The knee-jerk reaction is to characterize “Off the Map” as little more than “Grey’s Amazon,” inasmuch as there’s nothing remotely new about “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes’ third medical drama except the geography, vaguely described as “somewhere in South America” (actually, Hawaii). A closer kin, however, would be “Going to Extremes,” a short-lived but far quirkier 1992 ABC show about young medical students in tropical climes. Either way, beyond the blue skies and a couple of decent moments, there’s little to get excited about in an hour that follows Rhimes’ blueprint to a fault.
Three young medical residents (played by Caroline Dhaverna, Zach Gilford, and Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter) land at the only medical clinic in a 200-mile radius, where limited resources occasionally require unorthodox treatment.
The trio find themselves under the tutelage of three gruff doctors (Martin Henderson, Jason George and Valerie Cruz), with the facility’s brilliant but taciturn founder, Keeton (New Zealand native Henderson), obligingly stripping off his shirt to reveal chiseled abs. It’s a familiar procedure for Rhimes’ medical shows, which have a penchant for letting viewers fantasize about the bedside manner of doctors worthy of nicknames like “McSteamy.”
Not only does the sequence offer a scenic distraction, but it serves notice that “Off the Map” — created by “Grey’s” writer Jenna Bans — will share its basic building blocks with Rhimes’ other programs, particularly in its mixture of raging intramural workplace hormones with medical drama, from obscure maladies to a gruesome zipline accident.
What’s not clear is which of those elements amounts to the cart and which the horse. Either way, this formula — people who work diligently to save lives, then play hard rotating among each other’s beds — hardly feels sturdy enough at this point to support yet another variation on the theme.
The writing is solid enough to strike a few emotional chords, like a man (guest Michael McKean) who has schlepped to the jungle to scatter his late wife’s ashes. Still, there’s only so much the attractive cast — including recent “Grey’s” semi-regular Jason George and “Friday Night Lights” graduate Gilford — can do. Unlike “Private Practice,” moreover, ABC won’t be able to so readily prop up this new resident with “Grey’s” crossover episodes.
One of the doctors aptly explains the rudimentary medicine that’s practiced at the clinic by noting, “Here, it’s 1952.” In TV terms, though, the underlying DNA is more circa 1992, with a second episode — imperiling both a pregnant woman and her husband — feeling especially hackneyed.
The series opens with the doctors taking a cliff plunge into the inviting ocean, but this is a show where nothing qualifies as a creative leap, much less the sort of dive to merit keeping “Off the Map” on viewers’ radar.