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People who watch hospital dramas — or, more accurately, hospital soaps — are by nature going to watch, or at least sample, whatever you give them. They love the concept. As one of the age-old television staples, the familiarity of the hospital drama guarantees a certain welcoming acceptance among viewers. That said, some attempt must be made to create a situation where the characters in the hospital and their daily lives are at least minutely different from the other few dozen of these things.
Perhaps that’s where David E. Kelley’s Monday Mornings, based in the fictional Chelsea General hospital, hoped to excel. Based on the writings of Dr. Sanjay Gupta (who serves as executive producer with Kelley), Monday Mornings has an impressive cast and what it believes to be a conceit that will set it apart. The hospital has M&M meetings — morbidity and mortality — to basically discuss who messed up and why. Those meetings are run by Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina), nicknamed “Hardly Human” for the way he uses an almost prosecutorial tone to berate the doctors for their errors. Harding is also the dramatic center of these meetings, and the highly qualified doctors flash worried looks if they are about to be called.
The trouble with this very heightened and central aspect of Monday Mornings is that it’s almost entirely based on mistakes, some preventable, others not, and it leaves the viewer less confident in the abilities of the doctors in the cast. One full season of this and you’ll never want to be in a hospital at all. It’s like how we all pretend while going out to dinner that there’s nothing at all worrisome about the state of the kitchen, its staff, its food, its cleanliness. When we go to a hospital, we want the doctors to be gods.
But Monday Mornings needed some kind of shtick since the genre is so dog-eared. What undermines the unusual aspect of said meetings is the heavy handed way they are portrayed. There are super dramatic close-ups of worried doctors, the use of cutaways to show them nervously thinking about the questions they’ve been asked from Harding and various sweaty brows, worried hands and pained looks. Sometimes this involves slow motion. There should never be slow motion in these scenes. It’s a red flag that proves that Kelley and his staff want to sap the most emotion possible from the situation, but they don’t trust either the actors or the situation to convey the drama.
The series stars Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge Villanueva, a legendary trauma chief known as El Gato. He’s a wily veteran, so he’s the one who comes in at the last second and tells the assembled team that they’re all wrong and that the real condition is “X,” and you’d better bust ass to surgery or “X” is going to kill patient “Y.” He’s gruff but loveable.
Jamie Bamber is Dr. Tyler Wilson, a brilliant and cocky neurosurgeon. He’s not one to ask for help from anyone, including fellow neurosurgeon Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim), who is listed by TNT as being Korean-American but looks to be playing full Korean and struggling with the language. If you’re Asian and thinking, “Oh, here we go again,” well, yes, here you go again. Sung’s inability to get words right and for being the doctor with the worst bedside manner because he’s so blunt runs up against a lot of stereotypes. That the show uses his bluntness for comedic effect might work, and certainly does in spots, but his English problems are a red flag that Kelley may be going in a direction that is very David Kelley, if you get what that means, and you probably do.
It should be noted that Monday Mornings is a lot less silly and over-the-top than Kelley’s past offerings, and if properly corralled, could lead to a solid little hospital drama for the hospital drama junkies. They may be the only ones who hang on to this series because it does so little early on to make you care about the characters.
Jennifer Finnigan plays neurosurgeon Dr. Tina Ridgeway whose dedication (like all doctors, apparently) leads to friction in the home, but she’s happiest at work and her closeness to Dr. Wilson looks ominously predictable (he’s Jamie Bamber, after all; he’s pretty much going to get your wife eventually). Bill Irwin is Dr. Buck Tierney, the highly annoying chief of transplantation — part evil, part quirky and another misuse of the talented Irwin. Why not put this guy in a more comic role? You know, he can pull that off. Sarayu Rao plays Dr. Sydnet Napur, a cardiothoracic surgeon with zero tolerance for bullshit. Aren’t all highly qualified doctors like that? Or did they just assemble them at Chelsea General so that they could be cut down to size at the M&M meetings?
Emily Swallow plays Dr. Michelle Robidaux, the resident who is in awe of these doctors.
Unfortunately, awe isn’t always interesting. There are few likable characters here, the centerpiece M&M meetings should be what sets the series apart but those scenes are what is actually bogging the show down into nonsense. If you’re wondering why most hospital dramas relieve the tension of all that “stat!” talk and trauma business with a bunch of sex between doctors, it’s because the alternative is Monday Mornings, where sexy doctors kill people and then feel too bummed out to really engage.
No doubt hospital genre fans will sample this, but TNT’s latest is perhaps too morbid.
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