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Every day that passes without a reboot/revival of House perplexes me. You have a beloved brand with an easily reproducible formula that has only built an audience in syndication/streaming. Obviously, Hugh Laurie wouldn’t do 22 episodes in a season ever again, but if David Shore came to him with a six-episode limited series? Sure! After all, you couldn’t have House without Hugh Laurie.
I mean, if you needed to do House without Hugh Laurie and you decided to recast the main role, you literally couldn’t do better than Jason Isaacs, from the near-villainous intensity to the regionally nonspecific American accent that breaks British in moments of high emotion. Of course, Isaacs would never sign on simply to remake House, but if you go to the Awake and Harry Potter veteran with a pilot that’s basically House, but with a daughter? Apparently, he’s game!
Calling Good Sam, CBS’s new procedural from creator Katie Wech, House with a Daughter is a good recipe for some measure of audience disappointment. But it’s a description that will get viewers in the door for an otherwise tonally inconsistent series whose appeal generally hinges entirely around appealing leads Isaacs and Sophia Bush.
Bush plays Samantha “Sam” Griffin, heart surgeon at a Michigan hospital working under the watch of her semi-tyrannical father Rob “Griff” Griffin, chief of the department. Sam and Griff butt heads about everything, including details of their family relationship, but the hierarchy is clear — Sam is in charge of the residents, but Griff is in charge of everything. Then, in a strangely contrived piece of writing, a shooting in the ER leaves Griff in a coma and when he emerges six months later, Sam has been put in charge of the department. Griff was not designed to follow orders, much less orders from his daughter.
Griff is one of those TV doctors prone to deriding his subordinates and making wild, borderline magical diagnostic leaps. There’s no way Wech doesn’t know exactly where he fits into the small screen’s tradition of Sherlockian healers to the point that Griff’s first guess on the pilot’s case of the week is, naturally, lupus. Spoiler: It’s never lupus, except for maybe the one time it is. But this time it isn’t. Maybe the case in the second episode ended up being lupus. I checked my notes and I don’t remember anything about it, though it involves children, which is a manipulative way to avoid having to be creative. Regardless, Griff’s career is a tribute to the miraculous medical powers of scathing condescension and elevated squinting.
It’s no wonder that Griff doesn’t respect Sam, who represents all manner of new-fangled ideas, including replacing Griff’s whiteboard with snazzy tablets, attempting to integrate departments in the hospital and not directly insulting her subordinates. That latter step must take some effort because the residents on Good Sam are a generic lot, including Sam’s best friend Lex (Skye P. Marshall), her bland ex (Michael Stahl-David) and less clearly defined Isan (Omar Maskati) and Joey (Davi Santos). They would have no personalities at all, except that in an effort to establish their respective values in the pilot, Sam goes around telling each of them why they’re great.
Of more immediate interest are chief medical officer Vivian (Wendy Crewson), also Sam’s mother, and pre-ordained love interest and director of finances Malcolm (Edwin Hodge). And if you’re thinking this hospital needs to refine its rules on nepotism and fraternization, you don’t know the half of it.
There’s a lot of near-kissing in elevators and near-kissing in closets, but Good Sam isn’t really a Grey’s Anatomy-style medical soap, though Bush and Hodge have at least some chemistry.
Its actual tone, though, is a lot harder to quantify. The first episode feels like it’s trying to take the clash between Griff and Sam seriously, playing up the drama of their rift and setting the whole thing to a piano-heavy classical score that echos Sam’s compulsive tickling of the ivories. The second episode, though, decides to reframe this clash of titans as something much more comedic. The episode begins with a weirdly comic car chase that completely undermines a key piece of trauma in Sam and Griff’s past, while the music exhibits a marked shift to “hilarious hijinks” wackiness.
The pilot has simmering, but believable, hostilities. The second episode turns Griff into Wile E. Coyote and Sam into the Road Runner, leaving behind anything subtle for a cartoonish rivalry that, in the real world, would probably leave many patients dead in their wake.
Both Wech and pilot director Tamra Davis have experience in genre-splitting television, but this plays as less an effort to straddle a difficult line — War of the Roses meets ER actually sounds like a decent idea — and more a result of questionable development notes.
If Good Sam holds together, it’s because Isaacs and Bush are very good and would be capable of playing to whatever mood the series decides on. Isaacs is expertly domineering, with just enough of a brilliant twinkle that you could forgive his arrogance. That twinkle is what perhaps unites father and daughter, because it’s what keeps Sam from coming across as uncomfortably innocent and naive. He plays cold-hearted intellect perfectly, and her boundless empathy bounces off of his perpetual sneering.
Bush and Isaacs are well-enough cast to buy Good Sam a few more episodes to find consistency, though the mad-cap second episode doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’m as game as the next fan for a new House. This just isn’t there yet.
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