Jun 6, 2013

[TV] Monday Mornings - Season 1

I got into drama shows early on - I blame the older members of my household for that. Thus as early as my elementary days, I was already hooked on shows like Chicago Hope, The Practice and Boston Public. I can't quite explain the how or why of it - they just made sense to me and it was a lot of fun to catch these shows together with my folks or my grandmother.

In hindsight it turned out that I was inadvertently following the shows created by David E. Kelley. Given the sequencing, it was only Ally McBeal that didn't quite hook me as much as the others. I guess I was just looking for rather heavier dramas without CGI dancing babies. But it's not like I was considering who was producing these shows - that's just not something that crosses the mind of anyone my age.

Fast forward to the modern day and I find out that Kelley was behind a new medical drama - Monday Mornings. So I got a little excited since it felt like he was going back to his "roots" - or perhaps more like my roots since I had started on Chicago Hope so many years ago. But it was a very short-lived series given it was cancelled after it's first and only season.


Synopsis: Monday Mornings is a TNT drama series created by David E. Kelley. It was based on the Sanjay Gupta novel of the same name and aired from February to April 2013.

For this show, the spin on the now popular medical drama theme was to focus on the surgeons, for the most part. While we still get to see the rest of the fictional Chelsea General Hospital in action, the clear slant was in favor of the surgical staff and their weekly peer-review conferences held every Monday. These meetings are the prime arena for discussing notable cases of the week under the guidance of the Chief of Staff, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina). And he's quite the taskmaster, bringing erring doctors in line and being prepared to humiliate doctors in front of their peers in order to teach the hard lessons.

The cast includes a diverse crew of doctors with their respective fields of discipline and specialization. Dr. Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames) is the rather physically  intimating trauma chief. Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber) is the rather cocky neurosurgeon. There is the highly skilled Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim) whose main challenge is his difficulty with communicating in English. There's the rather irritable Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin). And there's the cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao) how's rarely afraid to speak her mind. There are other doctors, but these are the ones who first come to mind.

It's a David E. Kelley series, so you know that sooner or later some of the staff are going to start sleeping together or at the very least dating. So let's get that out of the way first and concede that this task inevitably falls to Jamie Bamber's character since, well, he's why you cast Jamie Bamber. He's a good enough looking guy when you get down to it but I fear he's stuck in this sort of a role ever since the end of Battlestar Galactica or something.

The central piece of the show are the conferences, and the main reason to watch this show is to see Alfred Molina pretty much tear all those other doctors to pieces. It's a bit of a no-brainer in terms of casting him or the role - he's perfect for it in fact. But at the same time, I can see how this experience doesn't exactly make for good television. Not a heck of a lot of people like to witness that kind of dressing down on a regular basis.

But the sheer power of Molina makes all the other actors - save perhaps for Rhames - pale in comparison. Bamber was never know for being a particularly striking dramatic actor. And the others aren't very familiar names (unless you followed Irwin's theater career and know that he is a professional clown). And maybe that's part of the reason why the show didn't succeed - in the short span of 10 episodes the supporting characters weren't quite enough to draw in more of an audience.

The one who did best though while saying the least was Keong Sim. His portrayal of Dr. Park was just brilliant and the concept behind the character really helped in that regard. His coarse bedside manner is not born out of the fact that he's a jerk. He just doesn't know enough of the English language to better articulate himself and thus he instead speaks in short, precise sentences that are often mistaken for him being rude and offensive. And thus naturally he's one of my favorite characters on the show.

We could talk about the interpersonal relationships, but they felt like so much background noise at this point. Maybe the show could have done without some of it this early in the production. There was even the attempt to create a running gag in the form of Dr. Napur and her catastrophic dates with Dr. Lieberman (John  Silverman). But it wasn't quite enough to become legitimately funny, I feel, especially given how heavy the rest of the show was.

Monday Mornings was a show that was built around schadenfreude more than anything else, and thus could leave a foul taste in one's mouth. While Dr. Hooten was very well intentioned in his chastisements in order to make better doctors and protect the hospital, it didn't exactly endear him to the general viewing public of the pay-TV world. Thus I can only rate the show as 3.5 sips of water out of 5.


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