October 10, 2009

new show reviews: mercy & trauma

Sometimes my TV schedule happens by natural selection. I program a bunch of series recordings at the beginning of the season, some are old standbys, others are new shows that seem promising. Among the news shows, many are watched right away, others linger in the DVR for a while.

Right now, I have three episodes of Mercy and two of Trauma lingering. I haven't decided if I'm interested in another medical drama. Trauma and Mercy are two of only three new shows for NBC this season (not counting Jay Leno). The only two new dramas for the network that brought us The West Wing, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue... they have to be good right?

Up against Dancing with the Stars and Two and a Half Men, Trauma is struggling in the ratings. But as we know, bad ratings don't always equal bad show. Trauma has all the makings of successful shows we've seen in the past - gory medical cases, attractive docs and EMTs, stuff blowing up. But is that enough?

The pilot introduces us to a team first responders in San Francisco, including EMT partners Nancy (Anastasia Griffith) and Terry (Ryan Kennedy), who are getting busy in the back of the ambulance. This seems unprofessional. Also, partners Boone (Derek Luke) and Briggs (Kevin Rankin). Then, we have cocky helicopter rescuer Reuben or "Rabbit" (Cliff Curtis) and ER doctor Saviano (Jamey Sheriden, who I recognize from Law & Order: CI).

The fun begins during the first rescue scene on the roof of building where the two EMT teams have just put a critical victim onto Rabbit's helicopter, and Terry hopped in to help him. Rabbit then crashes with another helicopter subsequently tearing up the top floors of the building. Great special effects, and we learn that all the actors can scream.

Turns out, this was a flashback. In present day, that accident happened one year ago exactly and seven people died, including Terry. There's a new helicopter pilot partnering with Rabbit, Marisa Benez (Aimee Garcia) who's just back from Iraq. The first anniversary involves a multi-car crash and explosion caused by a texting driver (don't text and drive, kids), and we see the crash is still affecting the crew, all manifesting in different ways. Boone is cheating around on his wife, Nancy is shutdown, and Rabbit believes he can't die, which incidentally is not a healthy attitude.

In the second episode, we learn Nancy's new partner is cute newbie Glenn (Taylor Kinney), and Marisa is not into the "people" part of the job. She's a copter pilot and wants to steer clear of everything else in her post-war career. Boone is in couples counseling with his wife.

Cases support character development and filter throughout the episode in a similar style to ER. The writing of the cases is strong, the acting is not bad, but I don't find myself attached to any of the characters. It looks like Nancy, Boone and Rabbit are the semi-leads. I didn't find them very memorable, although Rabbit has potential.

Overall, the second episode was better than the pilot, which is a good sign because that's more indicative of the formula we can expect. It's essentially a procedural with good special effects, but I'm not craving more. I'll probably watch another episode or two, but I don't think this one will earn it's place in natural selection.

Mercy is right in the middle of the ratings pack at 8:00 on Wednesdays, which is a pretty light timeslot. The show is aiming for a unique look at the medical drama by focusing on the nurses. Right off the bat, the show is much more character-driven than I expected. Here they are:

Veronica or Ronnie (Taylor Schilling) is the main character. She's a former military nurse with a hefty case of PTSD from Iraq. She's currently living with semi-functionally alcoholic parents (played by talented TV vets Kate Mulgrew and Peter Gerety) and has three pesky and rambunctious full-grown brothers. Her husband/high school sweetheart Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) slept around while she at war, but now wants her back. He's a nice working class guy, felt abandoned by her leaving, worships her, etc. She agrees to give their marriage another try just before Dr. Sands shows up at the hospital.

Dr. Sands (James Tupper of Men In Trees) has arrived at Mercy Hospital in Newark, New Jersey with the intention of winning the love of Ronnie, with whom he had a relationship in Iraq. He's brooding and heroic and gets Ronnie's panties in a bunch, but not enough to pull her away from her recommitment to her husband. The catch is, Dr. Sands signed a two-year contract, so he's not leaving and not giving up. Love triangles give me anxiety, so I don't love this plotline at all. However, a pretty hilarious tirade about being stuck in awful New Jersey was enough to make me like him a little. Sorry Jersey, but it was funny.

Sonia (Jaime Lee Kirchner) is a gorgeous nurse, who's also Ronnie's best friend. She's gets a lot of attention from the boys, but is reluctantly getting involved with a detective who frequents the hospital. Her character is really likable and she's not a vaudevillian best friend figure, which is always good to see. She has her fair share of drama as well, including a gang member drug dealing brother who shows up at her apartment for stitches after he's been shot.

Chloe (Michelle Trachenberg) is the bright eyed and bushy tailed new nurse . Chloe is bugging the crap out of me. Her sweet persona is over-the-top and the crying is not believable. Shockingly, the little innocent thing isn't taking too well to the big, scary hospital, but the other nurses seem to give her sympathy and ridicule in equal parts. In the second episode, we start to see Trachenberg coming into her own a little, and the character becomes more believable.

Other more minor characters include, head nurse Klowden (Margo Martindale), the fairly funny boy of the group, nurse Angel (Guillermo Diaz), asshole nurse-underappreciator Dr. Harris (James LeGros), and nicer Dr. Parks (Delroy Lindo). There have been a few other docs as well, but not sure who's sticking around on a recurring basis.

I've heard on good authority (my mom) that the show doesn't depict nurses well or accurately, and I believe it. If you take that away (which is supposed to be the point of the show), there are some pretty good stories told in the hospital - not quote ER or Grey's Anatomy caliber, but there's potential. We see much more of the nurses dealing with the emotional side of the patients then actually seeing them in action, which is a little disappointing. The treatment from the doctors is seems a bit cliched. I wouldn't mind seeing a fuller picture of that dynamic with more emphasis on how the nurses keep the place running.

In terms of the characters' personal stories, as I said, there's a lot more than I expected. Ronnie's family brings a little humor and New Jersey color to the story, which is fun.

Bottom line: I was all ready to hate this show, and I didn't. But if it turns into the "Ronnie and Dr. Sands will-they-or-won't-they hour," I'm taking the next train out of Newark.

Quick sidenote, Trauma and Mercy each have a full 30-second intro complete with cast credits. You don't see that very often on network television anymore. Old school. Trauma's is melodramatic and Mercy's seems to belong on a 1990s sitcom.


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