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Black Box: TV Review

Black Box ABC Cast - P 2014
ABC
"Black Box" on ABC. Shudder.

The Bottom Line

A brilliant dancer -- no, wait, a brain specialist -- is actually bipolar. See, she knows a lot about the brain, but her brain is on the fritz a bit. She decides, because she's a doctor, that she'll stop taking her meds periodically. This makes her super creative and she dances a lot. It's pretty awful. 

Airdate

Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC

Cast

Kelly Reilly, Vanessa Redgrave, David Ajala, Ditch Davey

Created by

Amy Holden Jones

In this ridiculous and woeful new drama, we learn that it's fun to go off your medication.

There is an unbearable lightness of being thing going on with ABC’s latest drama, Black Box. And I don’t mean that in relation to the book or the movie of the same name, each with its own certain grace and greatness. No, I mean that Black Box is truly unbearable in its wispy, vacuous, pretentious way.

I lasted through 32 minutes of the pilot – which was a feat of superhuman endurance, all things considered. My left hand wrestled with the remote in my right hand as part of my brain fought to shut the whole thing off, but the evilness of my right hand won out for those horrifying 32 minutes and now I can never unsee Kelly Reilly dancing like the bipolar imp she plays on Black Box when she’s not being a super awesome “world famous neurologist.”

Who doesn’t take her meds. Because, apparently, she likes to dance like the wind.

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Few shows are as instantly annoying as Black Box, which sets some kind of record (certainly a personal one) for causing almost instant agitation. Reilly may be wonderful in some other roles, but her combination of sleepy eyes, sing-song little-girl vocal patterns and the show’s desire to have her be both brilliant and also, well, dumb, works completely against the actress.

Created and written by Amy Holden Jones, Black Box is ostensibly a series about the wonderful weirdness of the human brain. Reilly stars as Dr. Catherine Black, medical director of a neurological center known as “The Cube” (probably for the same reason the brain is called a “Black Box” – because nicknames are handy and uncomplicated). Black (did you notice that her last name is also like the title? Did you? Did you?!) has a big secret – she’s bipolar. She’s been living with this secret forever and keeping it from her loved ones.

Why is being bipolar such an issue when there’s medication she can take to control it? Because she doesn’t like the medication! She likes to flush it down the toilet and go dancing! She wants to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” come to life in the skies (which actually happens in the pilot -- and she floats over San Francisco like an angel or Superwoman or something; and yes, it’s just as annoying and ludicrous as it sounds).

Being off her meds is “a freaking rocket ride – I’ve never had a better time in my life,” she tells her shrink, played by Vanessa Redgrave, who resists the urge to say, “Oh, you stupid little child.”

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For a series that tries to take the brain and medication seriously (well, I’m assuming they actually tried – perhaps that’s a flaw in my theory), the stuff Dr. Black says and does is ridiculous. For example, the show pretends that if you skip just one dose of your drugs – voila – you’ll get bipolar hallucinations. There’s no such thing as building up in your bloodstream. Nope. One missed dose and you’re Van Gogh! All you have to do is flush your meds and the very act of them swirling down the drain makes craziness course through your veins and – wait for it – you’ll feel like dancing!

Black Box is insufferably trite and never more so than when it decides to show a patient suffering from mental illness which, because this is television, means we can hear the voices they’re hearing inside their heads and graphics can be used to illustrate the fire (and such things) they see all around them. Hokey? Oh, you bet.

ABC says Dr. Black “is torn between Will (David Ajala), a sexy, handsome new chef with his own restaurant in Brooklyn, and her co-worker, the charismatic, womanizing chief of neurosurgery, Dr. Ian Bickman (Ditch Davey).”

Oy.

And yes, the chef who wants to marry her is too good to be true. And the stud surgeon is like a Neanderthal who says things like “I’ve got incredible stats. If I say it’s no problem, then it’ll be no problem.” Dr. Black witnesses him having sex with a nurse. This makes her want to stop her meds -- and dance!

With lame flashbacks (her mother really wanted to kill herself – just you watch her say it, repeatedly) and crazy-people reenactments, Black Box is just beyond silly. Add in Reilly’s ill-fitting performance and a need to spin around like a ballerina – free from those restrictive pills! – and you’ve got a recipe for never wanting anyone to find this Black Box, let alone watch it.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine