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TV Reviews: New medical shows operate as so-so dramas

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Which is better in television today? To succeed at being totally conventional, as CBS's "Presidio Med" does, or to fail at trying to be different, as ABC's "MDs" does?

It's probably a wash.

 
 
"Presidio Med"

When: 10 tonight and tomorrow on CBS

Starring: Dana Delany, Blythe Danner

   
 

"Presidio Med" is the more digestible of the two new medical dramas set in San Francisco that will both air at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. "Presidio Med" gets a sneak preview tonight before going up against "MDs" tomorrow.

Despite a talented cast that includes Dana Delany, Blythe Danner and Anna Deavere Smith, viewers may surf across "Presidio Med" and think they've stumbled upon a rerun of "Chicago Hope." It's an easy mistake.

Although "Presidio Med" is from the producers of "ER," there's nothing in this show that redefines the medical drama genre as "ER" did. It's just another melodrama about mostly noble doctors who serve their patients bravely but go home to distraught personal lives.

Delany's Dr. Rae Brennan is particularly flawed, jumping into the sack with another man who is not her husband in the show's opening scene in Pakistan. For a brief moment, her do-gooder care for indigent patients brings to mind her role as nurse Colleen McMurphy on "China Beach." But after that scene, the spark is gone.

Despite the presence of acting veterans Danner and Smith, the younger docs have more to do. Dr. Jules Keating (Julianne Nicholson) has a medical scare of her own, while plastic surgeon Dr. Jackie Colette (Sasha Alexander) displays a shallow selfishness that's refreshing for a show that surrounds her with self-righteous overachievers.

The estrogen-heavy ensemble includes only two guys, Dr. Nicholas Kokoris (Oded Fehr) and Dr. Matt Slingerland (Paul Blackthorne), and at least one of them is around only to be a possible love interest to a female doc.

'MDs'

Guys get the upper hand in "MDs," which attempts to clone the dynamic between Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John of "M*A*S*H" in the relationship between Dr. Robert Dalgety (John Hannah) and Dr. Bruce Kellerman (William Fichtner).

 
 
"MDs"

When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on ABC

Starring: William Fichtner

   
 

Instead of bucking the military system, their enemy is managed health care. In tomorrow's premiere, they go so far as hiding a patient in the morgue and conducting an operation there, away from the eyes of the hospital's bean counters.

HMOs are certainly ripe for parody, but "MDs" goes over the top.

"It's us against them, the patients," says HMO weenie Chester Donge (guest star Tom Lennon).

"Wow, we could save a pile of cash if we could just get rid of them," says new hospital administrator Shelly Pangborn (Leslie Stefanson).

"I like your thinking," Donge replies in utter seriousness.

Next week's episode features a TV crew filming an episode of a medical drama in the hospital, but it seems awfully early in the run of "MDs" for self parody ("Just what the world needs, another medical show," says a hospital administrator).

To offset the rampant cynicism, "MDs" introduces Dr. Maggie Yang (Michaela Conlin), a naive new intern caught between doing right by the patients and the rules of officious, profit-driven Nurse Poole (Jane Lynch).

To succeed, "MDs" will need a sharper edge than in the first two episodes, but at least it dares to take some risk in a genre that's become awfully staid.

'Haunted'

Once upon a time, flickering lights, boxes that revolve for no reason and a twirling screwdriver might have been subtly scary in a TV show. Today, they're just cliches.

 
 
"Haunted"

When: 9 tonight on UPN

Starring: Matthew Fox

   
 

It's also not scary when water pouring out of a shower head turns into something else. It's probably supposed to be blood or motor oil, but it looks like chocolate milk, which is decidedly not scary.

So it goes in this humorless show about investigator Frank Taylor (Matthew Fox), who continues to hope his son, kidnapped two years earlier, is still alive.

In tonight's premiere, Frank almost dies, which gives him the power to hear dead people and see ghosts, including Simon (John Mann), who is somehow able to touch things in the physical world. How that works isn't explained.

Fox, who whined his way through "Party of Five," brings the same forlorn tics to this role. "Haunted" has a couple of decent scares, but, like Fox's performance, it's more dreary than spooky.

'In-Laws'

This story of young newlyweds and the husband's conflict with his grouchy father-in-law would make a great movie. Oh, wait, it already did.

Clearly inspired by the big-screen success of "Meet the Parents," "In-Laws" is a one-joke show that gets old fast.

 
 
"In-Laws"

When: 8 and 8:30 tonight on NBC

Starring: Dennis Farina, Jean Smart

   
 

The stars are appealing -- Elon Gold and Bonnie Somerville as the newlyweds, Dennis Farina and Jean Smart as the parents -- and the writing is occasionally clever, but after watching two episodes, it seems as though there are few variations on the theme.

Matt (Gold) congratulates Marlene (Smart) on selling her first home, Victor (Farina) gets mad; Matt sleeps with his wife (Somerville) in her old bed and it breaks, Victor gets mad; Matt wrecks Victor's car, Victor gets mad.

Farina and Gold play off one another well, but even that chemistry seems a lot less fresh by the second episode tonight. Besides, if the show were to work anywhere, it would be in NBC's Thursday night lineup. Leading off Tuesday is a fool's errand.

'Hidden Hills'

Like HBO's obnoxious "The Mind of the Married Man," this slightly less objectionable show also centers on a guy married to a beautiful woman who's still so tempted by other women that his eyes bug out like a cartoon character and he swallows hard whenever he sees a hot babe.

 
 
"Hidden Hills"

When: 9:30 tonight on NBC.

Starring: Paula Marshall

   
 

Doug (Justin Louis) spends much of tonight's premiere complaining that he's not getting enough sex from his wife, Janine (Paula Marshall). Then he discovers that a woman who coaches Little League with him has a starring role on an Internet porn site. Cue the fantasy sequence with the scantily clad Porn Mom (Kristin Bauer) washing Doug's car in slow motion.

When Doug doesn't obsess over sex, he's jealous that friends Zack (Dondre T. Whitfield) and Sarah (Tamara Taylor) are getting frisky.

Filmed single-camera style with no laugh track, "Hidden Hills" -- even the name is a double entendre -- has a few wry observations about suburban life (all the girls on the softball team are named Caitlin). But mostly it's the story of a sex-starved, immature, lazy guy who flings dog poop into his neighbor's yard. NBC has done something similar by inflicting this show on the viewing public.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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