Melissa George’s pregnancy prompted NBC to reschedule “Heartbeat” from the fall to midseason, but the intervening months haven’t helped this medical drama find much of a pulse. Although derived from a book by a real-life heart surgeon, the series plays like a rather pallid “Grey’s Anatomy” knockoff, featuring another doctor who cares desperately about her patients, runs roughshod over subordinates and bosses alike, and walks and talks very, very fast.
If Kathy Magliato’s book was built, in part, around how cardiac surgery remains a largely male bastion, there are enough brilliant female doctors patrolling the halls of TV to make George’s Dr. Alexandra Panttiere feel a little less special. The day-to-day pressures of the hospital, meanwhile, share time with a sort-of romantic triangle, involving Alex’s relationship with her dreamy doc boyfriend (Dave Annable) and the surgical mentor (Don Hany) who suddenly shows up, unleashing a lot of pained expressions and dreary flashbacks.
Of course, Alex’s juggling act doesn’t end there. She’s also raising two kids she had with her ex-husband (Joshua Leonard), a rock star who left her for another man. Mostly, though, Alex does all she can to drive her boss (Shelley Conn) crazy, being so committed to her patients that she has no time for niceties or rules. (She can, however, rock a slinky blue dress when the situation calls for it in order to woo big-money benefactors.)
Showcased more effectively in NBC’s recent ensemble drama “The Slap,” George is an appealing actress, but she’s not only asked to shoulder too much of the weight here, but also saddled with dialogue like, “My patient is dying. I want that heart!” In addition, there are some questionable choices in the surrounding staff, including another doctor (Jamie Kennedy) so politically incorrect that he refers to Alex’s Asian nurse (Maya Erskine) as “Ping Pang Pong,” which everyone just laughs off.
Created by Jill Gordon, with a pilot directed by Robbie Duncan McNeill, the procedural elements don’t really improve in subsequent episodes, which include medical issues that arise endangering the lives of a pair of conjoined twins. Historically, when writers resort to devices like that in the first three episodes, it’s seldom a good sign.
Granted, some very undemanding medical dramas have performed passably well of late, including NBC’s “The Night Shift” and “Chicago Med,” and CBS’ “Code Black.” Although healthcare remains a political hot button, TV’s formula for caring doctors hasn’t really changed that much since “Dr. Kildare” and “Marcus Welby M.D.”
Yet even grading based on that chart, “Heartbeat” seems about as necessary as an appendix — more of a faint murmur, dramatically speaking, than anything you can dance to.