'Complications': TV Review

Daniel McFadden/USA Network
Overly complicated medical drama needs a new prescription.

Jason O'Mara stars as a grieving doctor whose vigilante act gives him a renewed purpose.

Complications is crazy. Not crazy good or crazy bad. Just plain "cray-cray," as the kids say these days.

Like the network’s Satisfaction, Complications seems to pride itself on being different. But being different doesn’t always mean being better.

Creator and executive producer Matt Nix, the man behind Burn Notice, is known for building a series with an unconventional premise. But Complications is truly bizarre.

Dr. John Ellison (Jason O’Mara) is an ER doctor still grieving the loss of his 8-year-old daughter. On his way to the vet, John inadvertently finds himself in the midst of a drive-by shooting. He jumps from his car to save the young victim. When the shooter returns for another round, John shoots and kills a gang member. Turns out Antoine (Jaiden Byrd), the boy he saved, is the son of an incarcerated gang leader.

The show reveals its quirkiness immediately. John isn’t taking a sick cat or dog to the vet but a squirrel that his dog has bitten. I mean, who takes a squirrel to the vet?

The pilot has an overly complicated structure: John speaks to a hospital therapist (guest star Constance Zimmer, who is currently being put to much better use on Lifetime’s UnREAL) and flashes back to the events leading up to the opening of the episode. It makes the already convoluted story even more so. In other words, Complications is too complicated. What's not complicated, on the other hand, is the show's depiction of African-American gang members; they're all stereotypes you've seen before.

The show is indeed anything but subtle. Many times we are reminded that John couldn’t save his terminally ill daughter so now he will do anything and everything to save Antoine’s life. The singular focus on saving Antoine no matter the consequences has given John a renewed purpose. “I feel like I can breathe,” he tells his wife, Samantha (Beth Riesgraf). “For the first time in a very long time, I want to go to work.”

At work, John is aided by Gretchen (Jessica Szohr), an angry nurse with a stubborn streak. We know she’s a rebel because she smokes, has two-toned hair and sports tattoos. Szohr looks like she just stepped out of central casting.

Gretchen wants to save Hillary (Lindsey Garrett), a woman who is being abused by her boyfriend. Her desire to rescue Hillary and John’s need to save Antoine become forever intertwined when they both break the law to rescue their patients.

John and Gretchen’s interactions are strange. She calls him “Doctor” even though they are both way past the point of any formality. And, for some reason, John follows her not-so-great advice. “If you want your family safe, keep your mouth shut,” she tells him when he mentions talking to the police.

In a development reminiscent of that doomed Fox series Mob Doctor, John finds himself suddenly beholden to the gang. “My son’s your responsibility until I say that he isn’t,” Antoine’s dad tells him. John is fearful of what the gang might do to him if he doesn’t comply, but still, it’s hard to understand why he just doesn’t go to the police.

The series becomes increasingly peculiar with each new episode. By the third, Gretchen is holding someone hostage and saying things like, “Let’s not go to jail today.”

The series also has a lot going on narrative-wise in addition to its complex premise. John has a troubled past with his father (Kevin Tighe) and Gretchen’s illegal behavior goes beyond rescuing Hillary. At work, John’s colleague Dr. Bridget O'Neill (Lauren Stamile) grows increasingly suspicious, and you know it’s a problem when you’re rooting for her to succeed.

Burn Notice had quite a bit of levity to it. But there’s no lightness here. Everything is incredibly serious to the point where it becomes almost unintentionally laughable. The third episode ends with an estranged Gretchen and John arguing. She tells him if he has a problem to “fix it your goddamn self.” The whole exchange is so overwrought that I laughed out loud, which definitely isn’t the effect the show is going for.  

O’Mara is a likeable screen presence, one of those journeyman actors who deserves to be on a great series. Unfortunately, Complications isn’t it.

comments powered by Disqus