TNT’s ‘Monday Mornings’ needs some new blood

Just what we needed: Another reason to dread Monday mornings.

It’s hard to believe fear-and-loathing is what TNT was after with this doctor-show collaboration between David E. Kelley and Sanjay Gupta. Yet, sadly, what the cable company is adding to our Mondays is a show that, while not as outlandishly ridiculous as NBC’s dead-on-arrival doctor drama Do No Harm, is equally unwatchable and even more dreary.

Like Harm, which layers a Jekyll/Hyde patina over a standard medical hour, Mornings attempts to mask the mundane nature of its central stories with a gimmick: the hospital’s weekly “morbidity and mortality” sessions. Every Monday, with chief of surgery Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina) in command, the staff gathers for a peer review of any errors made in patient care.

“M&M” meetings are hardly new TV fodder: They’ve been used for years on Grey’s Anatomy — not a bad point of reference, as Mornings plays like a cheaper, duller, less populated and less adroitly cast version of that long-running ABC hit. What Monday adds is a prosecutorial tone and heavy directorial hand (extreme closeups, shifts in and out of focus, odd pinpoint lighting, sudden use of slow motion) that reads less hospital meeting than Kafkaesque star chamber.

Gupta, it should be said, has insisted that he based these meetings (here and in the book that inspired the series) on real life, and he well may have. But drama requires more than mere stenography. It requires creating full-blooded characters we’re willing to believe, giving them lines we think some human being might actually say, and hiring actors who are able to say them without allowing us to see any artifice underneath.

At those tasks, Gupta, Kelley and most of their cast have failed.

You can exempt Molina from that complaint. Oh, his character isn’t even momentarily believable either, but his job here is to fill a now-familiar TV slot — the blunt, funny Brit snapping out insults and orders — and he performs that job in admirably amusing fashion.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, which includes some very talented actors, fall well short of an acceptable mark. With some, particularly Ving Rhames and Bill Irwin, you sense the fault lies with the scripts. With others, particularly Jamie Bamber and Jennifer Finnigan, who have been fine in other shows but are no more convincing as surgeons than kids playing Operation, the problem lies in the casting.

Then there’s the show’s worst creation, and the one who is most reminiscent of the comic excesses of other Kelley shows: Sung Park (Keong Sim), a Korean taken to barking out insensitive, mangled-English commands like “Not do — dead.” That, by the way, is aimed at one of those wise-beyond-her-years little girls medical shows so adore, the type who yank at our heartstrings as they bravely plunge ahead like Eliza on the ice. And no, in this case, you’re not a terrible person if you root for the ice.

Or for Monday Mornings to plunge through after.


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