After its success with “The Closer” — a slimmed-down version of “Law & Order” reruns primarily distinguished by Kyra Sedgwick’s star presence — TNT again dips into the retro bin, providing this lead-driven medical show that simplifies the channel’s heart-tugging “ER” repeats. Unfortunately, Treat Williams’ turn as an organ-transplant surgeon is so straight-laced, all that’s missing are the “Marcus Welby, M.D.” opening titles. In terms of concocting drama, the characters and situations don’t strike sharply enough to break the skin, much less stir the heart.
Indeed, the entire framework for the program — created by “The Guardian’s” David Hollander — appears stitched together out of medical-show cliches, from Dr. Grant (Williams) giving the new guy a silly nickname as a form of mild hazing to the fact that Grant’s alluring ex-wife (Kari Matchett, who, after “Invasion,” is fast becoming TV’s ex-wife of choice) works alongside him procuring donors.
Tough but caring, Grant apparently ruined the marriage with rampant womanizing (this is dealt with in a clunky expository exchange between the former spouses) and is now involved with one of his nurses (Morena Baccarin). It’s the one chink in his otherwise saintly exterior, which dovetails with a hospital occupied by the kind of fictional doctors any patient would love to see before they begin counting backward from 100.
After the premiere, Grant’s longtime mentor (“Guardian” alum Dabney Coleman) steps aside, paving the way for a former protege (“Prison Break’s” Rockmond Dunbar) to step in, but again, there are no initial fireworks to be found in their interaction or the predictable storylines.
Williams wears the lab coat well enough, but with so many bar-raising medical series on the air — from the convoluted, frothy relationships of “Grey’s Anatomy” to the visual flair and acerbic hero in “House” — “Heartland” represents the sort of limp hour that it’s difficult to imagine many viewers making an appointment to see, even with “The Closer’s” second season delivering a formidable lead-in and the collective public yearning for doctors that care.
The show proves so earnest, in fact, as to yield unintended irony during exchanges between the characters about the importance of taking chances in transplantation surgery. Indeed, when a doctor employs an awkward double negative by firmly saying, “We can’t not take risks,” it’s easy to wish the producers of “Heartland” had taken that advice to heart in developing this risk-free series.