“Three Rivers” derives its title from the venue — a heart-transplant hospital in Pittsburgh — which is the only opaque element in this medical drama. Mostly, the show provides Alex O’Loughlin — who set hearts atwitter (albeit not enough of them) in “Moonlight” — another shot at CBS stardom, in the same way the network kept plugging away at Simon Baker until “The Mentalist” took off. The topic is inherently dramatic, and the show flits along at a pace akin to CBS’ crime procedurals. Among a waiting room of new medical dramas, this operation has the best chance of avoiding rejection.
Plucking heartstrings with surgical precision, in both episodes viewed the program introduces a character who dies/goes brain-dead, humanizing the body that will be harvested to save somebody in need of a transplant. The busy premiere focuses on a pregnant woman whose heart is failing, an African-born man in a similar predicament, and a teenager who begins spitting up blood. (The second plot actually prompts mention about health insurance and paying for surgery during a tough economy, rare in TV’s aspirational doctor fare.)
O’Loughlin’s doctor Alex Yablonski is smart, driven, caring — and he’s lost those distracting skin-tight scrubs he wore in the original pilot, in favor of an old-fashioned lab coat. Of course he’s still plenty McDreamy (or McSpunky, as they’d say in his native Australia), but at least he no longer looks like he’s going straight from the operating room to do some surfing.
The rest of the staff includes “The L Word’s” Katherine Moennig and Daniel Henney as fellow surgeons; the always-reliable Alfre Woodard as the hospital’s chief; “Six Feet Under’s” Justina Machado as Alex’s assistant; and Christopher J. Hanke as the poor sap responsible for getting grieving relatives to sign off on giving away hearts and kidneys when every second is vital.
Amid CBS’ crime-engorged lineup, “Three Rivers” has the advantage of offering all the trappings of “CSI” (a crack team, hair-trigger decisions and life-and-death situations) — only before the body becomes a chalk outline. Then again, like the copshows, this is a template as well-worn as “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” albeit with greater visual style and an accelerated pace — as well as an underlying “pay it forward” message about organ donation.
Going up against “Desperate Housewives” poses a challenge, true, but there ought to be enough female viewers left over to provide this new series a chance to establish a following — or at least, outlast NBC’s “Mercy” and “Trauma.”
Even if “Rivers” runs dry, though, one suspects O’Loughlin will be back, since CBS brass seems determined to make this guy a TV star. With a few breaks, they might accomplish that delicate procedure on the second try.