Royal Pains – “There Will Be Food”

RoyalPainsTitle2

“There Will Be Food”

June 11th, 2009

Ah, the ol’ sophomore check-in. Entering its second week, I still wasn’t entirely on board with Royal Pains, as its pilot was clumsily competent in a way that seemed as if it would set up an interesting show but didn’t yet give an indication (outside of our ability to extrapolate from its setup) of how that show might operate.

It’s really a question of pacing more than anything else, along with how it will handle its recurring elements intermingled with new “cases.” The tension from Hank’s life is pretty much gone at this point; he has a place to live and a job to do, and that lack of stress allows him to sort of float along both noble and romantic paths in “There Will Be Food,” an episode certainly devoid of any blood or any serious ailments. This isn’t surprising, as this is a procedural series without murders or anything of that nature, but there will be a point when the “Robin Hood” of the Hampton’s is going to have to face something legitimately threatening.

Overall, though, it was a solid second outing. I have some concerns over the use of romance, but considering how much I prefer it to some of the show’s other options I’m ultimately content, if not wholly satisfied, with the show’s direction.

If I had to choose a single favourite element of Royal Pains right now, it would be Hemophiliac Tucker and his hyper-educated girlfriend, two people who played an important role in the pilot and who remain “friends” of the show’s actual lead character. I like them because they don’t feel like they’re regular procedural characters, and their relationship with the good doctor and his associates feel like legitimate ones that are capable of evolving and growing. They represent many of the things we are supposed to dislike about the Hamptons (the luxury, the nonchalant attitude towards spending money), but because we’ve gotten to know them through the context of a medical emergency and because we emphasize with Tucker’s inability to win his father’s attention it seems like they have emerged from the stereotypes to represent something legitimately hopeful about this area.

I’m not suggesting that the show is not clear that it isn’t condemning the rest of the Hampton’s, but there’s a lot of mixed messaging on that subject: Jill may have been drunk, but her rants about the rich are always going to be present on the show, and while we didn’t get any obnoxiously rich (and obnoxious) clients this week chances are there will be some in later episodes. But rather than feeling like an after school special message about the humanity of the rich and famous, Tucker and his girlfriend seem like something bigger than that, and I’m glad the show isn’t using the shorthand of standlone stories (always exaggerated) in order to cheat this message. Sure, Hank overstepped any logical boundary calling out a father about abandoning his son, but the “we can still be friends” moment at episode’s end (especially the Top Gun banter, and Tucker playing dumb on the subject) felt like a really nice addition to the weekly cases.

Somewhat less effective were the various romantic entanglements between Hank and Jill. It isn’t an issue of chemistry, I don’t think, but rather one of oversaturation. I understand Jill getting Hank to handle the realtor’s medical concerns, as it was a legitimate emergency that she couldn’t fix herself thanks to her lack of insurance. And I can even understand that leading to Hank overstepping his bounds in terms of her other clients from the (now derailed) free clinic, and having to piece together a more workable relationship between them. However, the entire segment of her drunken tirades, and their near kiss at sunset at episode’s end, just felt like too much too fast. I’m fine with her getting a chance to air her frustrations, but I wish she could have done it with a character other than Hank so that it wouldn’t all feel so caught up in their romantic entanglement for it to actually make an impact on any of the other show’s characters or messages.

Romance worked better, as oddly as it seems when I think about it, for Evan’s interactions with this week’s case of the week, a ballerina who goes into shock when she eats bread (that gluten is deadly, y’all). I don’t think I entirely buy Evan as a romantic lead, but it made sense as a reason for her to be around all the time since her condition (as difficult to pin down as it was thanks to her use of both medications and her lack of eating) required constant supervision by the audience. I enjoyed how it was actually choreographed early on (note how her first bite of the hot dog without the bun is fine, but the second sends her into shock), and overall the storyline felt like it came together pretty well. No, I don’t buy that Evan could ever successfully woo her, and she was pretty personality-less, but their relationship gave the story an excuse to work, plus the ending (with her buying his Machu Picchu line and it actually offering the character a rather fitting journey) seemed like it fit everything together well.

More importantly, the show didn’t let Evan turn into too much of a ridiculous sidekick – yes, the ballerina routine while preparing dinner was a bit much, especially since it was light out when it happened and they ate while it was dark (wouldn’t the food be a bit, shall we say, cold?), but it didn’t overwhelm the episode, and an unbelievable but inoffensive romantic storyline is the superior option. Overall, the show has found what works for it, even if it hasn’t quite figured how to piece them together: Hank helping the fisherman with Hepatitis C is a good addition to his duties (hunting out the poor while being hunted by the rich, if you will), but it seemed like all of the moralistic discussions of it could have unwinded at a better pace.

For now, though, I’m still on board: I enjoyed watching it, and really most of my complaints are about the pace more than the actual content within the episode. If they slow things down a little, this show definitely has some legs on it.

Cultural Observations

  • All USA Network shows end up feeling the same (the little post-episode codas are going to tie them together whether they should be similar or not), but this one is leaning so heavily towards Burn Notice it is almost scary: the premise was similar enough, but even the opening monologue is creepily similar.
  • Divya was a bit marginalized in this one, pretty much playing the role of assistant – I’m curious if this is a normal thing, or if there will be more time spent on her dynamic with the brothers. It seemed like they were moving in that direction, but perhaps with Evan romancing the client it made sense to wait a bit.
  • Consider it a life goal to cathartically crash a model airplane – it looked damn satisfying.
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