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February 4, 2013

Knives, sharp words slash on new doctor dramas

If hospitals already scare you, you might want to avoid both of the new doctor dramas, 'Do No Harm,' on NBC and 'Monday Mornings,' on TNT. Critic's orders.

If hospitals already scare you, you might want to avoid both of the new doctor dramas, “Do No Harm,” on NBC (Thursday), and “Monday Mornings,” on TNT (Monday). Critic’s orders.

The danger in “Do No Harm,” a modern Jekyll-and-Hyde story that tries to mix traditional medical drama with a borderline absurd mystery-adventure, is more cartoonish but also more viscerally frightening: If you have your operation after 8:25 p.m., it may be performed by a sociopath with a violent streak and no surgical experience.

Neither show looks like more than winter schedule filler, but through the early episodes, “Monday Mornings” is the less bearable of the two.

Based on a novel by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and featuring a large cast of surgeons in a hospital in Portland, Ore., it’s a typical David E. Kelley creation in all the wrong ways: ensemble drama as a steel-cage match of emoting and moralizing, with lectures and grand gestures given precedence over coherent storytelling. His usual saving graces, sharp characterization and unforced humor, aren’t in evidence through three episodes.

The show’s title is taken from the hospital’s Monday morning review meetings, where the surgeons gather to be dressed down by the chief of staff, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina). These sessions are notable for their brutality: Hooten conducts oral vivisections, calling out the doctors for their arrogance, insensitivity and incompetence. And this harshly lighted theater of cruelty is the dramatic heart of “Monday Mornings.”

The show is all about piling on emotion and pushing every scene to an edge of contentiousness or sentiment.

In contrast, “Do No Harm” is a resolutely lightweight entertainment whose silliness isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. If you turn off the right parts of your brain, you might enjoy it.

Steven Pasquale of “Rescue Me” plays the two-in-one role of Jason Cole, brilliant neurosurgeon by day, and Ian Price, reckless and violent coke-sniffing party boy by night. Jason has kept Ian in check for five years by knocking himself out every night with experimental sedatives, but as the show begins, Ian has developed an immunity to the drugs.This situation raises some questions – Jason never has to take a call after 8:25 p.m.? But there’s a bit of ingenuity in how David Schulner, the show’s creator, plays with the logistics of the Jason-Ian relationship, and occasionally some genuine humor in their battles.

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