‘Monday Mornings,’ needs a quarterback
TNT hospital drama has no lead character to set it apart
February 1, 2013
When TV creators produce a new show in a timeworn genre — such as medical, police and legal — they usually billboard whatever arguably makes the show new. If they can get that innovation into the title, so much the better.
The title of TNT’s new hospital drama “Monday Mornings” signals its one innovation: Each episode features scenes at the surgery department’s weekly meetings, at which they discuss the various gaffes that the staffers have made.
But that’s the only tweak on a genre whose traditions and clichés prove overwhelming. “Monday Mornings” is so familiar that it hardly registers. The ensemble cast is talented and charismatic, but there’s not enough show to go around.
Premiering next Monday, Feb. 4, at 10 p.m., “Monday Mornings” never quite establishes a lead character, although by the end of the first three episodes, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina), the hospital’s chief of staff, is pulling ahead of the others. He leads the post-operation discussions, which are often post mortems.
At the meetings, held in an amphitheater-like lecture hall, Hooten, who has an English accent and favors bowties, invites one of his surgeons onstage, asks him or her to describe a recent procedure and then points out exactly how the surgeon has been stupid, lazy, inconsiderate or hubristic.
Two neurosurgeons on the staff, Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber) and Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), seem to be soul mates, even though she’s married. They both clash with the abrasive Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin), who handles the hospital’s transplants.
The other principals are Dr. Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames), the trauma chief; Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao), a driven cardiothoracic surgeon; the socially awkward and linguistically challenged Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim); and Dr. Michelle Robidaux (Emily Swallow), the requisite junior surgeon.
In the premiere, Wilson performs a risky operation on a boy with a brain tumor, while Park treats a devout Christian patient whose hands shake uncontrollably. Though the outcomes of the operations are different, Hooten manages to find fault with both surgeons’ procedures.
Flashbacks are intended to show why this case is especially significant to Wilson, but they don’t quite succeed in making us understand.
The show is based on a novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the CNN medical correspondent. When a fresh voice like Gupta enters scripted TV, one hopes that he’ll bring with him some new insights or at least some surprising anecdotes. But the cases in the first three episodes are run of the mill: A precocious 13-year-old girl prefers to live for a few more months rather than risk death through a surgical procedure that may not work; a homeless man recovers his memory after surgery and learns that his wife has remarried; and a gang member who has been shot in the head may have his organs taken for transplant.
The show was created by Gupta and David E. Kelley, the TV veteran who brought us “Chicago Hope,” “Ally McBeal” and “Harry’s Law.” In both his legal and his medical shows, Kelley has always kept us guessing about the outcome of the cases: No matter how skilled the surgeon/attorney or appealing the patient/client, things could go bad.
But perhaps because we’re so used to being misdirected, it’s harder and harder to become emotionally involved in the outcomes. One starts to wonder if the writers are just tossing a coin in the air and saying heads they live, tails they die.
Kelley, however, has always been strong in courtroom scenes. A subplot in which a slick malpractice lawyer deposes Tierney raises the energy level. The Monday-morning presentations are essentially cross examinations, and Alfred Molina makes the most of his lines, which occasionally raise issues of some weight.
The other characters aren’t as well served. After three episodes, all we really know about Wilson and Ridgeway is that they have a crush on each other and probably should get together because their children would be so good-looking.
Hiring a powerful actor like Ving Rhames and giving him so little to do is like using a dump truck to build sandcastles.
Even the musical cues are out of whack. In shows like this, obscure folk-pop ballads are usually employed in episode-ending montages that reveal the emotional repercussions of the hour’s action. Such songs are dropped randomly throughout “Monday Mornings.”
On the plus side, the show lasts a full three episodes without a single one of those hot-and-heavy, furniture-banging sex scenes that are so popular in both comedies and dramas these days.
The creators of “Monday Mornings” are trying something slightly new and falling a little short. Unfortunately, in today’s crowded TV world, a little goes a long way.
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