Tradition — or whatever passes for it in the TV world — has ordained Thursday night at 10 as the slot for the week’s classiest series, with most of the past glory landing on NBC (“Hill Street Blues,””L.A. Law”). Opposite NBC’s new entry, “ER,” comes CBS’ slick new “Chicago Hope,” which premieres in that slot following its Sunday night preview. Dueling scalpels are in order.
Taking its upbeat title from a mythic, high-prestige Chicago hospital, “Hope” follows a pattern well-established by its primetime slot mates: the monolithic institution (police station, law office, hospital surgical staff) that develops a variable slate of relationships among members (love, hate, jealousy, you name it) and where three or four major plotlines interweave each week to unravel in one euphoric blast in time for the crawl.
Chief surgeon Phillip Watters (Hector Elizondo) heads a staff including patriarchal Arthur Thurmond (E.G. Marshall), whose hand has begun to shake; idealistic Jeffrey Geiger (Mandy Patinkin), who bypasses committee procedures to conduct brilliant experiments; and Geiger’s straight-arrow colleague Aaron Shutt (Adam Arkin).
Among them, on the series pilot and first episode, they deal with the likes of an elderly patient with a brain tumor; a pair of cutesy-poo Siamese-twin babies –“they seem quite attached to one another,” burbles a nurse; a freshly dead corpse that Geiger wheedles away from the grief-numbed husband for an experiment; and an emergency that spurs a health insurance battle.
“Sometimes I feel as if everything’s collapsing in around me,” bemoans Geiger (whose wife, by the way, lies straitjacketed in a mental institution), echoing the vintage spirit of TV-series dramaturgy.
Irresistible stuff, you gotta admit, however, as a scalpel cuts into a heart cavity in closeup, as the makeup folks create a remarkably convincing Siamese-twin linkage, as the video monitors in the operating room focus on tumors and traumas with crystalline accuracy.
A few up-to-date insights surface among the suds; a flat-out argument between a concerned surgeon and adollar-minded HMO rep might well resonate in today’s health-care debates.
Down deep, however, this is the old, highly workable stuff, tidily refurbished. Will the intrepid surgeons lose a patient somewhere along the series, just to establish credibility? Will the elderly surgeon learn to control his shaking hand in time to rescue the hemorrhaging atomic scientist? And where is Walter Mitty these days?