24
Sep
2011
A Gifted Man: Season 1, Episode 1
Pilot
Rachel
In A Gifted Man, Patrick Wilson joins the ranks of TV's hot, prolific, douche-bag doctors as Michael Holt, a brain surgeon in New York. But like most of his type, Michael is actually just a big ol' softy, particularly when it comes to his ex-wife and his family, composed of flaky sister Christina (Julie Benz) and nephew Milo (Liam Aiken). A chance encounter with his ex, Anna Paul (Jennifer Ehle) outside of a restaurant awakens some old but not dead feelings, and we find out that Michael and Anna used to live in Alaska, running a family clinic and living in a very drafty house. But, apparently, Michael realized that general practice and married life just weren't for him, divorcing Anna and heading to New York to start his own clinic, but without losing his feelings for his wife (I'm going to need this whole relationship to get explained, and fast"¦the "I love you but I'm leaving you" thing doesn't make all that much sense here, I need proof of connection).

Which is sort of sweet, until we find out that his ex-wife is actually dead. She was hit by a car two weeks before he sees her, obviously while saving children, because she's a saint (which explains why her appearance is typically preceded by a bouncing red ball). Michael sort of flips out when he hears about it, and starts diagnosing himself with schizophrenia while trying to pretend that everything is normal and ignoring his sister's suggestion that he go to her friend Anton, the shaman.

So the dead wife comes back and asks Michael to open her files (using her old password, a reference to their relationship) to help out the clinic in Alphabet City she's been running. When he goes, the place is completely overrun and understaffed, as clinics in Alphabet City often are. Anna's pleas to help still ringing in his ears, he winds up bringing a small boy who just had a seizure to his clinic, and getting solicited for other basic medical advice by the beleaguered mother. He also books himself for an MRI, convinced that Anna is the result of some kind of neurological problem. Anna then comes to him and explains in a sort unconvincing, disappointing way that she is a ghost, not a hallucination, bonded to him because she's not ready to move beyond.

Maybe I'm just jaded by watching too much television, but I get sort of annoyed when I can figure out exactly how an episode is going to work. This becomes even more frustrating in a pilot, because I don't want to start the time-suck of a new show without any sort of challenge as to the impending narrative structure. I know I can't expect a show to surprise me from the get go, that such twists must build over time, but particularly with something like the ghost story in A Gifted Man, I need something small to make the premise just special enough to keep watching (or at least keep watching with minimal bitterness). It doesn't help that the medical plotline of the episode is also incredibly obvious. The two main patients are Michael's friend Rod, who had some kind of accident because of his raucous lifestyle, and puts himself in significant danger when he refuses to dial it back during his convalescence, and teen tennis prodigy Lacey, who attempts to ignore a brain aneurism on her way to becoming the youngest female to win a Grand Slam but ultimately falls into the 1.3% of people who suffer from a burst. But these are gripes I have with basically every show. It isn't nearly as frustrating as the obvious projection of New Girl, which is a good point of comparison considering Wilson and Deschanel are both movie stars making the jump to TV (I'll have to check out Prime Suspect to see how Maria Bello fares), and for the time being, I'm willing to let Wilson be the hook that keeps me watching.

Wilson is, at his core, clearly a stage actor. So some of his emotional reactions come across with the stage's hyperbole, which is fine on Broadway but sort of overbearing on the small screen, where true emotion is all about subtly (particularly since the show seems fond of using close-ups of Wilson in the most emotional moments). It isn't anything that's going to make me stop watching (Wilson's face more than makes up for it for the time being), but it is the sort of thing that I can see becoming annoying over time if it isn't kept in check.

Overall, however, he plays the role with heart trimmed with cockiness, which is sort of what makes the best doctors. I'd personally much rather have a brain surgeon who thinks he's a rock star and has the track record to prove it than some mediocre talent with a good bedside manner. Ultimately, Wilson's ability to make Michael Holt into a person, not just an asshole or a cardboard "douche-bag with a heart of gold." The bigger sell will have to be Ehle as Anna, whose tendency to play every moment with too much obvious emotion is sort of frustrating. Again, it's made worse by the constant close-ups and the whole "I'm the ghost of your ex-wife" thing, and I'm hoping that the relationship becomes a bit more natural as the series progresses. But solid, if not stellar, performances by the rest of the supporting cast, including Michael's secretary Rita, played by recent Emmy winner Margo Martindale, and my own penchant for procedural medical dramas, will probably keep me watching for a while.

Grade: B


The Little Things

-Anyone want to put money on how many episodes it takes before the whole question of "can a ghost and a living person have sex?" pops up?

-A little research confirmed my sneaking suspicions that the director of this pilot was actually a film director. Turns out Jonathan Demme took the helm for this one. You might know him as the Oscar-winning director of the Silence of the Lambs and other films such as Philadelphia, Beloved, Caged Heat and Rachel Getting Married, the last of which explains the penchant for moodiness

-I'm really happy that Michael doesn't have some hot young thing as a secretary. Rita has the potential to be a great character, especially in Martindale's capable hands. He does, of course, have some hot young thing as a CFO, and apparently they sleep together

-The girls out there (and sensitive, stereotype-breaking boys) might recognize Ehle was Elizabeth Bennett from the classic BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, which also starred Colin Firth as Darcy

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