It’s the predictability of Monday Mornings that surprises. But perhaps it shouldn’t.
Premiering at 10 p.m. Monday on TNT, the medical drama comes from a novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta (a frequent presence on TNT’s corporate sibling CNN) and David E. Kelley, a writer-producer who is known for quirkiness and outrageousness in series like Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, The Practice and Harry’s Law. He is also known for sexism, stereotyping, preachiness and for periodic awfulness of his quirks and outrage; even his hits have been polarizing, and audiences were not drawn to prime-time Kelley nightmares like Girls Club, Snoops and The Wedding Bells.
Considering that Harry’s Law was relatively short-lived, I thought at first that Kelley decided that it was time to make a show that was decidedly undifferent, that contained elements so obvious to the viewing audience that few would object. That would go for the viewers’ jugular with that old standby, children in medical jeopardy (which is part of each of the first two shows). Where the fictional hospital has enough people die that there are lawyers circling — but somehow the hospital remains in business.
Indeed, there are enough deaths that a dramatic centerpiece for the series is the M&M — the morbidity and mortality conference in which the deaths of patients are analyzed, and doctors’ decisions scrutinized. The chief of surgery, Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina), presides. and more often than not verbally flays the doctors. Those doctors, in turn, are played by the likes of Jamie Bamber, Jennifer Finnigan, Bill Irwin and Ving Rhames, capable performers all, and ones who are able to elevate scripts.
But the scripts in the first couple of Monday Mornings I saw were dead weight (although the second was a bit better than the first). It’s not just that the stories felt old and reprocessed. It’s that I was asking myself why a sassy patient has to be a heavyset African-American woman, and why the brilliant Korean surgeon (played by Keong Sim) speaks in fragmented English; why, for that matter, should I believe that a doctor would pay off a money bet with gift cards?
Then it seemed to be clear. Kelley’s most recent series, Harry’s Law, was a big hit with older adults, and TNT has certainly reached out to those viewers with shows like the Dallas reboot and The Closer. So Kelley decided to make a show that older viewers would relate to by making it just like something that would have aired in, say, 1975. The pace is slower, the storytelling more obvious, the stereotyping more expected.
Of course, that also means that, as I said, everything in the show seems too familiar, as worn down as a couch you’ve watched TV on for 40 years. The strategy is as patronizing as it is understandable. And the result is hardly enjoyable.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.