Like a test-tube baby, “Inconceivable” has the feeling of a series birthed less by passion than clinical precision. What springs forth is a little homage to “Desperate Housewives” — a kind-of nighttime soap with dollops of comedy — in a setting where the viable plots appear limited and calibrated to maximum heartstring-plucking. There’s some potential here, perhaps, but once you’ve exhausted the “Oops, white couple has black baby” story in the pilot, where do you go from there?
The series has already undergone a modest transformation, with “Law & Order” alum Angie Harmon showing up briefly in the premiere before joining the regular cast in episode two. Even that far in, though, it’s still unclear where this show is heading, with a tone that’s all over the map.
At the outset, the focus is on two partners running the Family Options Fertility Clinic. They consist of saintly Rachel (Ming-Na), the mother of a 7-year-old boy born via artificial insemination; and suave Dr. Malcolm Bowers (Jonathan Cake, last seen in ABC’s “Empire”), whose bedside manner includes frolicking with one of the staff (Joelle Carter).
The pilot finds the clinic juggling the usual assortment of cases, from the aforementioned minority baby (was it the clinic’s error, or did the surrogate get pregnant by another man?) to an Iraqi war veteran trying to have a child using his late wife’s egg. Then there’s the comedy riff, as half of a gay couple stalks the surrogate carrying their baby, terrified that she’s going to ingest something she shouldn’t.
The series receives a small boost initially from “Housewives”-bound Alfre Woodard as the staff psychologist, while mixing drama among the staff with the various cases. Along the way, there’s even debate over the propriety of using science to trump nature, with one staff member musing, “You start playing God, God’s gonna start playing you.”
Still, is “Inconceivable” a medical show, with a who-can-resist-babies twist? Or it a soap, hoping that the hunky Cake will become a “Nip/Tuck”-esque heartthrob as he flirts with former school flame Harmon, who seemingly buys into the clinic so the two can engage in “I dumped you, not the other way around” banter? So far it’s a little of both but not fully realized as either.
For all that, there is an opportunity for the show in a timeslot where “Medical Investigation” opened reasonably well last fall before fading. With CBS’ “Numbers” providing marginal dramatic competition, “Inconceivable’s” fate might hinge on how well reality show lead-in “Three Wishes” performs funneling women in its direction.
As it stands, though, the show’s most creative flourish occurs during the opening credits, when an animated sperm swims into the “o” in the title. “Inconceivable” can teach us plenty about how babies are made, but so far, it’s not much of a primer on how to make a TV series.