In “Chicago Hope,” David E. Kelley departed from the reassuring “Dr. Kildare” tradition and dared to depict doctors who were imperious, egotistical and not always likable. “Monday Mornings” — his latest plunge into a medical vein, this time for TNT — also deals with the notion that physicians aren’t infallible, subjecting them to what amounts to Monday-morning quarterbacking from a tart administrator, who dissects what they might have done wrong in front of colleagues. Adapted from a book by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the program is periodically interesting but also oddly off-putting and manipulative — too often wielding a bludgeon instead of a scalpel.
The series does get somewhat better as the episodes progress — Kelley is too talented not to deliver some memorable sequences — but this is still far from his fastball.
Set in a Portland hospital, the show quickly introduces a varied assortment of doctors, with quirks of one sort or another. There’s the dashing but arrogant surgeon (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Jamie Bamber), the head of emergency (Ving Rhames), the slightly ghoulish transplant overseer (Bill Irwin), and the Asian doctor (Keong Sim) with a thick accent and absolutely no bedside manner, who when asked to cite a worst-case scenario, responds: “Dead.”
They go about their tasks and procedures before the dreaded weekly meeting when they are called before top dog Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina) in what amounts to a Star Chamber-like inquisition, never knowing who will fall under his withering gaze and sharp questioning. In theory, the process invites viewers to revisit scenes from a different perspective, exposing them to the rigorous analysis to which these life-or-death decisions must be subjected. (One doctor earns the unfortunate nickname “007” — also used in “Grey’s Anatomy.”)
Still, there are several flaws in the initial execution, almost all of a heavy-handed nature. The unfortunate and persistent use of close-ups becomes almost punitive, and the first two episodes each have plots involving surgery on a child, which obviously happens, but feels too calculated at yielding a maximum emotional wallop.
The show has certainly been cast to the hilt, so much so that some of the higher-profile players (Rhames comes to mind) initially feel underused. That said, some of the more interesting players are the lesser-knowns, starting with Sim and Sarayu Rao as a prickly doctor who begins furtively getting back into the dating scene.
Finally, it’s the program’s central device — the prolonged trial-like exchanges between Hooten and whoever might have tripped up — that overwhelm the more promising elements, and keep “Monday Mornings” from being worthy of a Monday-night appointment, despite the tonal compatibility with its “Dallas” lead-in.
Granted, the cast, Kelley and the prospect of peeking beneath the surface of the healthcare industry might be an intriguing enough cocktail to reel in some viewers. And if they don’t show, at least you don’t need a doctor to identify the worst-case scenario in TV terms.