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Both of USA’s new original series focus on characters looking for a change. In Rush, fast-living, self-destructive doctor Will Rush (Tom Ellis) begins to re-evaluate his “no judgments” policy toward his wayward clients, and his own addictions, after running into an ex (Odette Annable) he longs to impress by proving he’s a new man. Satisfaction‘s Neil (Matt Passmore) and Grace Truman (Stephanie Szostak) are a long-married couple whose separate personal decisions begin impacting their joint life for the better (at least, for now).
While Rush is very much in USA’s wheelhouse, bearing passing resemblance tonally (that is, quick and breezy) to series like Royal Pains and Burn Notice, it doesn’t come together as well as some of the network’s more memorable series. Rush is a younger and more optimistic Dr. House (minus a limp), but he shares his same arrogance, sense of entitlement and efficacy at his job (it’s never lupus). Rush’s clients are outside of the hospital setting, though: He’s a medical “fixer” who is called in by wealthy, private clients to tend to their personal crises (in the pilot, patients are an abusive professional baseball player and a mogul with a broken penis).
The revolving door of eccentric clients, along with Rush’s struggles with sobriety and self-control, could have come together for a passably engaging procedural (even if it’s been done many times before). But so far, the stakes are low and the results uninteresting. While Rush’s friend who works at the hospital, Alex (Larenz Tate), and Rush’s loyal assistant Eve (Sarah Habel) show signs of depth that could help flesh the series out, Rush himself remains a rough sketch, one who may have been charming enough as part of a a strong ensemble, but whose exploits just aren’t compelling enough on their own.
With Rush then as a lead-in, the presumption could easily be that Satisfaction‘s aim as a series is to be just as benign. And for the first half-hour, it is. The Trumans seem to have a lot of complaints about being rich white people. It’s just so hard, you see; they’re so unfulfilled. When Grace gives Neil a new tie, in his mind, she might as well be giving him a noose. He reads a book about Zen, and then has a meltdown on a (grounded) plane that makes him a brief YouTube star. Afterwards, Neil quits his job, runs home to his wife, and catches her (though she never sees him) in the throes of passion with another man.
And then something unexpected happens.
Just as Grace seems poised to be the villain, the show backs up six months and replays a few events from her perspective. Yes, she finds being rich and white really hard, too. But then she meets Simon (Blair Redford) at a bar, and begins the affair. When Neil confronts him, though, he discovers that Simon is a male escort, and that his wife has a financial arrangement with him. From there, Neil makes a decision that completely alters the trajectory of Satisfaction: He begins taking Simon’s clients. Now he and Grace are both on morally shaky ground, but only Grace is in the dark about it.
Satisfaction thus turns itself into a surprising drama about ethics, aiming to be more than a mere montage of climaxing clients. Neil doesn’t just roll around in the sheets with these other lonely housewives; he wants to know about their relationships to find answers about his own relationship with Grace. And surprisingly, his shunning of his office job ends up propelling him back into the corporate world in an even more powerful position than before. He begins appreciating Grace more, and she in turn begins responding to him in a way that shows they are both completely committed to one another. It would seem the flings are over. And then, at the height of their new happiness, there’s another twist that brings everything into question.
Satisfaction‘s premise is much darker and more complicated than marketing for the series would have viewers believe. And unlike FX’s new series Married, the two leads want to actively improve their relationship, and do seem to genuinely love each other. The irony is, of course, that it’s their lying and cheating that is bringing them closer together. The question for Satisfaction, though, is how the show will sustain this over the course of multiple seasons. As a movie or miniseries, Satisfaction would be an intriguing meditation on the nature of marriage at midlife. Instead, the series is open-ended while the story (however interesting for now) seems finite.
Ultimately, the advice for the viewing order of these two series is the opposite of how USA has arranged them on the schedule. Despite appearances, it’s Rush that needs to be amped up, while Satisfaction may require an emotional come-down. Therefore, Satisfaction‘s potential depths should be explored first, while Rush should be used as a catapult back into USA’s more familiarly sunny, congenial (and in this case, forgettable) world. If Satisfaction proves a hit, though, USA may start looking for more shadows.
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