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There are few genres that are as formulaic as doctor shows. The most successful medical dramas all had something else going for them: “Scrubs” was funny, “ER” was addicting and “Grey’s Anatomy,” well, “Grey’s” will probably just last forever. But CBS’s new offering is none of these things. “Code Black” is clunky and tries too hard to make you care before you can. If you like seeing blood pooling on sterilized hospital floors in one corner of the frame while a different patient collapses in another, then this show is perfect for you. But, if you like developed characters and a reasonable lack of clichés, then keep looking.
The gimmick in “Code Black” that differentiates it is found in the title. “Code black” is the term for when an ER has too many patients and not enough staff or resources to provide for all of them. This particular hospital in L.A. deals with this frequently.
The cast features Luis Guzmán (“Narcos”) as a nurse who refers to himself as Mama and likes to break into song occasionally. He’s close with the residency director Dr. Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden, “How to Get Away with Murder”), a tough doctor with a no-time-for-bullshit demeanor and a subtly hinted at tragic past, involving a mysterious accident.
Harden does her best with what she has been given, but her lines are often cringeworthy. And it doesn’t help that there are more than a couple shots of her looking around or walking through the halls of the hospital in slow motion, taking it all in as people and noises fade and blur, reminiscent of everyone’s favorite angsty doctor, Meredith Grey.
The patients in the pilot include a gunshot victim, a brain-dead dad, a pregnant woman passed out on her floor because no one realized she was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, a cute kid with a collapsed lung and a stoned teenager with a mysterious head injury, among others. They get even fewer lines than typical guest characters on hospital dramas, because there are so many of them. And the brand new residents feel bland; there isn’t a single one who stands out.
If I were a child, I would complain that watching this made me dizzy. As a professional adult TV critic, I would also like to complain that watching this made me dizzy. Of course, an ER is a busy scene, with everything happening at once; but it’s possible to convey that without having to use canted angles quite so often.
This show is made for people who are still angry about Derek dying on “Grey’s Anatomy” and need something to fill that void if they’re boycotting it — or the people who just need more pseudo-doctor talk every week. It’s not quite “the new ER” like it was made out to be.
“Code Black” may eventually build its characters into interesting enough people to make up for the transparent cases and clichéd writing, but it probably won’t. After flatlining for the majority of the pilot, there are few miracles that could jump-start the heart of this show.