E: As you may have heard, Three Rivers is a new medical drama starring Alex O’Loughlin (compelling star of the late lamented Moonlight) as the best darn transplant surgeon at the best darn transplant hospital in America… and Alfre Woodard as his boss. As a nod to Grey’s Anatomy, the series starts with O’Loughlin getting off the elevator – an actual hospital elevator, deep enough to hold at least one gurney. The production design’s attention to reality ends there, however.
You may be surprised to learn that they don’t work at a regular hospital at all, but rather on the Starship Enterprise. I kid, I kid – the Enterprise was never this high tech. Their medical instruments were made out of salt and pepper shakers, for heaven’s sake. By contrast, the conference rooms in this Pittsburgh hospital have touch screen glass walls. Seriously. They have some sort of command center straight out of Star Wars or CSI Miami, with a veritable hive of over-sized computer screens. Their TVs boast 1,000 channels. (Are there 1,000 channels? And even if there were, how long would it take to scroll through them on a hospital bed remote?) My first thought was that it was preposterous. My second was that we’d found the source of the overspending in health care.
When we talked about this show in our preview, we speculated that the premise of the show would limit the sort of cases they could see. Everything would be life or death, must-have-the-transplant-now levels of intensity, and that would get old. Turns out that the writers aren’t going to let a silly little thing like a premise affect them. Spoilers after the jump.
This week’s episode boasted four cases, all of different sorts. First, we’re in nearby Cleveland, where a green construction worker (C: E! The correct term is “Amphibian-American”!) is tutored by his very nice (Arabic) foreman. We foresee a nasty, powertool involved mutilation or death for the young military vet. Instead, the nice boss falls to brain death several stories below, just like that.
Second, the fabulously named Auden Drinkwater starts blowing bloody chunks backstage at a spelling bee. He and his VIP dad, Bob, come to the Starship Enterprise with a whole lot of attitude and not quite enough honesty.
Third, a lovely young pregnant woman comes to the ER with her husband (who cut his forehead) and goes into cardiac arrest. The meat of the episode revolves around the need to get her a new heart, stat, and the life and death choices her husband must make for her and their son.
Fourth and finally, a young Ethiopian refugee comes to the hospital and – as a walking font of expository knowledge – refuses to leave until he sees Dr. Andy Yablonski, the best darn transplant surgeon in the U.S. He’s been diagnosed with a condition that will destroy his heart in about six months. Despite the fact that he has no money or health insurance and is also demonstrably ambulatory – healthy enough to get to Pittsburgh from Omaha, anyway, – he’s admitted to the hospital, presumably for the duration, as a long term fixture.
Patient Number One is, of course, the donor of the week, and Pittsburgh’s resident stud doctor and the hospital’s new transplant coordinator are dispatched to Cleveland to collect his heart for Patient Three, whose pregnancy has caused her antibodies to seek and destroy her own heart (C: Good grief, can that happen?! E: Yep, pretty sure it can.). Ryan (Christopher Hanke, as the coordinator) is earnest and idiotic, and Doctor Lee (Daniel Henney, the stud) enjoys tormenting him. (And can I say that I really enjoy the fact that the ladies’ man is Asian? I can’t think of any other instance of that. Just saying.) A lot of bad dialogue revolves around this relationship (“never get between a doctor and his donuts” – I kid you not) but it’s not all bad. After all, Dr. Lee gets to deliver the prime directive! Ryan ridiculously oversteps the line by begging Patient One’s daughter (who, needing to make sure her father isn’t the victim of bigotry or – more pertinently to the show – that the doctors aren’t more interested in his organs than in saving him) to give them the heart. It’s all a big annoying Expository Moment. Anyway, Dr. Lee slams him up again a wall, tells him he’s stepped out of line, and barks: “It has to be a gift!”
And just in case you weren’t sold on the whole Star Trek comparison? Patient One’s wife is played by a lovely, grieving, and disconcertingly old Counselor Troi. For real. Marina Sirtis, known to Trekkers everywhere as Deanna Troi, empath and psychologist, weeping beautifully over her husband’s body. I had to make Mr. E rewind and prove it to me, but her voice is unmistakable.
In the end, One’s daughter relents – having gotten her information and processed her grief – and Three gets a new heart. Three of course has to deliver early, to keep the baby safe during the lengthy transplant, and at 28 weeks is miraculously delivered of a full-sized newborn who breathes on his own and everything. On the other hand, at least he looks like a real baby. Well, because he’s played by an actual baby, which was clearly not an option on Grey’s Anatomy, but I digress. There’s fear that during her second arrest (did I not mention Three had a second heart attack?) her brain might have been without oxygen for too long (raising the question of whether they’re putting a viable heart in a dying body), but after surgery Dr. Andy sits at her bedside, gently begs her to wake, and when she squeezes his hand, it becomes clear there’s no brain damage. As it would be, of course. (I’m not saying I didn’t cry over One and Three – I did – but I’m easy that way.) (C: If Alex O’Loughlin held my hand and begged me to wake from unconsciousness, I feel that would be a strong motivating factor.)
Patient Two has been treated by Dr. Miranda Foster (Katherine Moenning), the dour, moderately self-loathing, computer-hating daughter of the man who built the Starship Enterprise. She finds that Auden has been swallowing alarming things like tweezers and staples – though not, as she originally assumes, because he’s emo and suffering from abandonment issues, but because he has pica. I get how this is surgical, and also how it’s interesting, but not how it relates to transplants. Wasn’t that the point of the show? Are we just going to get random cool cases thrown in for variety? What gives, writers!
Patient Four, on the other hand, really does seem to exist for no other reason than to say “de World Wide Web” in an adorable Ethiopian accent and to recite Yablonski’s resume to us. (To wit – I have no desire to offend, but is an undergrad degree from Allegheny State really all that? I’m sure it’s a good school, but it’s not exactly an Ivy, is it? Do they have an amazing pre-med program I’ve never heard of? Since that was the detail they chose to share with us, I’m curious.) He’s charming, and makes a good addition to the cast, but the writers better lay off the exposition and let him actually be a person.
The mix of patients and families was pretty good, and the acting serviceable all around. We didn’t get a strong sense of any character’s capabilities, which is a shame; when will the networks remember that it’s better to show than tell? That was my least favorite aspect of Star Trek: The Next Generation, actually; they were always going on about how everyone was the best in their field instead of convincing us by letting them DO stuff. And there were a few weird blips: first Auden is 13 years old, and then he’s 14. First Kuol (Patient Four) is Ethiopian, then he’s from Sudan. (Maybe he was in a refuge camp in Sudan? If this wasn’t an active mistake it still came across like one.) That said, I think this show would qualify as a decent Nothing Else Is On piece, for as long as it lasts. The pilot, “A Place of Life,” was nothing special, even though some portions of it were affecting. I’d be happy to see Alex O’Loughlin get a hit, but I’d be happiest to see him get better material than he was give here, whether from this show or someplace else. Come on, people, the guy can handle it. So far Andrew Yablonski, let’s admit it, is no Mick St. John. Let that be a challenge to you TV-writer folk to step it up and give this man – and the rest of his coworkers – the material they deserve. I suspect at least most of them would be up for it.