Medical dramas are in full bloom this season, and CBS is all too eager to plant some seeds. With “ER,” “Scrubs,” “MDs” and now “Presidio Med,” viewers can easily get their fix of white lab coats and disgruntled doctors. But aren’t all these shows the same? Thankfully, no. While at first glance “Presidio Med” looks like just another hospital program, it introduces enough fresh elements to make it worth watching.
The first thing you’ll notice about “Presidio Med” is that it doesn’t take place in a hospital; rather, its focus is a medium-sized clinic adjacent to a hospital. Featuring seven physicians from various specialties, the Presidio Medical Group offers both emergency and long-term care. Dr. Harriet Lanning (Blythe Danner, “Meet the Parents”), a veteran OB/GYN, heads the team, which is comprised of young hot-heads and cerebral, reserved types. The clinic is also largely operated by women, a refreshing distinction from the male leads of “MDs” and “Scrubs.”
The combination of female doctors and laid-back atmosphere makes “Presidio Med” more intimate than its peers. It plays like “ER” on tranquilizers: Doctors butt heads, conflicts arise, but most of the show’s situations are not life and death. Instead, “Presidio Med” stresses the relationships that doctors form with patients. In the pilot, for example, Dr. Slingerland (Paul Blackthorne) discovers that his basketball buddy is having chest pains. He coaxes the reluctant man into treatment at Presidio, and after discovering high amounts of crystal meth in his system, he encourages him to stop taking drugs.
Storylines like these make the doctors of “Presidio Med” seem sympathetic to the viewer: Curing the patient becomes the doctor’s personal mission. Knowing this, the show’s writers are wise to show acts of heroism, rather than heroic figures. The physicians are flawed, just like the rest of us, and sometimes they cross the line with patients. The younger doctors, particularly plastic surgeon Jackie Colette (Sasha Alexander), take more risks than their older counterparts, and often get in trouble with their superiors. This creates an interesting dynamic among the cast: Team leaders like Dr. Rae Brennan (Dana Delany, “China Beach”), try to reel in the cockiness of the novices, while the young doctors are quick to suggest new medical techniques to the veterans.
As an ensemble, the cast works remarkably well together. The earthly sensibility of Danner’s and Delany’s characters is a nice contrast to flashier personalities like Blackthorne’s Dr. Slingerland. Viewers will wish the uptight Dr. Jules Keating (Julianne Nicholson) was given less screen time, but other, more likable doctors make up for her annoyingness. Sasha Alexander steals every scene she’s in as the brazen plastic surgeon. Loudly singing along to Bob Marley while performing liposuction, Alexander plays the dual role of dedicated doctor and office goofball to great effect.
Occasionally “Presidio Med” teeters on soap opera territory. Since the show explores the physicians’ professional and personal lives, we sometimes get an unhealthy dose of relationship theatrics. Oded Fehr’s role as Delany’s coworker and love interest feels forced – the two don’t have any appreciable chemistry. Hopefully, future episodes will bring the show’s focus back to the clinic, where it belongs.
For all its strengths, it is unlikely “Presidio Med” will last long. Up against the far funnier “MDs” and ratings juggernaut “Law and Order,” the show could struggle to find an audience. But with any luck, CBS will give this promising medical drama a more suitable time slot.