Monday, February 04, 2013

'Monday Mornings'

I don't trust David E. Kelley. It seems that no matter how his shows start out, they eventually devolve into the same Kelley formula of absurd twists, overly quirky characters and heavy-handed speechifying. His new medical drama Monday Mornings seems pretty subdued in its first three episodes, at least compared to the later years of shows like Ally McBeal and Boston Legal (the two Kelley shows I followed most closely), but it definitely has some of the Kelley warning signs. There are little character quirks that start to become more prominent (one doctor has a habit of swaying back and forth on his squeaky sneakers when nervous, a tic that director Bill D'Elia, a longtime Kelley collaborator, always shoots in close-up), and there is plenty of melodramatic grandstanding, which is pretty much built into the show's concept.

The title refers to meetings/inquisitions held by the chief of staff at the show's fictional Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Oregon, at which he dresses down doctors for their various failings during the previous week. This gives Alfred Molina, as the chief of staff, the chance to deliver at least one self-righteous monologue per episode, and the actors playing the other doctors rotate their own impassioned speeches depending on the storyline. There's a lot of overwrought emoting from patients and doctors, which D'Elia highlights with showy camerawork, and the interpersonal drama is pretty underdeveloped.

When the show isn't displaying Kelley's worst tendencies, it's a generic medical drama, with life-or-death cases, heartbreaking surgical complications and miracle diagnoses. I have a pretty low tolerance for that sort of thing, but fans of medical dramas may find something appealing in Mornings' various cases-of-the-week. Kelley has also assembled an impressive cast, including Molina, Ving Rhames, Jennifer Finnigan and Jamie Bamber, and there's an admirable diversity in the casting. But that can't make up for the problems with the writing and directing, and Kelley is probably just going to squander the show's strengths by the end of the season anyway.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on TNT.

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