Pax takes a gamble with “Body & Soul,” a black comedy/drama series that borrows heavily from the likes of “MASH” and “Scrubs.” Created by John Whelpley, a cancer survivor and producer on “General Hospital” and “Trapper John, M.D.,” skein is an irreverent look at today’s health care system … or lack thereof.
For the family-oriented cabler, “Soul” marks a slight departure with the kind of sexual innuendoes and glib dialogue that’s more akin to the WB than to previous Pax productions. But by trying to play both sides of the fence, Whelpley and director Mark Jean have come up with a strange amalgam of farce and drama, neither of which plays out.
The series also marks a departure for actor Peter Strauss, who gets top billing but suffers the most indignities as Dr. Isaac Braun, chief surgeon of Columbus, Ohio’s Century Hospital. Braun is a no-nonsense doc who believes his prestige precludes the need to wear a hospital ID.
His protege, Dr. Rachel Griffen (Larissa Laskin), has recently returned from a two-year fellowship studying alternative medicine abroad. Her new touchy-feely approach puts her at odds with her old mentor as well as with Dr. Philip Grenier (Duncan Regehr), the bottom-line oriented chief of medicine.
When Braun is injured in a freak accident, he experiences Central Hospital triage firsthand and is subjected to several misguided treatments.
No longer able to perform surgery and skeptical of the level of competence at Central, Braun finds himself unemployed, along with newly ousted Griffen. The two find an unlikely champion in Wallace Beaton, a hospital benefactor who turns to them for help during a health crisis and rewards them with their own fabulous new wing in the hospital and the freedom to practice their unique blend of Eastern and Western medicine.
Taking a page from the 1991 pic adaptation of Erich Segal’s book “The Doctor,” Whelpley’s script touches on the interesting notion that a self-involved medic get a dose of his own medicine. But any message this storyline intends to deliver is muddled by the often callous and misplaced humor. Braun’s accident is the result of a cancer patient’s failed suicide attempt and his subsequent trip though various hospital departments plays out like a fantasy sequence.
Strauss risks the most, starting the show off as a prominent physician and quickly becoming a “Weekend at Bernie’s”-like comedic prop. Laskin is appealing, but plays her doctor just shy of a hippie shaman. Secondary casting smacks of tokenism with multi-ethnic characters a little too neatly compartmentalized with a Hispanic nurse, an African-American resident and an American Indian janitor.
In an inspired bit of casting, however, William B. Davis, known to many as Cigarette Smoking Man from “The X-Files,” appears briefly as a show tune-happy coroner.
Technical aspects are rough.