Hollywood Beat: Broadcast TV Aims to Recapture the Zeitgeist

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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Hollywood Beat: Broadcast TV Aims to Recapture the Zeitgeist

They may not be Lena Dunham's Girls, but Emily Owens, M.D. and The Mob Doctor (as well as Nashville and others) are aiming to recapture the zeitgeist -- and the female audience -- for broadcast television in the U.S. On the more traditionally male, genre-oriented side of things, 666 Park Avenue leads the way by tapping into familiar horror imagery with some wicked twists.

Emily Owens, M.D. stars Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) as a medical intern at a hospital that is much like high school -- a comparison that is hammered home with endless boxes of nails. Jennie Snyder Urman created the show, and it reflects her experience on 90210 and Gilmore Girls (she also wrote the script for 2011's Something Borrowed), with Emily Owens providing a stream-of-limited-consciousness narration.

The characters speak as though they're still in high school, except when they flip the switch and remember that they're medical professionals. Emily has a crush on fellow intern Will Ryder (Justin Hartley), which, of course, she's harbored for years and is incapable of acting upon. She also finds herself back in competition with her old high school rival, who is also an intern, and they all work under an imperious attending physician (Necar Zadegan) who will no doubt whip them into shape and eventually reveal a tender heart.

Emily Owens M.D. positions itself as a young adult melodrama, somewhere between Grey's Anatomy and, yes, 90210, and it might be fascinating to see where it ends up after a few more episodes. Chiefly, that interest emanates from Mamie Gummer, and whether she can bear the weight of a lead role in a weekly show with supporting characters who are not inherently compelling.

tv-the-mob-doctor-william-forsythe.jpgThat equation is flipped for The Mob Doctor, in which the supporting characters are far more fascinating than the titular character. Any show with William Forsythe, Michael Rapaport, and Zeljko Ivanek surely deserves attention.

Jordana Spiro plays Grace Devlin, a doctor in Chicago whose brother owes mobster Rapaport a serious debt. She offers up her services to Rapaport in exchange, with Rapaport seeking to collect when a government witness ends up in Grace's operating room. Rapaport ends up dead at the hands of Forsythe, who then takes over Grace's debt.

Forsythe is an old family friend who has only recently been released from prison. He is seeking to regain his former territory from Rapaport's gang, and has no hesitation about using Grace to further his goals. Each episode so far alternates between Grace's normal duties at a hospital -- where she is romancing fellow doctor Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights) and works under the stern yet understanding Ivanek -- and her obligations to Forsythe as a mobile emergency medical practioner.

Inspired by Ron Felber's book Il Dottore: The Double Life of a Mafia Doctor, which was based on the true story of a Brooklyn man who provided services for the Mob in the 70s and 80s, The Mob Doctor is already falling into a predictable routine, but the presence of Forsythe, Ivanek, and Rapaport -- SPOILER: he's not as dead as we thought -- juices up the proceedings, and it's sufficiently outlandish to keep me watching, though it's long-term prospects are questionable.

tv-666-park-avenue.jpgAny show in which a man is sucked through a mail slot is my kind of show, and that was only the opening sequence!

666 Park Avenue does much the same thing as other past shows in its chosen genre, yet has enough crazy silliness to make me eager to see what tropes will be stolen next. David Wilcox (Fringe, the U.S. version of Life on Mars) is the guiding hand here, inspired by a recent novel by Gabriella Pierce.

The ostensible leads are Rachael Taylor (very sexy and appealing) and Dave Annable (still a bit too bland, but he has potential) as Jane and Henry, a young Midwestern couple who move to New York when Henry gets a job working in the Mayor's office. They also snag an awesome gig managing The Drake, an elegant apartment building where tenants move in but don't move out without the permission of the owner, billionaire developer Gavin Doran (the great Terry O'Quinn), and his wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams).

It's quickly established that Gavin is a charming but malevolent force; when he says he can make things happen, he means he can make things happen. The first three episodes have rotated around his manipulation of tenants to dispose of people he finds troublesome in his business dealings; he plays upon their desires and uses them so they get what they deserve -- and what he wants.

Meanwhile, Jane, who is a fledgling, restoration-minded architect, sets off to restore The Drake to its former, historically-accurate glory, only to discover dark secrets in the basement that begin to stalk her dreams. As I said, it's all a bit silly, but the show appears committed to a gloomy vision with a surfeit of horror imagery -- with an emphasis on souls trapped behind walls and other contained spaces -- and O'Quinn is so chillingly good as Gavin that it's become a must-see show, for as long as it lasts.

Hollywood Beat is a column on the film and TV industry.

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