Welcome to Portland’s Chelsea General Hospital. It’s buzzing with activity. Dr. Michelle Robideux (Emily Swallow) and Dr. Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames) examine a patient who’s just been brought into the ER. Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao) deals with a difficult patient. Meanwhile, Dr. Tina Ridgeway assures a couple that their daughter is safe in the capable hands of brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber), who indeed safely removes her aneurysm.
Afterward, Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin) chews out Tina for kicking a sales rep out of her and Ty’s operating room during the procedure, drawing the ire of their chief of staff, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina). On the surface, this seems like any other medical show.
Yet everything grinds to a halt when they’re all paged to Room 311 for a Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) meeting. Their colleague, Dr. David Martin, has killed another patient. Under Hooten’s direction, he’s hauled up in front of all his coworkers to recount how he treated a woman and missed her stage four bone cancer. She died three weeks after the cancer diagnosis.
Martin, who’s snidely nicknamed “007” because he has a “license to kill,” loses his medical privileges, is taken to task by an angry Villanueva, and disintegrates in public view. His collapse is uncomfortable to watch, but it’s also a painful truth. A life was lost, and there are consequences, regardless of how painful they may be.
This is not any other medical drama. This is Monday Mornings, from uber-producer David E. Kelley and based on the novel by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Villanueva reteams with Michelle to treat Quinn McDaniels, a young boy who’s had a head-to-head collision in a soccer game and has been complaining of headaches. Michelle pulls Villanueva aside to show him the giant tumor she found in Quinn’s temporal lobe. They bring in Ty for a consult, and he decides that surgery is required immediately. This is where Ty is at his best, calm and confident. He owns that room.
While Quinn is in surgery, Hooten does his best to reassure his mother, telling her that Ty is one of the best surgeons in the world, “committed and compassionate.” He offers to stay with her for awhile. It’s a complete 180 from the executioner who dispatched Martin earlier in the episode.
Yet that’s the duality of Hooten’s job description. He must demand the best from those under his authority, and also be there to support those who need him, whether it’s those same surgeons or the family of a patient. It’s easy to see how he rose to the top job at Chelsea General.
Sydney deals with the difficult patient’s attending (guest star Jonathan Silverman), who pages Tina to get Sydney off his case. Tina asks Sydney what her problem is, and Sydney lets slip that the previous night her boyfriend rescinded his marriage proposal when she got paged in the middle of it.
Elsewhere, Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim) consults a young woman who’s been suffering from inexplicable tremors, but claims they stop when she drinks wine. Park’s disinterested up until that last part. He bounces ideas off a team of clueless juniors not unlike an episode of House. He has no patience for anyone who can’t keep up. This is serious stuff and it deserves seriously committed people.
Just as Ty thinks things are going well in the OR, he realizes just how massive the tumor is. Quinn’s blood pressure begins to drop and alarms start sounding. “Why the hell won’t he clot?” Ty wonders aloud, and calls Tina for help. Things go from bad to worse, as they scramble to restart the kid’s heart, and end with Ty begging Quinn to stay with them, refusing to concede defeat. The boy dies on the table.
Tina’s attempt to console a shocked and frustrated Ty falls largely on deaf ears, twice. “Is he okay?” asks a passing Villanueva, and she admits that she’s not sure. We see in segments of flashbacks that Ty has been in the position he’s about to put Quinn’s mother in. He tries to explain what happened, but she’s not really interested in hearing it.
That evening, Tina arrives home to find that she’s missed dinner. much to the annoyance of her husband. He doesn’t really care why she’s late, which suggests he’s used to it. Much later, at 2 AM, Sydney is still at the hospital, trying to solve the case of the difficult patient. Villanueva thinks she needs to throttle back, and Sydney confides in him that her now ex-boyfriend said she would be a horrible mother. He tells her that won’t be the case, and orders her to go home.
