The summer season’s dominant aesthetic trend is clear: the melding of the documentary and the drama series. Just two days after NBC premiered “Crime & Punishment,” its real-life “Law & Order,” ABC opens “Houston Medical,” a six-part docu-series that seeks to craft a real-life “ER.” Memorial Hermann Hospital turns out to have enough soap opera characters among its staff to pull this off, although based on the first episode, we learn a lot more about the structure of hourlong drama series than we do about the realities of working in a hospital.
Show begins with the doctors, starting with a young female pediatrician who’s battling a brain tumor. Marnie Rose, a cheery and likable 27-year-old, shows us X-rays of her own brain tumor; in the first episode alone she begins experiencing complications that require potentially paralyzing surgery.
Then there’s Dr. Mark Henry, a young matinee idol of a hand surgeon who may be too married to his work to make his real marriage last. In the first hour, he assists a woman who has lost her fingers on one hand. His ultra-brilliant solution? He takes off a toe and puts it on her hand. The last scene of the show depicts her boyfriend giving her an engagement ring for that new finger, an obviously staged scene that goes way too far overboard into drama schmaltz.
The third primary focus of the first night is Dr. Terri Major-Kincade, a mother of two and wife of a rap producer. She works in infant trauma, and the first case we witness involves her helping new parents come to terms with the inevitable demise of a baby born two months premature.
Yes, there is something just a bit seedy about this transformation of everything into a form of entertainment. Art and life are, of course, forever imitating each other, but “Houston Medical” takes real life and transforms it into imitation life.