June 18th, 2009
Ah, the ol’ second episode switcheroo. It happens more than you’d expect, really, for some pretty obvious reasons: when a show is in its infancy and needs to make sure that it keeps viewers’ attention, that second episode is extremely important. “There Will Be Food” wasn’t necessarily a far better representation of what the show will do, but the continuity of Tucker, who is without question the show’s most likeable Hamptonite, was the smart decision in terms of convincing us that the rich won’t be too heavily dehumanized or even necessarily fall into the same one and done patient formula of other procedural medicine shows.
“Strategic Planning” is pretty much what I expected the show to be, and in some ways what I was hoping it wouldn’t become, but in the end it’s all pretty inoffensive. By recreating the environment in which an episode of House is capable of taking place, and by essentially playing out an episode of House in that environment, the show isn’t doing itself any favours in the originality department. Combine with a lifeless Evan storyline, and some issues of continuity on the Jill/Hank front, and the hold on airing the episode makes a lot of sense. That being said, though, the episode also does a lot to explain how Hank’s business is working, and why Boris would be willing to rent out his guest house to a concierge doctor, which contributes enough to the show’s universe to forgive this well-acted, well-intentioned but ultimately well-treaded territory.
After raiding the set of Gossip Girl for both the Senator’s wife (Margaret Colin) and her daughter Melody (Dreama Walker), the episode creates a legitimate medical mystery, which is a bit of a problem. Divya’s SUV may be pretty fully stocked, but it isn’t capable of handling a neurological deficit of the nature we see in prospective quarterback Kendrick. Of course, that problem gets solved by money, as his mother has an entire medical room set up for him to use. Need an MRI? Well, the local hospital happens to have an MRI Truck, and Hank happens to have met the chief administrator of the hospital.
This is all understandable if the show wants to tell these kinds of stories: deer ticks are a legitimate medical mystery, and it’s totally reasonable that it could happen in this kind of environment. However, the more interesting conflict to me here was the lack of available equipment, and that was all but erased by the wealth of the Hampton’s – there was no test that couldn’t be done, which made it so all Hank did was…be a good doctor? None of his methods were particularly inventive, and it meant that all the show did was mine the usual well of an overprotective mother, the daughter who stands up to her oppressive attitude, etc. It’s a medical procedural cliche, and one that the show doesn’t work as well with as it does with Hank having to prove himself without the use of expensive medical equipment.
I guess, in the end, I’d rather find some light humour from the Hampton’s patients than I would a melodramatic scenario, even if both Colin and Walker gave fine performances within the structure. The pilot gave us both Tucker and this week’s returning “flat tire” (Christine Ebersole), both of whom walked that fine line between serious medical condition and light-hearted romp. Plus, once Hank was done dealing with Tucker’s initial trauma, he was transferred to a hospital, which kept Hank from turning into too much of a super doctor. That didn’t happen here, and it felt like it handcuffed the show a little.
There was some nice recurring material worked into the story, don’t get me wrong: we got confirmation of Divya doing her physician work on the sly from her parents who have different plans for her, and more importantly we got confirmation that Boris isn’t just hiring Hank for his medical needs. He’s Hank’s greatest referrer, and it’s clear that he’s searching for information from Hank in return for his hospitality. I don’t quite know if doctor/patient confidentiality is a strong enough concept to create the kind of tension and unease that it seems the show is going for, but Boris is effectively threatening in his pleasantries in those two scenes that it’s clear his ethics will come into conflict with his landlord at some point in the future, which is a bit of serialization I can appreciate.
Less appreciated is the show’s current tendency to use Evan as his own character and not part of Hank’s storyline – his escapades with women weren’t entertaining enough to justify the time spent, and the rash wasn’t quite karmic enough to feel like it had been worth spending that much of the episode on a storyline that only provides a single retainer. I like the idea of Evan handling Hank’s affairs, as it helps to leave Hank handling the cases themselves, but the current use of Evan is so far off the mark that I don’t know if they can course correct.
It appears, though, that the show has its structure pretty much down, with each episode featuring one poor person who Hank is able to help through either the help of Jill or through running into them on the street, as well as one richer client who takes up more of his time. It’s not a bad structure, but what I’m most interested in seeing is how it spends its time outside of that formula, and what will happen when (or if) the show chooses to do episodes that start to merge these two worlds, or present something a bit more unique than what we’re currently getting. It’s summer, so I’m willing to be patient and understanding of this really only being the show’s second episode, but I still think there’s unrealized potential here, especially in an episode like this one.
- I’m happy to see Christine Ebersole placed on retainer, as she’s a talented actress and her character is a fun one, but here’s hoping there’s less Evan involved in her future storylines, and that her granddaughter doesn’t recur in kind.
- The most glaring issue of continuity here was with Jill – after nearly making out, and after Jill called up Hank to treat a woman with a burn, the cold shoulder, awkward tension, and lack of understanding about Hank’s intentions really didn’t fit in this episode. Either way, that storyline remains mind-numbingly but comfortably simple, so it’s not like it’s going to interrupt a really complicated courtship or anything.
- Apparently preparing for his role next year as a nurse on NBC’s Mercy, Royal Pains is sort of a halfway house for Guillermo Diaz, going from psychopathic (and awesome) drug runner Guillermo on Weeds to the dog walker here. This also reminds me of how much Mercy is going to resemble Nurse Jackie, since Diaz is a slightly larger version of the male nurse on the Showtime series.