This review was corrected on Oct. 2, 2002.
The more lighthearted of the dueling San Francisco-set Wednesday night dramas, ABC’s “MDs” focuses on two superdoctors — the sort who pay no heed to the rules, do what’s necessary to save lives and have a little fun along the way. We’ve seen these characters before — Hawkeye and Trapper John in “MASH,” for example — and here the ensemble includes a new hospital director with no medical background, a brand-new resident and patients with problems as real as anything on “ER.” “MDs” isn’t quite sure if it wants to make audiences laugh or cry, and when it shifts from one to the other it’s abrupt; if audiences are comfortable with its tone, it should outrate the soap opera of CBS’ “Presidio Med.”
Dr. Bruce Kellerman (William Fichtner) and Dr. Robert Dalgety (John Hannah) are the dynamic duo at Mission General, an HMO trying to straighten out its downward fiscal spiral with Shelly Pangborn (Leslie Stefanson) newly installed at the helm. Their characters are posited as the two faces of drama, Kellerman the tragic figure and Dalgety the jovial.
Kellerman is head of cardio-thoracic surgery and has an extra load of trouble with his ex-wife, who wants full custody of their son; Dalgety, a Scotsman with a fondness for sexual rendezvous with the housekeeping staff, is an imaginative loose cannon. Together they go so far as to declare a living woman dead to perform an operation that can save her, paying no attention to the fact that her insurance will expire in hours. Fichtner is called upon to display the greater range; it’s clear there is nothing he can do against his conscience, and the issue of his son is amplified by a heart patient’s relationship with his offspring. Hannah plays every note with a crowd-pleasing air.
They manage to enlist the new intern, Maggie Yang (Michaela Conlin), into their circle on the day before her first day. She’s a bewildered sort, and her “thank-you” speech toward the end of the first hour is a bit much.
The HMO team that fights the doctors consists of Nurse Poole (Jane Lynch), who possesses a Ph.D. in management; the smarmy Frank Coones (Robert Jay); and Pangborn. Yes, it does resemble the team of Hot Lips, Maj. Burns and Col. Blake, and when the two sides butt heads near the end of the pilot, the humor displayed earlier is sorely missed. But that’s the show’s biggest problem — one minute they’re quoting the killer Gary Gilmore, and the next they’re operating on a gunshot victim who will die on the operating table. Blending humor and tragedy is a wise move; it just needs a gentler touch.
The curious character in the hospital hallways is the alluring Dr. Quinn Joyner (Aunjanue Ellis), there to squelch amorous advances and toss out contrarian medical viewpoints. It’s unclear from the pilot how she fits in exactly.
Michael Hoffman’s direction, along with the lensing and editing, come together with superb consistency. Beyond the plot springing one way or the other, “MDs” has the look of a creative team on the same page. Rock ‘n’ roll plays a subtle yet energetic role around Mark Mothersbaugh’s score, with the Clash’s “Rudy Can’t Fail” and the Replacements’ “On the Bus” dropped in during the show and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” serving as the theme.