Erica Durance, left, stars in "Saving Hope." (Caitlin Cronenberg, NBC )
There is something disturbingly symbolic about NBC's recent penchant for trapped-between-two-worlds dramas. Existing in a state of suspended animation itself — all the advertising dollars in the world couldn't make "Smash" a bona-fide hit — the network appears to be casting about for narratives that might provide the answer. In the recently canceled"Awake," a police detective toggled between two post-traumatic realities, and now we have the Canadian supernatural medical drama "Saving Hope," or as I like to think of it now, the "Coma Doc" show.
Snuggling in the back of a cab on the way to their wedding, Drs. Charles Harris (Michael Shanks) and Alex Reid (Erica Durance) are clearly the perfect couple. We know this because they are both very good-looking and because when the cab is struck by a car, the quick-witted duo — he's chief of surgery, she's chief resident — manage to save the cab driver's life using only a pair of scissors and a tampon applicator. While in their wedding finery!
Alas, it turns out that the whack on the head Charlie sustained during the accident is much more serious than it seemed and before you can say "Dear Mother of God, wasn't 'A Gifted Man' enough loopy medical drama for one year," he has slipped into a coma. Which could be an interesting jumping-off point — how would a hospital function with its chief of surgery gone but not dead? — except Shanks is the star of this show. That means his tuxedo-clad spirit now must wander the halls of the hospital, meeting other patients in transition and having personal epiphanies about things like the importance of human contact, which he, tragically, feels he must share with the audience via voice-over.
As with "Awake," one finds oneself wondering just how long, exactly, creators Malcolm MacRury and Morwyn Brebner thought they would be able to sustain this conceit (particularly when, mere hours into said coma, several of Charlie's colleagues are already badgering Alex about signing those non-resuscitation forms).
Unlike "Awake," however, "Saving Hope" does not have Jason Isaacs, a nifty crisscrossing police procedural at its heart, or anything interesting to say about the various forms of reality. In place of those things are characters, subplots and a soundtrack that can only be characterized as "Grey's Anatomy Lite." There's Dr. Joel Goran (Daniel Gillies), the new orthopedic surgeon who has just joined the staff and clearly has a hound-dog past with Alex; Maggie Lin (Julia Taylor Ross), the hot but insecure resident; and Gavin Murphy (Kristopher Turner), a baby-faced psych resident (so they've thrown a little "Bones" in too.)
Everyone conducts their lives entirely within the walls of the hospital, which means there is the requisite storage room/office couch coitus and a lot of cups of coffee. But because this is a show about the Big Spiritual Issues, odd bits and bars of light often intersect on the screen, clearly intended to denote the anxious ill-defined line between life and death but managing only to make you wish there were an "arty light work on/off" choice on your sub-menu.
"Saving Hope" is not the worst show to debut during the summer months — there is a natural curiosity factor built in to the main plot line and both Shanks and Durance are certainly engaging performers. But as "Grey's Anatomy" proved several seasons ago when its lead wandered in death's oddly lit foyer, though there may indeed be more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, a soapy medical drama is probably not the best venue in which to discuss them.