Outside of the procedural sitcoms about wacky patriarchs and the families who love them, it’s hard to find a genre as well-trodden as the medical drama. It’s something that’s been mined from virtually every conceivable angle, from shows about doctors in the Civil War to the current renaissance of shows about dysfunctional female nurses — “Nurse Jackie,” “HawthoRNe.” It’s safe to say, though, that for the creators of NBC’s “Mercy,” this precedent wasn’t much of a deterrent.
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“Mercy” revolves around nurse Veronica Callahan (Taylor Schilling, “Dark Matter”), who returns to work after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. Along with nurses Sonia (Jaime Lee Kirchner, “Rescue Me”) and Chloe (Michelle Trachtenberg, “Gossip Girl”) — the obligatory fresh-out-of-college first-year nurse, so doe-eyed she risks corneal damage — Callahan deals with assorted problems inside and outside of the hospital.
Keeping in line with the current trend of barely-functional-in-public-lead roles, Veronica has the usual laundry list of character flaws: She’s arrogant and hard to work with, she and her family drink too much, she cheated on her fiancé in Iraq, she’s coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and she regularly spars with doctors and administrators, whom the show depicts as bumbling idiots compared to Callahan and her “House”-like medical abilities.
The pilot obligingly goes through all these points. But Schilling, a virtual unknown prior to “Mercy,” plays Callahan as well as she can with the material she’s given, bringing a strong presence to numerous scenes filled with awkwardly plotted drama.
Still, Schilling’s performance is one of the only things “Mercy” has going for it. The show is littered with numerous problems, the biggest one being that there’s nary an original idea to be found anywhere. Every aspect of the show, from Callahan’s loose-cannon nursing style to the tawdry romantic triangle the pilot sets up with all the subtlety of a bat to the face, feels cribbed from countless other shows that have done these plot points better.
All of this isn’t helped by the show’s stilted tone either. In particular, the pilot drives home Veronica’s problems with PTSD frequently enough to make it feel like Robert Hayes recounting his time in Macho Grande in “Airplane!”
At the very least, the tone is used effectively in the opening, as Veronica dreams about being violently perforated by machine gun fire. Already though, it feels like a crutch for lazy writing, with scenes shoehorning monologues from Veronica on how being at the hospital is like “a trip to Club Med” compared to her time in Iraq.
The show’s pathos-heavy moments are portrayed in such an ineptly awkward fashion — one scene, in which Veronica and her brother start talking about the war, haphazardly swings between light comedy and drama in seconds, complete with swelling background music — that it’s hard not to cringe at its derivative over-earnestness.
Technically, “Mercy” isn’t even supposed to be on right now — it was only bumped into the fall lineup to fill in for NBC’s “Parenthood,” which got pushed into the midseason. But the show’s premature arrival is no excuse for the fact that, at best, “Mercy” is noxiously generic, aping the tropes of better medical dramas but failing to bring anything new to the genre.