The last drama NBC tried on Thursday, “Awake,” explored the duality of human nature, received mostly positive reviews and suffered a premature end. Undaunted, the network plumbs similar territory with “Do No Harm,” a modern, somewhat muddled twist on the Jekyll-and-Hyde story, albeit largely stripped of its macabre science-fiction element. If the underlying plot has exhibited endurance and then some, it’s difficult to see how this serialized attempt will be able to replicate such longevity, despite the inevitable fun that can be had with the concept.
Actually, “Do No Harm” does its share of borrowing beyond just Robert Louis Stevenson’s original tale and the Hippocratic oath. Some of the wrinkles — like the two personalities using taped messages to communicate with each other — previously arose in “Jekyll,” a more satisfying 2007 series that aired stateside on BBC America.
Here, the title pun flows from the plight of Dr. Jason Cole (“Rescue Me’s” Steven Pasquale), a brilliant neurosurgeon hiding a dark secret: He suffers from dissociative identity disorder, the same split-personality condition used to comedic effect in “United States of Tara,” using an elaborate drug cocktail to keep his alter, Ian, in check.
As the story begins, though, Ian has developed an apparent immunity to the formula, and starts poking out his hedonistic head. This especially complicates Jason’s budding romance with a fellow doctor (“Law & Order’s” Alana De La Garza), to whom Ian leers, “I like you, don’t I?”
Created by David Schulner, the series has done itself a disservice by hewing away from the fantastic and toward the mundane. Mr. Hyde, after all, was the personification of evil — the good Dr. Jekyll’s bad side torn from him. Here, Ian is nasty, yes — he likes to fight, have sex, take drugs and lavishly spend money — but a deeper probing of human nature is sacrificed.
Like all actors, Pasquale has a ball with the double role, and the writers do get mileage out of the quick-change situations, leaving either Jason or Ian to instantly sort out the dilemma he faces.
Still, since Cole desperately wants to be freed of his shadow, it’s questionable how long the storytelling can sustain its juggling act without causing all the MDs surrounding him (presumably not a completely dense bunch) to grow more suspicious than the one officious type who decides to probe Cole’s past. (Phylicia Rashad, mostly wasted, plays the hospital administrator.)
Ominously, the aforementioned U.K. retelling ran six episodes, and even that lost steam before it was over. So while “Rock Center” didn’t exactly set high timeslot expectations, failing to scare up viewers could liberate this latest good doctor from his evil half long before some wonder-drug ever does.