Monday Mornings: Airing Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern on TNT
David E. Kelley made his return to television last night with the debut of his new show Monday Mornings. The former creator of such hits as Picket Fences, Boston Legal, the Practice, and Chicago Hope teamed up with former CNN medical adviser Dr. Sanjay Gupta in this new medical drama.
Monday Mornings tells the story of a group of doctors working at prestigious Chelsea Hospital who deal with both the crush of incoming patients as well as the hospitals extra-intense mortality and morbidity councils (which often occur on Monday mornings, hence the title of the show). These conferences are a key wrinkle to the show, as the interrogations often bounce the proceedings from a straightforward 90’s style medical drama (that’s right, no irascible pill popping doctors or soapy voice-over intros here) into courtroom show territory.
The show features an all-star cast including Alfred Molina (who will admittedly forever be Dr. Octopus to me) as Dr. Harding Hooten, a punishing chief of surgery who makes Percival Cox look non-abrasive by comparison, and Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge Villanueva, a trauma chief with a knack for instant diagnoses and an uncanny ability to dispense advice. These characters in turn, are surrounded by a number of high level doctors, whether its hot shot neurosurgeons Ty Wilson and Tina Ridgeway (Jamie Bamber and Jennifer Finnigan), Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim) a Korean neurosurgeon whose English is rusty exposing a brusque attitude, antisocial Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin), and the fast speaking workaholic Sydney Napur (Saryu Rao).
Like most hospital dramas, the pilot revolves around a number of patient cases, including an 11 year old who is diagnosed with a large brain tumor, a young woman who attempted to commit suicide by leaving her car on a train track has a ticking time bomb inside her brain, a woman whom is experiencing uncontrollable tremors, and a woman who has been through Chelsea Hospital five times in the past three months with various symptoms but no real long-term answers. Additionally, strains are shown in Sydney’s and Tina’s love life, however these strains manifest themselves in different ways and are a relatively minor subplot.
There are a lot of things that this show does well. The acting in this show is generally pretty strong, with Alfred Molina, Ving Rhames, and especially Keong Sim (who does a bang up job portraying Sung Pak’s brusqueness). Similarly, the show excels in its surgery scenes, where stunning visuals help to create a tangible feel of tension throughout the show (Ty Wilson’s hands being completely covered in blood after a botched surgery was particularly resonant). Finally, the pilot does an excellent job of easing the viewer into the show, giving quick glimpses into most of the principle characters and the flow of the show before ratcheting up the tension about 20 minutes in.
The one thing I did not like was the way that sections of the dialogue felt particularly contrived. This was particularly evident whenever the show tried to inject a little comedy into the proceedings, as the show often would jam snarky one-liners into situations that don’t warrant them (the reference to a side character being referred to as “007” because he had a license to kill fell particularly flat to me). This is a shame because the show is so excellent at producing tension that the one-liners often kill the flow of the scene. The editing feels awkward at points, making a major emotional reveal (Dr. Napur’s boyfriend rescinding his proposal) come off wooden, with a surprisingly hard cut in the middle of Ridgeway’s reaction.
The show could also use some a little additional characterization since after the pilot the shorthand description of both female leads is “they’re married to their job, and it’s ruining their home life” (I admittedly should have seen this coming when TNT’s own website for the show only described each character with a sentence or two). Additionally, while the stars deliver, many of the side characters tend to come off very wooden, with often either a rushed delivery of lines, awkward capitulation to authority, or hammy overreaction.
The Final Verdict: Monday Mornings marks a return to form for David Kelley. It follows many of the aspects of an ER-style medical drama, but also can slide into a courtroom style drama when the focus shifts to room 311. It’s star studded cast generally delivers, especially Ving Rhames and Keong Sim, but it seems difficult for anyone to excel because the writing and editing generally feels lacking. It’s mediocre, but it has the benefit of being in a Monday 10 p.m. time slot that is not exactly the deepest in television.