'A Gifted Man'

The series features Patrick Wilson as the self-absorbed neurosurgeon who experiences a belated spiritual epiphany, unlocking do-gooder impulses that transform him from talented bastard into something closer to Dr. Kildare.

If you slice it down to its bones (an appropriate analogy for a medical program), “A Gifted Man” owes a debt to “A Christmas Carol”: The series features Patrick Wilson as the self-absorbed neurosurgeon who experiences a belated spiritual epiphany, unlocking do-gooder impulses that transform him from talented bastard into something closer to Dr. Kildare. The semi-religious component (embodied here by the ghost of doctor’s past) will likely play well with CBS’ heartland audience, but the longterm prognosis hangs on whether the series can find a pulse beyond just older viewers in an up-for-grabs Friday timeslot.

Wilson’s Dr. Michael Holt is arrogant and brilliant before a surprise visit from his ex-wife Anna (Tony winner Jennifer Ehle). Yet that chance encounter takes on a different hew when he discovers she died prior to their meeting (why he didn’t hear about this earlier is a mystery best left ignored), leading him to offer his services to an overwhelmed clinic his ex had championed.

Suddenly, Holt is exhibiting a more humane streak and performing pro bono surgeries — a change that isn’t lost on those around him, including his sister (Julie Benz) and office manager (Margo Martindale, built for better stuff than the pilot presents). Sis even enlists a spiritual guide (“The Wire’s” Pablo Schreiber) to see if there’s a way to exorcise Anna’s gh-gh-ghost.

Developed by Susannah Grant and run by Neal Baer (a medical doctor who worked on “ER” before “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”), “A Gifted Man” is certainly earnest, in a “Marcus Welby, M.D.” kind of way. Post-sale tinkering also improved the pilot, with Anna becoming Holt’s conscience in a way that better explains her presence, while extracting some humor from their only-he-sees-her encounters.

Beyond establishing the premise, the opener features three medical plots — one about a tennis prodigy, another devoted to a difficult patient (Bill Irwin) and finally Michael’s grudging efforts to help an ailing kid. It’s manipulative, but fairly effective.

Granted, there’s been no shortage of medical shows built around wish-fulfillment fantasies of doctors who genuinely care, with nary a mention of insurance forms or HMOs. It’s just that medicine has grown more complicated and even politically thorny.

Presumably, the series’ beating heart lies between two comforting notions — the existence of a larger spiritual world and the good a committed physician can accomplish here on Earth once touched by an angel or infused with the milk of human kindness. Whether there’s enough material to sustain a series stemming from Michael’s pivot toward greater generosity of spirit thanks to Anna’s gentle prodding remains unclear.

CBS’ ratings expectations can’t be unreasonably high, and Wilson feels like a star who many CBS viewers will think of not just as gifted but as “that nice-looking young man.” Even so, those with a stake in “A Gifted Man’s” fate ought to practice the same regimen many follow as they go under the knife: Put trust in the surgeon, yes, but also pray for help from a higher power.

A Gifted Man

CBS, Fri. Sept. 23, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in New York by CBS Television Studios. Executive producers, Neal Baer, Carl Beverly, Sarah Timberman, Susannah Grant; director, Jonathan Demme; writer, Grant.

Crew

Camera, Tom Weston; production designer, John Kasarda; editors, Mark Manos, Michael Schweitzer, Nancy Forner; casting, Bernard Telsey, Risa Bramon Garcia. 60 MIN.

Cast

Michael Holt - Patrick Wilson
Anna Paul - Jennifer Ehle
Rita Perkins-Hall - Margo Martindale
Anton - Pablo Schreiber
With: Julie Benz, Bill Irwin.

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