Sunday, October 28, 2012

TV: On Medical and Critical Malpractice

As the fall season got underway, one show was repeatedly picked as the first to get the axe (for example, here, here, here and here): Fox's Mob Doctor.  The hatred for this show is rather surprising since Mob Doctor isn't the worst new show of the fall season -- that 'honor' would go to either CBS's Made In Jersey or NBC's Animal Practice -- both of which have now been cancelled.


Of the still-airing new shows, Emily Owens, M.D. is probably the worst.  The CW show could argue that the CW had a real problem with ratings.  Except for the fact that Arrow is so far pulling in higher numbers than NBC's The New Normal or Fox's New Girl.  

So Emily Owens, M.D. has no excuses.  It is the worst of the worst.  Because the lead is played by Meryl Streep's daughter, few want to talk about how bad this Grey's Anatomy rip-off is.  When they do, they want to pretend that the problem isn't Mamie Gummer.  The show sucks.  Gummer is in every scene.  How do you pretend that she's really good in a bad show when she is the entire show?

Again, were she not Meryl Streep's daughter, the critics would be roasting her.

The Mob Doctor's biggest problem is that it's 'high concept' which, outside of the entertainment industry, translates as tired premise.  Actually tired premises.

It sounds like a hard boiled Warner Brothers film of the late forties because that's what it plays like.  In fact, it's really just The Damned Don't Cry with Jordana Spiro playing the patsy only now he's a she and a doctor instead of an accountant. 

The basics are Dr. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) has a brother Nate (Jesse Lee Soffer) with a huge gambling debt.  To save his life, she 'takes over' his debt.  She will work it off by being Mob Doctor.  For example, if a doctor treats a gunshot wound, they are required to report it . . . unless they are Mob Doctor.  In another episode, she runs tests on a diabetic mobster by pushing the bill off on a dead patient leaving audiences to wonder how that will fly under ObamaCare? 

The premise is pure kitsch.  And the show would probably be receiving higher ratings if it went for camp.  Instead, it features writing and acting that is so beyond the cheesy premise.  Michael Rapaport is probably giving the finest performance of his career as mobster Moretti that we think has been rubbed out until we find out he staged his death as part of his plan to take down the don.  That would be William Forsythe's Constantine Alexander.  Forsythe is giving a first rate performance, all surface sheen and sweetness covering a very angry and hateful core.

The cast really is something especially Floriana Lima and Wendy Makkena.  The glue holding it all together is Spiro.  All the hopes critics wrongly pinned on Mamie Gummer when Emily Owens, M.D. was announced are being met by Spiro. 

And, to a degree, it's those early hopes that keep Emily Owens, M.D. from receiving the scorn its earned.  Because of the 'pedigree' of the lead, they refuse to believe their own eyes and ears about just how awful this show is.  As one endless voice over after another from Gummer steps on lines of other characters, as each camera set up fails at its intent to reassure audiences of how enchanting and Calista Lockhart-like Gummer is, as she apes her mother -- especially with regards to Meryl's line readings in Death Becomes Her, critics keep pretending that this really isn't that bad.

It's worse than bad.

Meryl Streep became a celebrated actress because she was an original.  Mamie Gummer was always going to have her mother's looks but that didn't mean she had to copy her mother's acting.

Some will argue that if you're going to copy, copy the best.

Not when you look like her.

When you look like Meryl and you copy Meryl, you just remind everyone that there's only one Meryl.

Kate Hudson and Goldie Hawn have many similarities in looks (and Hudson could look even more like her mother if she wanted to via make up and hair styles).  But Hudson earned her own way with  her acting.  She is not a copy -- pale or brilliant -- of her mother.  She is a strong actress in her own right.  Jane Fonda looked incredibly like her father Henry but her acting was all her own.  Time and again, the daughters of actors that make a career for themselves do it not by aping their parents mannerisms and vocal inflections but by being their own person.  For the most extreme example of that, look at Jayne Mansfield who was a delightful screen confection and Mariska Hargitay who has instead gone a grittier, more dramatic route.

If Mamie Gummer were 21, we probably would be softening the above.  But she's 29.  She's getting too old for movie stardom.  (With the exception of Sharon Stone, most film actresses find stardom in their 20s.)  She can still go for it.   And/or/both TV stardom as well.  But for any of that to happen, she's going to have to find what makes her special, what makes her unique.

And at 29, not only should she know that, so should the critics.  Instead of voicing that, though,  it's so much easier for them to attack something called Mob Doctor.  It's a shame Mob Doctor airs on Fox and not on HBO or Showtime. If it aired on one of the cable biggies, people might be noticing its unique look -- this is a show far beyond the standard basic camera set up of TV land.  And, on cable, they'd treat the premise as a wink-wink to the audiences and give it cachet.  Most of all, they'd be in love with the cast. 

If Spiro's made a mistake it's in failing to grasp what Cher did when she was desperate to break into movies.  As much as she wanted to be an actress, she knew she'd never be taken seriously in or get praise for something called The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.  Cher 's always understood the limitations of critics. 

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