TNT medical drama actually about medicine

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10 p.m Monday TNT



A new TV medical drama that looks at a hospital as a place where lives are saved and lost and not just a slightly more antiseptic ersatz Motel 6 for staff hookups? What a concept, as they say.


“Monday Mornings,” created by David E.Kelley (“Boston Legal”) and based on the novel by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, finds compelling drama in what the doctors and nurses of the fictional Chelsea General Hospital do, not whom they’re doing. That sets it apart from many medical shows, but it may also pose a challenge in finding an audience.


Let’s hope not, because the series boasts a superb cast, credible, multidimensional characters and emotional payoffs far beyond mere sighing over Dr. McDreamy.


The show gets its title from the weekly Monday morning mortality and morbidity staff meetings held by Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina, “Spider-Man 2”), the chief of surgery at the Portland, Ore., hospital. The surgeons, gathered in an indoor amphitheater as Hooten goes over recent procedures, consider themselves to have dodged a bullet if they aren’t called to the front of the room and subjected to a grilling over what they did or didn’t do in the operating room. Hooten may begin each session with a smile, asking the doctors to recite what happened when, but the very fact that they’ve been called usually on means they’re in for a withering dressing-down at the end of the inquisition.


The other staff members include neurosurgeons Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber, “Battlestar Gallactica”), Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan, “Better With You”), Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim, “Glee”), trauma chief Dr. Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames, “Pulp Fiction”), transplant specialist Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” on Broadway), Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao, “Lions for Lambs”), and resident Dr. Michelle Robidaux (Emily Swallow, “Southland”).


All of them are flawed simply because they’re human, but that doesn’t make them lesser physicians – it just means they’re probably going to be in the spotlight on Monday mornings.


Wilson is brilliant but brash. He doesn’t always follow the rules and makes decisions without consulting with other staff members, but he belies the mythology that surgeons tend to be emotionally detached from their patients. Ridgeway is especially adept at getting through to him, but even she can’t always stop him from charging ahead on his own before all the information is in about a patient’s history.


For Park, English is a second language, but so is caring personally about his patients. Speaking to the wife of a stroke victim, he explains the need for immediate surgery in blunt terms: “Not do, die.”


Tierney is abrasive and arrogant, but that’s one of the reasons the hospital’s transplant program is so successful: He rejects the charge that he is a “vulture,” waiting for likely donors to die, but at the same time, the longer a donated organ is out of the body, the greater the chances it will lose its viability. Napur is even more driven than Wilson, but she doesn’t make many errors. She puts her job above everything in her life.


In the three episodes sent to critics, the Chelsea doctors deal with a 7-year-old boy with a brain tumor, an overweight woman who’s come into the hospital every couple of weeks with yet another malady, a young piano prodigy who has done all the research on her brain tumor and rejects surgery in favor of wanting to live what’s left of her life, a young woman with uncontrollable shaking and the portly stroke victim. Some of the patients make it, others don’t.


While the dominant focus is on medicine, these doctors are human. Napur is considering going on a date with a fellow doctor. Villanueva says the guy isn’t a good match for her (she’ll go through him “like crap through a goose,” is his poetic prediction), and Ridgeway is crushing on Wilson. There is just enough of the doctors’ personal lives in the first three episodes to remind us that they aren’t machines, but it would be a big mistake if the show devolves into a game of musical gurneys and nooners in the hospital pharmacy.


There isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, although the script challenges Bamber to make a handsome hotshot credibly haunted by a childhood memory and subject to a post-operative hallucination after he’s lost a patient. Veterans Molina and Irwin stand out for especially complex and nuanced performances. They hit a level of excellence rarely seen in most TV medical dramas and are just two of the reasons “Monday Mornings” is such a standout.


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