justin matchick looks at the new David E. Kelley medical drama…
From the minds of CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and producer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal), Monday Mornings is a medical drama that has more pedigree to it than most other mid-season premieres from this year. Luckily, the show is able to establish itself on a strong cast of supporting characters to meet the somewhat lofty expectations for it. Taking place at a Portland, Oregon hospital Monday Mornings follows the lives of five surgeons as they deal with the ups and downs of having people put their life in your hands.
What surprised me most about Monday Mornings is that it doesn’t really try and differentiate itself from the rest of the medical dramas on television. There’s no real gimmick or twist to the story to be found, no real quirks or any sort of bizarre behavior from any of the doctors, no evil split personalities nor drug addicted quacks. This is the sort of show that has existed for decades and will continue to exist for decades more; a drama about people and their interpersonal relationships with the added backdrop of an emergency room. Mornings tends to focus on the failures of these doctors, almost more so than their successes. The show’s title is derived from the fact that every Monday morning there is a surgeon’s only meeting to go over the mistakes and failures that surgeons have made in the past week. Here, surgeons are drilled and questioned as to why they failed and why their patients died, sometimes even leading to doctors having to give up their medical license. Scenes like this give the show some added tension, since you never know when your favorite doctor will screw up and suddenly be at risk to lose their license.
Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) plays Tyler “Ty” Wilson, and arrogant and headstrong young doctor who the show builds itself around. His operating partner and more than likely future love interest is Tina Ridgeway, played by Jennifer Finnegan. Both of them are adept at playing the leads in a drama like this, but beyond a tragic backstory or two these characters seem like they could have been lifted from an old ER spec script and be given only a minor retooling. These two are the typical sexy doctors you find on these kinds of shows, supposedly among the best in the world at what they do and always finding ways to hide their feelings for each other. Already in the first episode we know that Wilson has a troubled past since he lost someone close to him as a child due to complications from surgery. Along with that, Ridgeway’s husband seems too boring and disinterested in her work for their marriage to last more than…let’s say a season and a half? (I’m taking bets on when Wilson and Ridgeway will hook up, Over/Under at 15 episodes).
Once the show begins focusing on the other three doctors and further supporting cast that Mornings find its legs and begins to shine. Sarayu Rao plays Dr. Sydney Napur with fiery intensity and charisma. She knows her job comes first, and she’s not afraid to go over someone’s head to save a patient’s life. Ving Rhames does what Ving Rhames always does and is able to entertain with seemingly no effort at all. As Dr. Jorge Villanueva he has an arresting screen presence, mixing his typical hard-assed nature with a sweet-talking side and seems to have a bit of advice for every other surgeon when life gets them down.
The truly surprising breakout has to be Dr. Sung Park, portrayed by Keong Sim. Park is a Korean-American doctor who is as intense as they come. He strives to be the best, and his terse attitude with patients and delicate precision in the operating room show that he does not like to screw around when people’s lives are at stake. Park has a very limited English vocabulary that is able to come off as endearing rather than borderline racist as he berates his patients and nurses. Part comic relief, part character study of a man who might take his work a bit too seriously, Park is the doctor I’m most looking forward to as the season progresses.
Rounding out the cast is Alfred Molina as the Chief of Staff Dr. Harding Hooten. Bizarre character name aside, Molina’s character is mainly there to keep the rest of the characters in check and berate and criticize them when their mistakes cost lives or get patients hurt. He is still a doctor first and foremost, but he makes it clear that he will not tolerate doctors who constantly put their patients in danger.
What you expect from a show like this is exactly what you will get, a good mix of drama and high tension with the occasional romantic or comedic sub-plot. Strong performances, especially from Rao and Rhames, help drive the show and will keep you watching just to find out when their characters will pop up next. If you’re lamenting the fact that the days of ER and House are behind us, or if you are growing tired of Grey’s Anatomy well into its 9th season, Monday Mornings will be more than enough to satisfy your medical drama cravings.
All photos credit: TNT/Turner