Steven Pasquale stars in "Do No Harm." (Patrick Harbron / NBC )
It's not surprising that the good folks at NBC decided to give a modernized Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde serial a go.
Having made their way through vampires, zombies, werewolves and the occasional ghost/T. rex/space invader, network execs and television writers are banging up against the back wall of the monster cupboard these days, and Robert Louis Stevenson's "case study" of a physician who fatally attempts to isolate the good and bad portions of his personality remains a classic, regularly reprised in a variety of ways.
What is surprising is the way in which creator David Schulner chose to re-create the iconic physician. At a recent Television Critics Assn. panel, he said he pitched his show, "Do No Harm," which premieres Thursday night, as a cross between "Dexter" and "House." Difficult to imagine (who's the good half in that one?), but at least he was aiming high.
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Unfortunately, "Do No Harm" suffers from a split personality of its own. Far more sentimental than thrilling — there are no real monsters under this hospital bed — it plays more like a mash-up of "A Gifted Man" and "The B— in Apartment 23."
Which cannot be what anyone had in mind.
"Rescue Me's" Stephen Pasquale plays Dr. Jason Cole, a requisitely brilliant neurosurgeon who is just as nice (and handsome) as he is smart. A mother's dream date really, except for one tiny thing: He has a wild and wicked alter ego named Ian (also played by Pasquale.)
After Something Terrible happened during their youth, Jason managed to keep Ian quiet for years, essentially by knocking himself out during the night hours, which are, conveniently, Ian-time. But Ian has apparently become immune to the powerful drugs Jason and his pharmacologist buddy (a tragically wasted Lin-Manuel Miranda) have been using to subdue him.
Minutes after we meet Our Hero, he turns into Our Nemesis, snorting coke, hanging with hookers and generally behaving like he just wandered over from Showtime. Ian is dark to Jason's light, but it's a pretty pale shade of dark, all things considered, more frat boy on binge than powerful id made flesh.
Some of this is due to casting — Pasquale is nice to look at, but he is not convincing as a man who literally cannot control himself. Bewildered where he should be haunted, bratty where he should be dangerous, his divided doctor is Jekyll and Hyde Lite, with none of the delicate shading or slicing self-awareness with which Hugh Laurie and Michael C. Hall infused their roles.
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Of course, there's only so much an actor can do with a villain who does things like put out cigarettes in his "nice" alter ego's shoes. Ian doesn't kill anyone or hold up a liquor store or burn down the family manse — he just goes to Vegas.
OK, he also acts mean to Jason's crush, Dr. Lena Solis (Alana de la Garza), and lurks creepily around the house of Jason's old girlfriend and her son, but mostly he just blows Jason's money. With his shopping-spree ways and eye for the gals, Ian is far more reminiscent of "Nip/Tuck's" Christian Troy than "Dexter."
All of which makes "Do No Harm" not so much a thrilling psychological drama as a mismatched roommate comedy. Oscar and Felix, if one of them was a doctor and they had to share the same body. Either way, no serious harm seems in danger of being done, no, nor any serious storytelling either.
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