Network: NBC; Genre: Crime/Mystery, Procedural Drama; Content Rating: TV-14 (for gruesome medical imagery); Presented in Widescreen; Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (1 season)
In addition to being a brilliant show itself, Graham Yost's 2002 crime drama "Boomtown", served to introduce the world to the powerhouse acting talent of one Neal McDonough. As morally questionable district attorney David McNorris, McDonough crafted an unforgettable anti-hero - both invigorating and frightening - of nuance, shifty motives, deep demons and unpredictable loyalties. He grabbed every scene by the throat and managed to stand-out in an already flawless cast. It certainly made me sit up and notice and I wasn't alone. This was the type of star-making performance that demanded to be noticed. Screamed for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy award if I've ever seen it.
Well, it was ignored.
The least NBC could do was realize what they had here and find a place to once again harness McDonough's electric talent, which brings me up to my anticipation for "Medical Investigation". Also starring Kelli Williams (recently jettisoned from David E. Kelly's "The Practice"), "Medical" follows a group of medical investigators for the National Institute of Health as they identify a mysterious illness, hunt down the source of the epidemic and concoct an antidote. All 3 parts are usually wrapped together with one big revelation. Many of the cases, seem to be solved way to easily. And that includes a moment halfway through where the detectives end up back to square one.
McDonough is wasted. His purpose (like everyone else on the show) is not to be a character, but to be a vehicle that does the job, spouting the biomedical jargon over cell phones. Nothing more. Anyone could play these parts. Even if you squint really hard and pretend this is the 2nd coming of David McNorris that won't make "Medical" any more entertaining. Although it is fun to watch him chew up and spit out this dialog. He is such a strong presence he gives even this material a little zing. But if this where the first time I'd see McDonough I would be saying that he was a terrible actor - stiff, dry and unappealing. That's how stifling this show is.
The brief moments of insight into Dr. Stephen Conner's (McDonough) private life are lifted wholesale from any number of places. He can't make it to his son's little league game on time. He has to tell his son mom and dad are getting a divorce but they still love him. He sits down and plays a round of cards with his crew. The show treats this as a favor to us, a complete afterthought filling time in a shorter episode. You can almost see the hole left from when it was tacked on. In fairness, it looks decent visually. The visual gimmick - Conner visualizing the possible scenarios that led to the viral outbreak - is slight but effective. The musical selections are the only thing that passes the show quickly, but even at that, I'm sure "Donnie Darko" fans will agree, if you're going to use "Mad, Mad World" for a closing montage song you'd better earn it.
Unlike the blood-boiling murders of "CSI", this show doesn't even provide us something to hiss at or root for. The villains are viruses just doing their natural thing. The victims are sick people laying in hospital beds covered in blisters. What are we supposed to do with that? The real meat, of course, involved with biological viruses is - say it with me - the danger of them being unleashed by terrorists. "Medical" is too gutless to play with that and of the many instances where terrorism is suspected (this is NBC, so if it is it is always politically correct domestic terrorism) is always turns out to just be an accident. Very "CSI".
All though this point can be made with any procedural show, "Medical" in particular, runs as its fuel on the raw emotional drama of the victims. The problem is that in the high concept network mandate to keep these shows with self-contained stories the characters - the victims we're supposed to care for - are rotated in and out each week. We never really get to know them other than as a story device for that hour, then their story is wrapped up and they are gone next week. As a result of this we don't really feel for them and the emotion the show so wants to grip us in never surfaces. We don't really feel for the kid loosing her father to smallpox or mother losing her daughter - we feel for the idea of it. That's all the show can hope for in this format.
It is the procedural drama, stripped down to only it's most tedious procedural beats, most disinterest in its characters and its least visually stylish. Even in perilous situations you'd think someone would crack a joke every now and then, but no. "Medical" is very much a shining example of why I never thought a procedural show made for great entertainment. "ER", in it's prime, swamped us in the middle of the action. This show is as tedious and detached to watch as it probably would be sitting in the waiting room and peeking through a window. We are just spectators. The show isn't dumb, but it is as hollow and lifeless as this genre comes.
* / 4
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