Director Bill D'Elia, working from a script by "Chicago Hope" scribes Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin, breaks format and takes the five-season-old hospital drama into its riskiest, most original territory yet. Episode, a full-fledged musical, has the cast breaking into song-and-dance production numbers in the hospital halls and operating rooms, demonstrating that some of the year's most inventive filmmaking is happening on the small screen.
Director Bill D’Elia, working from a script by “Chicago Hope” scribes Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin, breaks format and takes the five-season-old hospital drama into its riskiest, most original territory yet. Episode, a full-fledged musical, has the cast breaking into song-and-dance production numbers in the hospital halls and operating rooms, demonstrating that some of the year’s most inventive filmmaking is happening on the small screen.In a twist straight from the department of ironic afflictions, “Hope” neurosurgeon Dr. Aaron Shutt (Arkin), has just quit his position at the hospital when he collapses with a life-threatening brain aneurysm that wheels him back into the hands of his colleagues. Shutt slips in and out of hallucinations — most of which take the form of musical production numbers staged by the regular docs of “Chicago Hope,” who lipsynch to a half-dozen songs from Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” to Melanie’s “Brand New Key.” Show’s true artistic pedigree is made clear when hospital boss Phillip Watters (Emmy-winner Hector Elizondo) calls in cerebrovascular specialist Dr. Denise Potter (Tasha Smith) — in a nod to Dennis Potter (“Singing Detective,” “Pennies From Heaven.”). Story is essentially the journey of the existentially challenged Shutt, who travels from spiritual oblivion back to emotional life. The near-death experience as rite-of-passage may be standard fare for the hospital genre, but the inventive execution here, anchored by Arkin’s nuanced performance, works. The musical conceit — including a trippy death scene set to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” — could have turned gimmicky if not for the organic use of the song-and-dance sequences, which not only stand as setpieces, but integrate with the narrative. Most importantly, D’Elia directs with a light touch, getting out of the musical numbers before they overstay their welcome. “Hope” alum Mandy Patinkin, written out of the show several seasons ago, makes a sly cameo as an annoying angelic guide and lipsynchs to his own recording of the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There.” Louis Mann’s production design is bright and striking, and choreography by Kenny Ortega rocks, especially in showstopper production number “Luck Be A Lady,” which has Arkin and company in a cool, corny whirl around the scrub room and operating theater.