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Review: Surgeons in the hot seat on 'Monday Mornings'

The pulse rate and temperature are chronically elevated in David E. Kelley's latest medical drama. What's needed is a little 'Picket Fences'-like quirkiness.

February 04, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge Villanueva in "Monday Mornings," a medical drama premiering on TNT.
Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge Villanueva in "Monday Mornings," a… (Doug Hyun / TNT )

"Monday Mornings," a medical drama premiering Monday night on TNT, brings TV producer and writer David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "Boston Legal") together with neurosurgeon and media personality Dr. Sanjay Gupta, whose 2012 hospital-life novel is its basis. Life is full of surprises.

The title refers to the "M&M" (for "morbidity and mortality") meetings where surgeons discuss the less successful moments of their recent work — patients dying, breaches of protocol, moments of insensitivity — albeit here they do not so much discuss as submit to a browbeating by their usually charming boss (Alfred Molina as Chelsea General chief of staff Harding Hooten).

This is a real thing, Gupta has informed the entertainment press, and though I imagine it is not the most pleasant moment of any surgeon's week, I suspect it is not quite the symphony of balled fists, knit brows, bit lips and beads of sweat that Kelley and director Bill D'Elia, his frequent collaborator, have orchestrated here.

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Indeed, the show as a whole suffers from a kind of chronically elevated temperature and pulse rate. Visually, it is a riot of excess of camera angles and arty shifts in focus; the sound design employs a somewhat subtler version of those low-frequency sonic bursts that accompany dramatic moments on reality shows.

Hospital stories tend to be as much or more about the physicians than their patients — Kelley's "Chicago Hope" was a bit of a high-toned soap opera — but this one is especially concerned with them and their feelings: You could make a nice drinking game out of the times one doctor asks another doctor, "Are you OK?" or asks another doctor of another doctor, "Is he OK?"

The patients are there almost as a pretext: for the doctors' pain or material for the triumphs (which Dr. Hooten will in any case deflate by pointing out some undotted "I" or uncrossed "T" in their preparation or procedure). Even so, full-fledged human beings are slow to emerge; the characters are long on attitude but short on detail.

We know that Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan) has a difficult marriage because she exchanges a few tense words with a husband who summarily fades into the background and because she and the brilliant if unshaven Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber) are clearly intended to Hook Up.

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We are invited to disdain Bill Irwin's overeager head of transplantation Dr. Buck Tierney and to admire Ving Rhames' trauma chief, Dr. Jorge "El Gato" Villanueva, an infallible diagnostician who is a kind of physical and moral bookend to Molina's Hooten but rougher around the edges and softer at his core. His way of relaxing is said to be "six beers and sex with a stranger." (More is said here than is shown.)

The show could use some of the quirkiness that has enlivened Kelley shows such as "Picket Fences" and "Boston Legal." Such comic relief as is here depends on the energy of Sarayu Rao as cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Sydney Napur and Keong Sim as neurosurgeon Dr. Sung Park, whose limited language skills reduce his dialogue to barked utterances ("Not do, dead — need surgery") and mangled aphorisms (a patient is "between rock and an eight-ball").

There are the ethical brain teasers, familiar from Kelley's medical and legal dramas alike, which largely boil down to "Is it worth it to sacrifice this thing for that thing?" There are the occasional facts and figures or a political point dressed as dialogue.

Still, the cast is handsome and lively, the hospital looks like a hospital and not like a spaceship, and there are not a lot of medical dramas on at the moment.

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'Monday Mornings'

Where: TNT

When: 10 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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