Thursday, July 17, 2014

'Rush' and 'Satisfaction'

Under their generic titles, USA's new dramas Rush and Satisfaction are both trying to do something a little different for the network, but neither one really succeeds. Rush is by far the more familiar USA show, a medical procedural with a slight twist, although it attempts a darker tone than most of USA's relatively lighthearted procedurals. A little bit House, a little bit Royal Pains, a little bit Ray Donovan, Rush follows the title character (Tom Ellis), a hard-living doctor who caters to the private needs of L.A.'s rich and famous, when they have medical problems that they need taken care of on the down-low. Dr. Rush has his own problems with recreational drugs as well as a vaguely alluded-to traumatic past, but it's all pretty standard tortured-hero stuff. He purports to be cynical and uncaring, but of course by the end of the first episode he shows that he really does have a moral code.

In that sense, Rush conforms pretty well to the USA drama template, with characters like Burn Notice's Michael Westen who operate outside the law and appear to be selfish on the surface, but are good people at their core. It's somewhat surprising to me that Rush was created by filmmaker Jonathan Levine, who wrote and directed the pilot, and whose film work (including The Wackness, 50/50 and Warm Bodies) has impressed me with its emotional warmth and humanism. Rush is so generic that it seems like it could have been created by anyone, and the biggest disappointment for me is that Levine didn't come up with something more distinctive. Like most of USA's procedurals, Rush will probably be pleasant enough to watch in the background while doing something else, but is unlikely to rise to the status of appointment viewing.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, isn't just offering a slight tweak on the typical USA formula; it's a full-on serialized relationship drama, focused on the turmoil in the marriage of middle-aged suburbanites Neil (Matt Passmore) and Grace (Stephanie Szostak). That's not to say it's exactly original, though, just that it looks more like an AMC or FX or Showtime show than a USA series. It borrows heavily from American Beauty and other narratives about how tough it is to be a white, middle-aged, upper-middle-class man in the suburbs, and as such the tone gets tiresome very quickly. But the pilot does take a few unexpected turns, and it moves the narrative along pretty briskly, to the point where what starts out as general ennui ends up in some rather extreme places by the end of the episode.

Those places are actually so extreme that it's a little tough to see where the show will go beyond the first, extra-long episode, which often feels more like a feature film than a TV pilot. Neil and Grace go through an entire arc of dissatisfaction and rebellion in the single episode, more or less reconciling by the end. Some of the more out-there plot developments seem unsustainable, although from what I can tell the characters involved in those developments (to be appropriately vague in case people are worried about spoilers) are series regulars, so I guess the show will continue to explore those avenues. It's tempting to give Satisfaction too much credit just for breaking out of the USA mold, but the performances are pretty bland and the characters are often insufferable. It may not be copying other USA shows, but it's still copying something.

Premiering tonight at 9 p.m. (Rush) and 10 p.m. (Satisfaction) on USA.

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