The next morning, her attending thanks Sydney for making the correct diagnosis. “You have my gratitude,” he says, and even the patient herself manages some positive reinforcement. Job well done, Sydney. Likewise, Park successfully treats his patient’s tremors with a deep brain stimulation, even if he mixes his metaphors in a conversation with Hooten. They have little time to enjoy their victories, however: Sydney is paged to another M&M meeting, and it’s not hard to guess who this one is for.
Ty is still a bit of a wreck. Tina tries for a third time to lift his spirits, saying that there’s nothing he could’ve done, and Ty retorts that Quinn’s mother “was consoling me,” not the other way around, with a humorless laugh.
He’s hauled up to the front of Room 311 and begins his narrative about the case of Quinn McDaniels. Park and Hooten want to know why Ty didn’t seek a second opinion prior to deciding on surgery. “It seemed pretty straightforward,” Ty says awkwardly, which doesn’t satisfy anyone. Ty stumbles as he recounts realizing how malignant Quinn’s brain tumor really was. His voice cracks in places.
Hooten presses further, asking about the boy’s absent father. Ty is confronted with a copy of the father’s medical history, and discovers therein information about a disease that has uncontrollable bleeding as one of its primary symptoms. “The boy had a fifty-fifty chance of being an uncontrollable bleeder,” Hooten tells the assemblage. He continues that Quinn was likely to die soon, but died when he did “because of a doctor’s arrogance.” Ty is clearly gut-punched, and again rebuffs Tina’s attempts to piece him back together.
She’s kicked out of his office by Villanueva, who gives Ty tough love. “These meetings, like the one where you got your ass kicked, that’s what makes you a better doctor,” he says before adding that he needs Ty’s help on an incoming patient suffering from internal decapitation, and it’s not negotiable. “You got about thirty seconds to pull yourself together,” he says, and with that, Ty picks himself up and goes back to work. He’s not okay in the slightest, but there’s something more important in front of him: a patient that needs his – and everyone’s – help. There is always another patient.
Monday Mornings is a strong new series that is TV’s next great medical drama. The pilot episode is that rare first installment that doesn’t feel like a pilot; while exposition is given and characters are established, those things are done within interesting plotlines. Within the first act, most of the main cast is introduced and there’s already a sense of the functions they serve inside of the show; by episode’s end, their personalities have emerged as well, and there’s a sense of how these people are going to interact together. It’s all laid out on the table, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a table being set.
That’s because what stands out about this episode – and about the series as a whole – is not simply the letter of the script, but its spirit. The audience is not just sitting back and taking in that Character A is this person and this is what they do at the hospital. We’re squirming in our seats watching David Martin’s career essentially come to an end in front of our eyes. We’re as shocked as Ty is when what seems like a routine surgery ends up killing the patient. And it’s not just the negative things that make an impact, either. We’re also touched by Hooten’s compassion. We can grasp Sydney’s being psuedo-married to the hospital. We don’t have to fully know medicine or be completely acquainted with these people to identify with the world they’re living in.
Unlike other medical series, this one isn’t just defined by the case of the week, and the score isn’t kept by who lives and who dies. It’s not broken down into segments in that sense. Starting from this very first installment, we know that this story is about what it takes to be a doctor on an ongoing basis – not just when it’s dramatic but when it’s 2 AM and you can’t quit, or when you’re brought crashing back down to earth. It’s the good and the bad. The teamwork and the dissention. The victories and the defeats. It’s not just what looks good on the screen. It’s everything that a medical drama should be.
It also marks another successful translation from page to screen. You don’t have to have read the novel of the same name to understand the TV show, but the TV show certainly makes a compelling case to pick up the book. For anyone interested in the novel on which Monday Mornings is based, you can order your copy here and also check out a wonderful reading guide courtesy of the folks at Jamie Bamber News (warning: spoilers).
For more on Monday Mornings, check out BFTV’s visit to the set and my interviews with series stars Jamie Bamber and Keong Sim. Monday Mornings continues next Monday at 10 PM ET/PT.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my official website and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.