daniel ferrer reviews a show where characters are welcome …
Call me jaded, but these days I find it difficult to shut the laptop for anything less than the sight of Christina Hendricks’ bust or the promise of Frankie Muniz’s dad strangling a meth dealer with a bike lock. Maybe that’s why I find it so difficult to give USA’s lineup of lighthearted entertainment a chance to be something other than background noise on a slow evening. Don’t get me wrong; shows like Psych and Burn Notice are not only palatable but reliably entertaining, and White Collar has that one handsome guy who’s extremely talented when it comes to being handsome. USA knows how to draw an audience, and I’m not a part of that audience. I don’t think either of us is missing out.
But Royal Pains is a fucking mess.
Now to be fair, I’ve already established that this show isn’t for me. It’s not unique, it’s not artistic, and it’s really not exceptional in any way. It’s not supposed to be. It’s middle-of-the-road because that’s the niche that USA set for itself. I understand that this demographic may not have the same qualms that I do when it comes to the stale scoring or the abundance of screenwriting clichés, and that’s fine. It wouldn’t be fair for me to trash a show for being shallow when it’s clearly not going for depth. But even for a featherweight medical dramedy, the writing just isn’t there.
Case in point: “A Farewell To Barnes.” The mid-season premiere begins the way mid-season premiers often do: with lost bearings. The first two minutes of the show shake the dust off the August finale’s major cliffhangers. Eric Kassabian (Wilmer Valderrama, now with added scruff) is belly-up from a prescription error. Divya (Reshma Shetty) is responsible, and risks losing her secret job at a legitimate hospital. Jill (Jill Flint) has to choose between her dream job and her romance with Hank (Mark Feuerstein). Evan’s (Paulo Constanzo) engagement to Paige (Brooke D’Orsay) is road blocked by her disapproving father. It’s the necessary procedure.
The audience spent the last season playing with new toys and needs to be reminded of everything that happened in the far away land of summer 2011. But then the show uses the next forty minutes of air time to remind us that all of those things that happened are in fact things, and yes, they did happen. I wish there was a less cumbersome way of putting it, but that’s the first two acts in a nutshell. The writers decided that it’s easier to wring out the very last drops of anticipation from the finale instead of cultivating some new tension to make decent premier. No new conflict is presented. No action is taken. Instead of watching the answers to our questions unfold, we listen to characters ask themselves the very same questions for two thirds of the episode. It’s tedious. It’s redundant. And worst of all, it’s lazy. When the show finally pulls itself together for what could technically be considered a climax, the result is disappointing. I don’t want to give anything away, but everything happens exactly how you expected it to.
If there’s one bright spot to this, it’s a guest spot by the endlessly affable Tom Cavanaugh (Ed, Scrubs). I’m not sure who his character is or what pertinence he has to the story, but I don’t really care. Cavanaugh’s signature rapid fire delivery brings some much-needed comic relief to a show that shouldn’t need any comic relief. I honestly don’t understand why this man isn’t on television more often. He held his own against the brilliant ensemble of Scrubs and here he shows that he can get some genuine laughs out of a script that has none.
Oh, and I nearly forgot to talk about this week’s “medical mystery,” in which an irrelevant character is inconvenienced by mild stomach pains and some numbness. I’m going to spoil this one for you, because I’d rather you hear it from me: she has a gluten intolerance. Yes, a gluten intolerance. Tune in next week when Hank hands out lozenges.