Next week, TNT unveils Monday Mornings, hoping that it will be another winner on the network's roster of original series. They don't need to worry: medical dramas haven't been this good since ER and Chicago Hope.
The latter comparison is particularly apt, as Monday Mornings is executive produced by David E. Kelley, who also created Chicago Hope, and Bill D'Elia, who worked closely with Kelley on that series, serves as this one's showrunner. Working from the novel of the same name by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the result is something that mixes Kelley's knack for creating compelling drama with Gupta's insider knowledge, delving into places no other medical drama has treaded before.
What makes Monday Mornings stand out in the oft-played medical genre boils down to three things in particular. Firstly, the show has centered itself around something audiences haven't seen on a regular basis before: morbidity and mortality, or M&M, meetings which take place every Monday morning at the fictional Chelsea General Hospital. These consist of, in essence, doctors being made to stand in front of their peers and explain their decisions, then figuring out what went right, wrong or could've been improved. These meetings give the show their title, and they're a consistent aspect of the show, not a one-off device - which in turn lends a certain sense of accountability to the series. When these doctors screw up (and they do), audiences know that there will be significant consequences, not just a sad scene here or a handwringing there.
The choice to make the M&M meetings a core part of the series also sets the course for everything else around them, and it's a perfect one given the pedigree of the behind the scenes players. As he did with Chicago Hope, Kelley places the emphasis on the medicine, and not the doctors' personal lives. While those do come into play, this is a series that doesn't dwell on who's sleeping with who. Instead, when it digs into who these people are, it's to show us the emotional and mental wear and tear of being a medical professional day in and day out. It does a wonderful job of placing the audience in the heads of the characters, and creating empathy. When they're operating, you really will feel their nerves - as well as their determination to get it right.
The final thing that should make Monday Mornings must-see TV on Monday evenings is its impressive ensemble cast. The series is anchored by Jamie Bamber, nearly flawless in his work on Law & Order: UK, and bringing the same charisma and attention to detail to the character of neurosurgeon Tyler Wilson. He's matched well by Jennifer Finnegan as Dr. Tina Ridgeway, the heart to Wilson's brains.
They're backed up by a trio of veterans with screen presence: Ving Rhames, Bill Irwin and Alfred Molina, the latter of whom oversees all as the amusingly named Dr. Harding Hooten. Molina does a wonderful job showing us a Hooten who is compassionate toward a widow in one scene - and intimidating to his doctors in an M&M meeting the next. That's what his position calls for, and Molina conveys that duality perfectly.
Rounding out the ensemble are Sarayu Rao, Keong Sim and Emily Swallow as Drs. Sydney Napur, Sung Park and Michelle Robinaux respectively - in particular, keep your eye on the character of Park, who provides the show's best moments of levity. From the beginning, audiences get to know not only each character's approach to medicine, but also what motivates them to practice, and while you might not immediately like them all, they all contribute to the show in some measure.
TNT's marketing slogan is "We Know Drama," and Monday Mornings certainly will provide entertaining drama for fans of medical shows. For those who like to dig deeper, however, what it also brings to the genre is a certain amount of truth. While the stories it tells are fictional, the world of the series is at times almost shockingly real, from the detail of its operating rooms to the concept of M&M meetings. Those things aren't made up. Watching these doctors being placed under their own microscope, and becoming invested in what it takes them to do their job every episode, will make you look at your own medical professionals with just a bit more compassion. Who knows - maybe the next time you see them, it'll be right after they've just gone through an M&M meeting.
Monday Mornings premieres on Monday, Feb. 4 at 10 PM ET/PT on TNT. Stay tuned to Examiner all this week for BFTV's in-depth coverage of the new series, including a behind-the-scenes look and interviews with the cast.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.