David E. Kelley has adapted CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta‘s novel Monday Mornings for TNT, with worthy results. Kelley is best known as bringing to screen more procedurals than Dick Wolff, from Chicago Hope to Ally McBeal, and Monday Mornings definitely falls in step with the medical drama formula. Still, there’s something undeniably likable about the series. But it takes a few episodes to really get started, and if viewers just base on its by-the-books pilot, it may not last beyond its initial ten-episode run (which it should). Hit the jump for more about why it’s worth tuning in, not at least for the return of Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) to our screens, and the unexpected and welcomed presence of Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible).
Monday Mornings might work as a novel title, and its concept does serve as the crux of the series, but for outsiders, the series can unfortunately come off sounding like a low-ball comedy about how grumpy we all feel to start the week, and not about the meetings which hold the surgeons accountable for their actions that it is. The series follows the doctors at the fictionalized Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Oregon (although it could be anywhere – as of the third episode I still had no idea where it was located). The stereotypes are all there: the handsome and brilliant, yet tortured surgeon Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber), his close friend and potential (married) fuzzy-acting love interest Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), the cold, disliked Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin), the “I have no personal life because work is everything” Syndey Napur (Sarayu Rao), the hot-shot surgeon with a language barrier and zero bedside manner, Sun Park (Keong Sim) and finally, the Ving Rhames as an exceptional trauma doctor, Jorge “El Gato” Villanueva, who is everyone’s tough, but loving, friend. Alfred Molinda stands astride them all as Chief of Staff Harding Hooten, who runs the Monday meetings and keeps the group in check.
Monday Mornings deals with everything you would expect from a medical drama — there’s teary stuff and triumphs, mysterious medical maladies, last-minute saves, last-minute losses, the politics of hospital administration and of course some love here and there. The doctors make mistakes, they are chastised, they learn. They form bonds, break them, and get better. There’s a little humor sprinkled in, but not much. More humor comes out once we get to know the characters better, and the show does do an excellent job of establishing them solidly up front.
Some critics are sure to malign the series as being overly predictable and bringing nothing new to the table, but do they not watch Kelley’s other work? Further, do most of us care? The series is stylishly filmed, has a good cast and enough things happening to keep us interested. TNT is working to build up its original programming, and frankly I think Monday Mornings is a great start and good fit. After all, this is a cable network who built their following on the back of Law and Order reruns, which have always been a winner. What’s wrong with a medical procedural to match?
The thing about Monday Mornings goes beyond the critical for me — I just like it. I had three screener episodes, and while I warily judged the first one for its predictability, I ended up genuinely engaged in the characters and stories, and was sad when I ran out of more hours to watch. It’s not a show that asks much of you, and in many ways it shares a great deal with series like ER and Grey’s Anatomy (Grey’s the early years, mind you, though Monday Mornings is far less silly). The series actually does deal with things like the implications of medical instrument reps coming into the operating room to sell their ware mid-operation, and also issues like putting doctors on the spot for being arrogant and abrasive with patients and procedures that occasionally cost lives. It makes one a little terrified to ever go into a hospital, but it’s also an important commentary on the state of medicine today.
Yes, Monday Mornings can be maudlin and preachy, but it deals with its complexities well. If people give it a chance for a few weeks at least, it could end up attracting a decent audience for TNT, which it deserves. And as I mentioned before, sometimes, with all of the violence and intensity and complexity of so many great series in this Second Golden Age of TV, sometimes it’s nice to just have one show you simply, and simplistically, enjoy.
Monday Mornings airs Monday, February 4th at 10pm on TNT