A&E's 'Coma': What the Critics Are Saying

Coma A&E Miniseries Still - Lauren Ambrose - H 2012

One critic describes the four-hour mini, starring Lauren Ambrose as a medical student who discovers that healthy patients are inexplicably falling into comas, as "sometimes entertaining, sometimes infuriating."

Coma, a four-hour miniseries adapted from Robin Cook's 1977 novel, debuts Monday night on A&E, and the reviews are starting to hit the Internet.

The new version, which debuts at 9 p.m. Labor Day and concludes the following night, stars Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as a young medical student who discovers that seemingly healthy young patients are inexplicably falling into comas after routine surgeries. Steven Pasquale, Geena Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, James Woods and Ellen Burstyn also star.

Mikael Salomon (Band of Brothers, Andromeda Strain) directed and executive produced the mini, whose exec producers also include brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, the latter of whom jumped to his death Aug. 19 from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, Calif.

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The book previously was adapted into a 1978 movie directed by Michael Crichton and starring Michael Douglas and Geneviève Bujold.

So what do critics think of the new Coma?

"The good news ... is that it's much better than [A&E's] previous miniseries adaptation of the Michael Crichton book The Andromeda Strain," writes Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times. "The bad news? It's still not very good. Or at least it's not as good as it should be, given a cast that includes Lauren Ambrose, Richard Dreyfuss, Geena Davis, James Woods and Ellen Burstyn; it's not even as good as the 1978 film, which, though facing a few of the same problems as this rendition, did not shy away from a subtext both hysterical and socially nuanced."

Greg Evans of BusinessWeek, meanwhile, gave it two out of five stars.

"The dark story of an evil-doing hospital that induces comas for profit prompts mundane musings," he wrote. "The malpractice premiums alone must be more frightening than anything in this slow moving production."

The New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger opined that Ambrose "anchors the tale competently enough, which frees the big-name cast that surrounds her to have a garishly good time," but he wasn't as impressed with the miniseries itself, calling it "sometimes entertaining, sometimes infuriating."

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"Unfortunately the story, adapted by John J. McLaughlin, still has the rickety feel of a cheap summer novel, with lots of implausible actions and plotlines that aren’t tied together very well," he added. "Most of those coma patients seem to have remarkably docile relatives who don’t ask many questions (lazily explained away by fat hush-money checks). And for a smart medical student Susan [Ambrose] is remarkably dumb, doing her Nancy Drew thing without alerting the authorities or making sure that someone trustworthy (like her love interest, a doctor played by Steven Pasquale) knows where she is."

The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry, meanwhile, gave it a more favorable review.

"The story isn’t earth-shattering, and the filmmaking isn’t especially imaginative, but the production is a solid piece of suspense," she wrote, adding that the mini "kicks up the action during the second installment, and Salomon is clearly in his element."

Overall, she wrote, "this is mostly a straightforward, if well-made, thriller with a dependable cast. There’s nothing out of the ordinary — no alien invasions or even commentary about the health-care industry. It’s simply a well-reasoned, four-hour argument for why surgery should be avoided at all costs."

Verne Gay of Newsday gave it a B, writing that if viewers can overlook the "ridiculous" plot, then they might be entertainment by the "mostly fun" mini.

"Coma demands of the viewer -- you -- a superhuman suspension of disbelief over four hours," he wrote. "If you can muster that, you're left with a largely entertaining movie, featuring some legendary actors happy to ham it up in the presence of two famous producers."

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David Weigand of The Houston Chronicle argued that the mini has too little character development but too mjuch predictability.

"There's ... no real mystery about who among the medical staff is on the right side of the ethical street and who's not," he wrote. "So little effort is invested in character development that when one major figure is revealed to be the evil brains behind the operation of inducing comas in surgical patients, our response is something akin to 'tell me something I don't already know.'"

Still, he wrote, the performances make it worth watching, especially the "completely convincing" Ambrose.

"Sure, it'll keep you awake while it's airing, but the earlier film and Cook's classic novel kept you up all night long," he concluded.