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'Mob Doctor' is an offer to refuse

FOX

By Kayla Upadhyaya, Senior Arts Editor
Published September 14, 2012

Television is nothing if not oversaturated with medical dramas, right? So how about a hospital drama with a twist: a series about a doctor … for the mob.

So must have went the initial pitch for FOX’s freshman series “The Mob Doctor,” as the pilot reflects little more thought than “She’s a doctor! A mob doctor!”

Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro, “My Boys”) is an ordinary Chicago doctor by day and a discreet, ask-no-questions Mafia mender by … other parts of the day. Her younger brother pissed off Southside boss Paul Moretti (Michael Rapaport, “Prison Break”) somehow, and Grace is stuck tending to the bullet, knife and screwdriver wounds of Moretti’s men to pay off her family’s debts. She’s peachy keen with this less-than-legal arrangement … that is, until she’s delivered a picture of one of her patients with instructions to off him. Suddenly, the pilot is entangled in a structural mess that weighs it down like a pair of cement shoes.

The episode reveals that Moretti’s sphere of influence runs deep, even in the hospital, where a shadowy mobster is able to sneak a special syringe to Grace so she can off the witness discreetly. But if the mob is so embedded in the hospital, why does Grace even need to do the deed herself? The entire pilot hinges on Grace’s decision, but it’s obvious what she’ll do from the start. Plot holes are somewhat forgivable in hospital dramas and Mafia tales alike, but a feeble plot without any sense of urgency is a death sentence for both genres.

Perhaps if “Mob Doctor” had managed to rustle up some powerful emotions by way of its characters, the actionless plot wouldn’t matter so much, but everyone in Grace’s life is so painfully straight-from-stock that they aren’t deserving of love or hate. Grace is supposedly too attached to ever consider leaving her precious city, even when she’s given a Get The Hell Out Of Here free pass, but why? Brother Nate is a screwup, the reason she’s in this mess in the first place. Her mother is nosy and needy, and Grace has a pointlessly antagonistic relationship with her colleagues, who are horrible, horrible people because they care about evil things like ethics and rules.

Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”) puts his best foot forward as Grace’s OB/GYN boyfriend Brett, but even seeing Matt Saracen in a white coat isn’t enough to obscure the total lack of substance behind the character. The wonderful character actor Željko Ivanek (“Damages”) — who’s prolific to the point that it’s confusing when he doesn’t appear on any given show — plays one of Grace’s superiors, but like Gilford, Ivanek’s skills are eclipsed by the lifeless script. William Forsythe (“The Untouchables”) so brilliantly plays “reformed” mob mastermind Alexander Constantine that you’ll wish the show was about him coolly kicking serious ass.

It’s a shame we can’t be bothered to care about the actual mob doctor, considering Spiro, too, is wasted. Right away, the show insists that Grace is an anti-hero. TV trends show that viewers love a good morally imperfect protagonist — see: any show on Showtime — and doctors not so loyal to the Hippocratic Oath can be fun if not overdone, but Grace isn’t compelling in either side of her dual-natured life. Sure, she runs with big-time bosses, but she’s hardly written as an Ava Crowder-type badass. And the “tough” choices she makes in her regular job aren’t so much tough as predictable and uninteresting. But wait, she’s a doctor! For the mob!

Even though the characters spend plenty of time carefully spelling out exactly what they are thinking and the writing similarly lacks any sense of subtlety, in the end, it’s actually pretty unclear what “The Mob Doctor” is about — if anything.

One thing that is made clear by its pilot is that this show definitely deserves to sleep with the fishes.


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