Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pilot Review: Three Rivers

Three Rivers (CBS)
Premiered October 4 at 9pm

There’s really no need for a new medical show, yet they just keep on popping up: “Nurse Jackie,” “Hawthorne,” “Mercy,” and now this series. With so many similar programs out there, it’s hard to find something truly different about each one. It turns out that what sets this show apart is actually a surprising lack of confrontation among the hospital staff. There’s no power-struggle dynamic or infighting between the nurses, and therefore the hospital staff basically stands united against the troublesome patients. The medical dilemmas still make for high-strung, tense moral moments, but it’s so much less exciting when the characters don’t seem to care either way.

Alex O’Loughlin, who did a fantastic guest arc on season six of “The Shield” and starred in the cult vampire show “Moonlight,” leads the cast as a doctor who’s not quite unconventional in his methods but still commands the general respect, admiration, and accompanying devotion from his patients. He’s like a version of House who’s not quite as brilliant and not nearly as grumpy, but some people still look up to him in the same way. O’Loughlin is an able enough lead, but he’s just so casual and seemingly carefree that he doesn’t create much drama around him. His leading female costar is Katherine Moennig who, after playing tough lesbian Shane on “The L Word” for six years, has been completely toned down and beautified to play a doctor who’s less compelling or interesting than O’Loughlin’s character. Two familiar faces are also present in smaller supporting roles – Alfre Woodard (season two of “Desperate Housewives”) in the traditional role of the elder supervisor who doubles as a mentor, and Justina Machado (Rico’s wife Vanessa on “Six Feet Under”) as the primarily-featured nurse. Like the main characters, however, these two aren’t terribly ironed out, and Woodard lacks the bossiness or hunger for power that the part might usually have, and Machado barely has anything to do (she’d probably have a lot more fun on any of the nurse-heavy series mentioned at the beginning of this post).

“Three Rivers” isn’t terrible, but there isn’t really much appeal. It’s so much more muted than other medical shows, and while that grounds it appropriately and prevents it from being far too preposterous or just plain stupid, it doesn’t have much to make up for it. The intersecting medical cases in the first episode aren’t anything monumental or too moving. The show fancies itself an action-packed show like CBS’ Tuesday night offerings “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” by framing the last scene before the commercial break with a montage of shots from the episode seen through constantly-changing colors. There’s no adrenaline present in this show, and it’s certainly not the medical thriller CBS seems to think it is.

How will it work as a series? Medical dramas like “ER” have gone on for fourteen years. Back then, however, it was considered a breakthrough show, and since then, viewers and critics shied away from it, and many, many other series have come along. They haven’t exhausted themselves because of a lack of competent storylines, and without the need for unnecessary character drama, this show should be stable episode to episode as more and more medical cases present themselves.
How long will it last? CBS isn’t very forgiving to the shows that don’t perform spectacularly on the network, even cancelling the long-running, fairly successful “Without a Trace” and “The Unit” this past year because they weren’t doing as well as the net’s other shows. Sunday night has never been a good thing for any CBS show other than “Cold Case,” and in that sense, perhaps this procedural show without starkly defined characters will do well. Its late start and relative lack of buzz, however, will likely prevent it from being discovered by viewers before it gets cancelled by network executives first.

Pilot grade: C+