After nearly twenty years of watching TV, I thought that I had come to expect certain things from David E. Kelley. Entertaining dramas set in law firms in low budget places, characters with ridiculous names and various eccentricities, and summations with political ramifications occurring instead of a climax. Which is one of the reasons I am so surprised by Kelley’s latest venture, Monday Mornings on TNT. About the only thing that it has in common with his network ventures is that it is set in Boston, where Kelley lives. Beyond that, there is almost nothing that reminds of anything we’ve seen from him in the past decade.
The show is set in a hospital called Chelsea, and deals with surgeons and doctors at work — not having sex in offices, which is refreshing. The title refers to the meetings where the hospital staff gathers to engage in M and M— mortality and morbidity conferences, which are led by Alfred Molina (only slightly paternal here) to find whatever fault there is in deaths that occurred during the previous weeks. We’re still in the introductory phase of characters (another relative new occurrence; most Kelley shows favor behavior in place of character development). So far we’ve met a neurosurgeon played by Jamie Bamber, haunted by his faults as a surgeon, and the death of his father in a hospital just like this one. We’ve met a couple of residents who are trying to eke out a social life while dealing with the pressures of their schedules. We’ve met an Japanese American surgeon, who seems to have little command of English, and what he does is very blunt, and Ving Rhames as Dr. Villanueva, who seems menacing but also the smartest doctor on staff.
We’re still only four weeks in, yet there have been no signs of polemics, no bizarre quirks (in Kelley’s only other hospital drama, one of the leads frequently broke into songs) and no signs of any lawyers (though the fact that one of the characters is now being sued for wrongful death, could be a bad sign). What this seems to be is an engaging, traditional, and (dare I say it) entertaining drama. There’s still a lot of talking, but the doctors seem concerned with medicine, not sex or current events. That may be the reason it’s ratings have not exactly been stratospheric. Let’s hope TNT shows patience with this drama, which may be there best original program since Men of A Certain Age. And please, no dancing babies in the neonatal ward.