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Television review: 'A Gifted Man'

A talented but self-absorbed surgeon learns to take cues from the ghost of his ex-wife in this CBS drama.

September 23, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson star in the series "A Gifted Man."
Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson star in the series "A Gifted Man." (CBS )

The new CBS drama "A Gifted Man" has more natural resources than two or three of most new dramas combined. Created by Susannah Grant ("The Soloist," "Erin Brockovich"), the show's cast includes Patrick Wilson ("Angels in America," "Little Children"), Jennifer Ehle ("The King's Speech," "Pride and Prejudice") and brand new Emmy winner Margo Martindale ("Justified"), and to top it all, the pilot is directed by Jonathan Demme.

So why on Earth isn't it better?

Surprisingly, earthliness, or in this case unearthliness, isn't the issue. The central story revolves around a narcissistically ambitious neurosurgeon (Wilson) who comes to realize he is being visited by the ghost of his ex-wife (Ehle), but the problem is not the supernatural, it's the sanctimony.

We meet Wilson's Dr. Michael Holt when he's saving the vision of an old friend and snapping at his medical team. For the record, they deserve the snapping, but the point is that Holt is a man so cold and self-involved that when an attractive young woman attempts to tell him what an honor it is to work with him, he just brushes past her, barking "fire the tech." (He'd certainly never survive at "Grey's Anatomy's" Seattle Grace.) He's even rude to his long-suffering assistant, even though it's her birthday (and she's played by Martindale).

So when he cracks a smile upon unexpectedly running into his ex, Anna (Ehle), we realize that she is the One He Should Have Never Let Get Away. They have a lovely dinner in which we learn that she too has been a doctor, of the sort who would and has devoted herself to clinic work — first among the Inuit community in Alaska, then in an unnamed city of 8 million. Michael too worked with the Inuits for a time but bailed because presumably he felt his extraordinary talents were better used among tennis stars and billionaires.

Guess what Anna is going to try to teach him?

In what may be the first documented haunting for digital reasons, the ghostly Anna has come to Michael because she needs someone to unlock her computer at the clinic — she forgot to give anyone her password! And all heck is about to break loose! Instead of just calling the clinic with the password, Michael shows up in person and within a few seconds is shoving a whole ailment-plagued, uninsured family into his car and hauling them back to his private hospital for a round of complimentary surgery.

If coming to understand that poor people need MRIs too is not lesson enough, Michael's Grinch-sized heart also needs to warm to his own family — a troubled nephew and a loving but decidedly dippy sister, Christina (Julie Benz), who not only takes the whole ghost scenario instantly in stride, she sees it as the "cosmic gift" it clearly is.

With just a few tiny modifications, "A Gifted Man" could be a smart satiric comedy, but I don't think that is what Grant is shooting for.

Ehle is charming enough to be morally seductive, although her existence is defined by Michael — "I'm with you, then I'm with you" — which may not be what the doctor ordered for a narcissist and is narratively unfortunate. It would be a more interesting story if she had a ghostly journey of her own separate from her cold-fish ex, who is following the well-trod path, some might call it a rut, of the socially damaged genius, something that "House" has done for going on eight seasons now and to much better effect.

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