing more than the opening bookend for the “I want it all but I don’t know how” female dilemma. Had the show gone on – and not jumped the shark with Billy’s death via brain tumor and Ally’s daughter via egg donation – I have no doubt Ally would have ended up married to a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom with two kids in the suburbs, wondering how on earth she got here.

And sadly, I see a similar fate for Emily and her show if she doesn’t take her job as seriously as her social life. Currently she seems like a talented doctor who makes the right calls. Maybe she’ll fall in it and become sympathetic for reasons other than an unfortunate high school nickname.

Emily Owens, M.D. is a bright, fun show. But any show that takes place in the medical field needs some gravitas. Even sitcoms like Scrubs made it clear that the show was playing for keeps.

Until then, The Mob Doctor is on Fox Monday nights, and Emily Owens is on the CW on Tuesdays. Check them out while you still can.

1 comment:

  1. PJ from My Boys is in the Mob Doctor. I don't do medical dramas. I couldn't stomach ER after a while and it got so depressing with people dying all over the place.