‘Monday Mornings’ a different kind of hospital drama

For The Sun NewsJanuary 29, 2013 

The medical profession is one that has been featured on television for decades in just about every genre imaginable. From the hit comedy that still manages to pull the heart strings in “Scrubs,” to the award-winning drama “E.R.,” and even the mercurial “House, M.D.,” the viewing audience has been offered no shortage of medical television in which to sink its teeth.

Enter “Monday Mornings,” a medical drama that features a team of neurosurgeons and the perils they face, both with and without a scalpel. These doctors work in the fictional hospital known as Chelsea General in Portland, Ore., and they face all manner of neural trauma as they’re forced to address their successes and failures, both professionally and personally. The show’s name centers on weekly meetings the surgeons must attend to acknowledge rights and wrongs in front of their peers.

The cast itself is a mixture of seasoned veterans and intriguing newcomers, and no one character can be said to be “the lead,” as the first few episodes do a phenomenal job of featuring as many cast members as possible without forcing the audience to remember too many names. Approaching the cast in the form of a hierarchy, the first name on the list is Dr. Harding Hooten, the chief of surgery, played by Alfred Molina.

Viewers may remember Molina for his role as Dr. Octopus in “Spider-Man 2,” but in this show, he plays a much different kind of doctor. Though he lacks mechanical arms capable of crushing anyone, his demeanor is a more than acceptable substitute, as he walks his team of surgeons through their mistakes, leaving no stone unturned and, on occasion, hurling a stone or two back at them. In the first meeting featured on the show, he recommends a surgeon, nicknamed “007” by the other surgeons, have his medical privileges revoked as a result of a life lost in the show’s opening moments.

However, he is not an altogether unsympathetic character, as it appears he tries to show the doctors how to better do their jobs so that they might better serve those they operate upon. He even shaves his head bald, which perhaps is most endearing moment in the first few episodes, simply because a young girl with a brain tumor asks him to in the moments leading up to her surgery. It will be interesting to see how he evolves as a leader and a teacher as the show progresses.

Next up is Dr. Jorge Villanueva, affectionately referred to as “Gato,” the hospital’s trauma chief and occasional sounding board for the other surgeons. If Dr. Harding is perceived as the callous father figure, Dr. Villanueva is surely the closest thing to his opposite. He is played by Ving Rhames, who does a tremendous job with what little screen time he’s given. Dr. Villanueva appears to possess a better understanding of the emotional nuances of the job the surgeons are tasked with doing, often helping them understand how to handle what inherent difficulties.

The team that works under Dr. Harding and Dr. Villanueva is, somewhat predictably, a mixed bag of personalities. Dr. Tyler Wilson, played by Jamie Bamber of “Battlestar Galactica” fame, is an arrogant doctor who often operates without fully considering the patients he attends. However, when he loses a patient, he’s haunted by visions of the boy and it’s unclear how long this loss will plague him. His confidence in his abilities is his greatest enemy, and it lands in him in hot water after the boy’s death. Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan) plays his romantic interest, though that surface is only briefly scratched early on, and her character isn’t fleshed out much, either.

Dr. Buck Tierney, head of transplants, is acted by Bill Irwin, who is tasked with playing perhaps the least likeable character on the show. Abrasive, insensitive and obnoxious at nearly every turn, he often puts his desire to acquire and redistribute organs ahead of any attempt at bedside manner. His greatest folly occurs when he tries to get a surgeon to declare a gunshot victim dead in order to harvest his organs for transplant, only for that surgeon to discover that the man is not dead when he lifts his middle finger upon command. He callously celebrates the man’s eventual death in front of the mother, then later tries to (perhaps more callously) tell the mother all the good her son has done through his organs. While one can hope that he will eventually acquire some understanding of propriety, it’s difficult to tell based on the previews given.

Dr. Sung Park, played by Keong Sim, is the front-runner to be a viewer favorite early on. Though he lacks a complete understanding of the English language, he bluntly, often amusingly, gets his point across. If he has a catch-phrase this early on, it’s “Not do, dead,” meaning that if the operations he suggests aren’t done, those patients will die. The language barrier is his greatest enemy early on, as he butts heads with Dr. Harding and various other staff members because of verbal misunderstandings. That being said, he is the most enjoyable character of the first three episodes by a large margin.

Finally, we come to Dr. Sydney Napur. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in determination, charisma and passion. She doggedly pursues whatever course of action she believes to be right, dragging other surgeons and doctors kicking and screaming along with her, though they ultimately have to admit she was right. She is pursued romantically by Dr. John Lieberman (Jonathon Silverman), a doctor whose career she saves when she forces him to take a certain course of action regarding a patient that saves that patient’s life. Early on, it appears their relationship won’t succeed, but after a couple of dates, it seems these opposites may attract.

The first three episodes of this show offer only a slice of the pie, and viewers will have to tune in to TNT starting on Feb. 4 at 10 PM in order to start enjoying it. There are numerous story lines that will play out and no shortage of medical issues from which the show’s writers may draw. The characters are all intriguing and complex, and it will be interesting to watch them evolve over the course of the first of what should be many seasons. One thing is for certain: people will be talking about “Monday Mornings” on Tuesday mornings.

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