Is it possible to be able to hold down a job and still maintain your sanity in the process? That's part of the premise behind ABC's new drama "Black Box," which followed one woman's struggle to have a normal life and still keep her mental health in check. The show had the potential to explore mental illness in a different way, except that the premiere's borderline whimsical approach made it impossible to follow, and hard to root for anyone, at times.
"Black Box" followed Dr. Catherine Black (Kelly Reilly) who was a gifted neurologist at the top of her career as she appeared to have a greater understanding of the human brain than most doctors in her profession. She managed to help solve some of the rarest cases that were once deemed unsolvable. While she managed to excel at her job, Catherine has also managed to hold onto a life altering secret that could undo everything if it was ever found out. She was bipolar, which she inherited from her late mother. She was usually able to control it when she was on her medication, but she was often wildly out of control when she was off her pills in ways that threatened everything she loved. Her latest mistake involved sleeping with her colleague Ian Bickman (Ditch Davey), which could come back to haunt her. The only ones who knew the truth about Catherine were her family and her therapist Helen Hartramph (Vanessa Redgrave) who tried to provide her with a sense of stability. Catherine's past also provided some valuable insight as to why she behaved the way she did. Her brother Joshua (David Chisum) and his wife Reagan (Laura Fraser) were raising Catherine's daughter as their own. While the Blacks tried to maintain a united front for Esme (Siobhan Williams) without telling her the truth just yet. Watching her mother struggle with the illness, Catherine vowed to never get married or have kids of her own. Sadly, Catherine's wishes don't seem to bode well with her relationship with aspiring chef Will Van Renseller (David Ajala) who was eager to marry her and start a family as well. He was also blissfully unaware of Catherine's illness, until she revealed the truth in the most extreme way possible in an effort to scare him off that failed miserably. Will Catherine be able to maintain her health and her daily life without everything imploding on her?
In terms of questions, the show's biggest one involved whether the series had the ability to last past this season, which seemed to be unclear based on a rather lackluster premiere. The episode seemed to bounce around between solving Catherine's cases and dealing with extreme behavior. The show should've initially focused on Catherine's illness and daily life before diving into her regular cases as a way for viewers to become invested in the character rather than throwing random plots at them. It also didn't help that the premiere seemed to be glorifying Catherine's repeatedly reckless choices that involved her not taking her medication more than once in that episode alone. Sure, the show appeared to be turning Reilly's Catherine into the ultimate anti-heroine, but it was hard to root for her character in the end. The series might have been better introducing Catherine early on through an objective third party, such as her therapist, to help ground the story and as someone to call the character on her poor judgment as often as possible. Future episodes should also focus on giving the supporting players more to do than being mere background fodder for Catherine's questionable behavior. The show could potentially examine the family dynamic between Joshua's family and how they're affected by Catherine's illness to give viewers a different perspective. Let's hope that the show decides to slightly change course for the better in order to make it to a second season.
As for breakout performances, Reilly and Redgrave led the pack as their very different characters struggled to come to some type of understanding. Reilly's Catherine was a wild card who basically a mixture of different impulses that seemed to change with each passing moment. She made her character nurturing at times when she was helping a patient struggle with what appeared to be mental illness when in truth it was a brain tumor. There were also moments when Catherine was brutal as she physically pushed her relationship with Will to the brink as she explored the darker side of their sexual relationship. Reilly made the best out of Catherine's wildly unbalanced behavior, but she would be better suited if the show decided to find the right balance between her character's illness and her character for the long run. Ultimately, the show's main draw was Redgrave's Helen who managed to provide the show's moral center as she confronted all of Catherine's wild decisions and the consequences surrounding them. Hopefully, viewers will get a chance to get to know the character as the season progressed, or at the least her own storyline when the time was right.
"Black Box" premiered on April 24th and airs Thursdays at 10:00 PM on ABC.
Verdict: Reilly and Redgrave proved to have a dynamic rapport, but the show's almost romantic tone of mental illness could prove to be its undoing in the end.
TV Score: 2 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)