Taking a dark detour from the blue-sky environs of “Burn Notice,” USA and showrunner Matt Nix reunite on “Complications,” a dreary drama about a suburban ER doctor who, Hitchcock style, is drawn into a web of gang warfare and violence. Jason O’Mara stars as the emotionally scarred physician, with the series deriving its title from the escalating consequences that arise due to a single impulsive act. Problematic in its depiction of dark-skinned bad guys, the 10-episode season (the entirety of which was made available) conjures its share of tension, but feels increasingly strained, until it’s finally clear the patient can’t be saved.
In his note to critics, Nix cited a personal experience with being victimized by crime, but the show uses that basic idea to take off in a different and more dramatic direction, about an ordinary guy — albeit one quietly at his wit’s end — being thrust into extraordinary circumstances. In this case, it’s O’Mara’s Dr. John Ellison. In the two-part premiere, he’s still grieving the loss of his young daughter when he witnesses the drive-by shooting of a young boy, who turns out to be the son of an imprisoned drug dealer. John bravely grabs a discarded gun and opens fire on the attackers, quickly earning himself a reputation as Dirty Harry, M.D.
The excitement, however, doesn’t end there. With the gangs at war, the boy’s life remains in jeopardy, and his father’s henchman charge the doctor with the task of keeping the child alive. In this, John is aided by one of his nurses, Gretchen (Jessica Szohr), who has her own share of extracurricular problems.
Meanwhile, John conceals what’s happening from his wife (Beth Riesgraf), which only adds to the growing rift between them since their personal tragedy. Much of this is explored through flashbacks, while Nix also finds time to follow cases that come into the hospital, with John frequently having to concoct elaborate excuses to explain the double life he’s suddenly leading.
Although there are plenty of upstanding minority characters around work, the African-American and Latino gangs that clash throughout the show seem plucked from the 1979 movie “The Warriors,” with John as the embodiment of good. He may not quite leap into Charles Bronson mode, but he does prove surprisingly resourceful, and can handle a gun, when necessary, as well as a stethoscope. Simply put, though, the good guys of color don’t come close to balancing the bad.
O’Mara sympathetically brings plenty of intensity to his character’s plight. Yet “Complications” still has a way of smacking the viewer over the head with its intentions, from literally spelling out the meaning of its title to overtly connecting John’s determination to save the boy to his own inability to have done the same for his daughter. And while Nix obviously had something to say with this show, he might have been too close to the material to diagnose the excesses, while the network was perhaps too grateful for past service to prod such changes.
Whatever the underlying cause, the operation doesn’t appear to have gone as planned, leaving behind a series that too often feels like an episodic version of “Death Wish,” only with scrubs instead of trench coat.