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These days, most new shows coming out of Hollywood are lucky if they've still got a pulse after just a few months. This past fall's TV season was one of the worst ever, its casualties already removed from the schedule or about to be. It's no wonder our local TV programmers are falling back on tried and true formulas for success, like medical shows.
With gems such as ER, House, Grey's Anatomy and St. Elsewhere, the genre's proven remarkably successful. So, who can blame YES for buying the series Heartland from the TNT network, especially since it features the hunky Treat Williams (who played a doctor in Everwood - he must have prune-like hands from washing up so much) as the star?
If one looks up the word "earnest" in the dictionary, it'd be no surprise to find a picture of Williams - the actor always seems to land these dedicated-man-with-some-family-issues types of roles.
Here, he's Dr. Nathan Grant, top surgeon at St. Jude's Hospital (sound familiar?) in Pittsburgh where he specializes in transplants. His ex-wife is, essentially, his boss, in charge of negotiating the transfer of organs for transplant at the hospital.
Natch, there's the kid.
Daughter Thea is into stealing condoms from the local drug store so she and the captain of the soccer team can hook up. She's hoping that he'll take her to the prom.
The good doctor has another problem - seemingly stolen from FX's great Rescue Me - that he sometimes sees dead people. In this case, the transplant donors sitting alongside or in place of the recipients, giving the show even more pathos than it already needs.
Everyone, particularly Nathan's long-suffering wife Kate (Kari Matchett, who also played a doctor on Invasion), does his or her best to make this series work. But, truth be told, there isn't much new here. The plot lines are all a bit predictable: You know the young girl waiting for a heart will get one, but that it's not going to take right away. You know the fellow whose wife was killed in an accident and wants to see the girl who received her heart is going to go a bit gaga, but in the end be comforted by the doctor. And, you know Nate is going to almost get back together with Kate in every episode.
How can they not? After all, their names rhyme.
None of these soapy subplots really matter to the die-hard fans of hospital shows. And, while Heartland's not quite on par with those previously mentioned greats, it is watchable.
It's largely because the writers are smart enough to break up the medical mumbo-jumbo with some good fights between the two and their new main squeezes - a nurse for Nate and a hospital administrator for Kate. Indeed, the best scene in the opening episode had the four of them forced together on a plane to pick up lungs for transplant. In it, Kate describes the good doctor as an "ego-maniac workaholic insomniac who screws every nurse within five miles of St. Jude's."
Isn't it always the wife who knows her man best?
If only the script were as punchy throughout. But, alas, it is not. In the opener, Dr. Grant's mentor (played by Dabney Coleman) keeps coughing his way around the halls, suffering from a serious lung problem. Trying to get the cantankerous old man to agree to the procedure, he tells his boss, "I'm not ready for you to go." Oy.
And, when his girlfriend comes to the exhausted doctor trying to set up a date and some "normal time," Nate, looking like a lost puppy offers, "I'm not so good at normal time."
Finally, as Thea watches dad perform the transplant alongside the little girl's mom she says, "My dad may not be so good with people, but he's good at this." Better check his malpractice insurance, mom.
The inconsistent writing and glaring lack of a unique angle are the likely cause keeping the show from developing a real following, might also be why the series didn't go any further than summer replacement status back in 2007.
Still, fans of the genre looking for an infusion of beeping monitors, white coats and gurneys might still want to pay this patient a visit before it expires, ending up in the bedpan of the cruel TV world.
Heartland airs on YES Stars Drama on Wednesday nights at 9:15 p.m.
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