Network television’s annual summer fling with Canadian imports gets a new addition in NBC’s “Ghost”-meets-“Grey’s Anatomy” medical soap “Saving Hope.” The amiable diversion from north of the border wins no points for originality, but boasts a winning lead in Erica Durance. While the Peacock likely has little hope for a breakout hit, it’s a respectable enough way to offset the mindless dating shows and reality TV filler that otherwise keep the lights on during the off season.
The fair-to-middling drawing power of ABC’s Canadian-produced police soap “Rookie Blue” (which, like “Hope,” is executive produced by Ilana Frank) seems to be the best-case scenario here. Worst case is a belly-flop a la CW’s recent in-season experiment “The L.A. Complex” or NBC’s own 2009 sci-fi import “The Listener.” Either way, expect the ratings fate of “Hope” to be more reflective of NBC’s status as a broadcaster than the show’s quality.
Durance (Lois Lane on “Smallville”) leads the cast as Dr. Alex Reid, a rising star on the surgical staff of Toronto’s Hope Zion Hospital who also happens to be engaged to chief of surgery Dr. Charlie Harris (Michael Shanks of “Stargate: SG-1”). Their promising future is thrown for a loop after a startling car crash leaves Charlie in a coma, and Alex adjusting to working in a building where her fiance is suddenly a longterm patient.
A second twist arrives when we follow Charlie’s spirit into some sort of limbo realm. He’s able to observe the living but only interact or communicate with those who are either stuck between life and death like himself or on their way to the afterlife.
It’s a supernatural set-up reminiscent not only of “Ghost” but also last season’s CBS casualty “A Gifted Man.” However, unlike Jennifer Ehle’s spectral role in “A Gifted Man,” Shanks’ manifestation is treated as an independent character and seems to be crucial to the series’ overall framework.
Establishing the series’ metaphysical trappings also invites its single most distinctive and irritating visual gimmick: an absurd overuse of lens flares that may induce seizures.
Aside from what’s happening with Charlie, the rest of “Hope” plays like a stock hospital-set soap. Although the show was reportedly inspired by a string of articles on Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital by Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown, don’t expect any revelations about Canada’s health care system. The first two episodes rely on the typical mix of patients suffering from oddball ailments and attractive doctors saving lives and jumping each others’ bones with equal abandon.
The cast — which features “Vampire Diaries” vet Daniel Gillies and likable newcomer Julia Taylor Ross — proves up to these modest demands, but it’s Durance who really snags the chance to shine. While a naturally beguiling beauty pre-qualifies her as leading-lady material, the actress invests Alex with enough intelligence and humor to keep the character’s trials and tribulations sympathetic and engaging.
The show’s overall disposability will likely limit how far Durance can go in the role, but a higher-profile gig seems warranted.