Premiered September 23 at 8pm
NBC has been hanging out at a hospital since the early 1990s when “ER” first premiered. Now, only six months after the show wrapped its fourteenth and final season, a next-generation medical drama is here to take its place. “Mercy” is a definitive riff on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and might be better termed a rip-off. The way it presents its characters tries to imply that they have more depth to them, but that’s really not the case. Nurse Veronica Callahan is a war veteran plagued by what she saw overseas who dreams of getting herself taken out by gunfire while making breakfast in the morning. Her family includes a bunch of drunkards, and she parades around the hospital pouting and yelling at everyone she possibly can. Meredith on “Grey’s Anatomy” is infamously unlikable, but at least behind the grating whininess it’s clear that she has a kind heart. Veronica seems to have a heart of stone, and her predictable she-knows-what-to-do-better-than-anyone epiphanies don’t make her any less detestable. It’s especially surprising, therefore, that she has not one but two guys desperate to win her over. Scenes of doctors and nurses pulling each other into closets to make out or scantily-clad nurses (don’t they all have to wear the same scrubs?) sauntering down the hallway with all eyes literally on them are trying fearfully hard to make it clear that this show is sexy. It’s not, and it only gets worse as it goes on. The appearance of a smiling Michelle Tratchtenberg dressed in Hello Kitty scrubs is where the show really tanks, and her requisite role as the perky ingénue is a pesky annoyance. The moment that really got my blood boiling came when the ever-angry Veronica comes upon a frightened screaming woman in the passenger seat of car whose husband had been impaled, and Veronica grabs her by the nose to force her to calm down. Edginess is really overrated, and writers would do well to remember that. It’s a toss-up whether Taylor Schilling (Veronica) or Tratchtenberg is the more despicable performer, and it’s a low point for many other actors as well. Delroy Lindo is stifled by his obnoxiously big bow tie as the hospital administrator, James LeGros (“Sleeper Cell”) is hidden by a grizzled beard and puzzled expression, and Guillermo Diaz is relegated to being the prototypically gay male nurse after chewing scenery on “Weeds” the past three seasons as Guillermo Garcia Gomez. The most unfortunate role is that bestowed upon Kate Mulgrew, demoted from her “Star Trek: Voyager” captainship to the part of Veronica’s drunk mother. Things are really in a sad state on this show, and there’s nothing good to compensate for all the bad.
How will it work as a series? Medical cases can be developed forever (see: 14 seasons of “ER”), so that can b ea long-lasting element of the show. The character-character drama may not prove as fertile, as eventually Tratchtenberg’s Chloe will have to grow up and toughen up and therefore become one of the girls, and there’s not actually as much ground to cover with Veronica as the show wants there to be. Think of it as the ugly stepsister of “ER.”
How long will it last? Viewers do love good soapy medical drama, and “Grey’s Anatomy” has done extraordinary will. This is no “Grey’s Anatomy,” however, and there’s little about it that will entice or draw viewers. NBC is rather starved for primetime real estate after “The Jay Leno Show” took over five of its weekly hours, and therefore this show may have to be cycled out before it goes on hiatus in December.
Pilot grade: F