August 20th, 2009
There’s really two trajectories for USA Network series as they approach the end of their first seasons.
The first is that they find a second gear, discovering another level of their structure where they are able to tell bigger and better stories. Burn Notice, of course, is the quintessential example of this, finding in its season one cliffhanger and then into its second season an entirely new identity that made the best possible use of its characters and setting to deliver some great television.
However, nearly every other USA Network series finds cruise control, that place where they are able to drift along at roughly the same, amiable pace as they began. This doesn’t mean that the shows are boring: I’d place Psych into this category, and I’d argue the show is still pretty fresh despite my refusal to keep watching it (time commitments, is all!). Rather, it means that their sense of identity becomes grounded and simplified in the face of potential expansion, finding a comfortable rhythm with which to become familiar and consistent with viewers.
With its final set of episodes heading into the finale, especially the primary focus of “Nobody’s Perfect,” I think Royal Pains is officially settling into the second category, and I think it’s really the only option. This isn’t a show like Burn Notice that feels like its universe could really expand: the laid back style of the Hampton’s has created a cast of characters who by necessity are not going to present broader threats, and the serialized elements like Hank’s previous firing are handled here almost entirely off-screen and brushed aside (mostly) by the end of the episode.
This is just a simple summer show, and one that has found its stride enough for me to say that it moving into cruise control about now will be enough to keep me watching, if not analyzing week after week.
I want to discuss the B-Plot here, because I like the idea of creating situations where emergency medical care is required, and where MacGyver-esque techniques are required. It’s a good way to be able to keep things relatively fresh…so long as they don’t over do it. I thought they were verging on that here, with the fish hooks and everything else, and I would have liked a “moral of the story” a bit less clunky than Evan discovering there’s more to life than money. The show continues to bring Divya and Evan together in something approaching a relationship, with their kiss last week in “Am I Blue?” and now Divya seeing a different side of him here, but I think forcing Evan into medical situations (where he wouldn’t really be anything close to necessary except as a spokesperson, and who in their right minds would let him do that if you’ve already sold the gig?) is something that the show should be wary of until they give him some kind of medical training.
That said, having Hank video-conference in did help to tie the two storylines together, which is something the show should aspire to. Hank being off in New York meant that he couldn’t be as hands on as he was in the past, which put a bit more pressure on Divya and I think ultimately helped the tension in the episode. I am still waiting for them to kill a patient, but I have a feeling that it will be a while before we get that level of emotional impact.
Speaking of Hank’s story, I think that his trip to New York to deal with Boris was one of those situations where you could see the show spinning away from anything remotely serial. When we end the episode, Hank is back sitting on a couch watching TV, and Boris’ condition has become a long-term diagnostic process rather than an immediate situation. The show choreographed both Boris’ illness and his use of the shark embryos so far ahead of time that the episode wasn’t going to surprise us with its plot, so it was about how it affected these characters. In the end, Boris uses his influences to protect Hank’s medical license while not quite providing closure on the various lawsuits pending (which remain due to Hank’s refusal to take responsibility for saving another person’s life), so all the episode did was brush things aside so that things can remain as normal while still moving to the next stage where Hank is actively involved with Boris’ genetic flaw that has him near death.
I’m fine with having this be pushed to the back burner, as I don’t quite know how the show would handle it, but I’m a bit disappointed to see that the Hank/Jill question seems like it will replace it heading into next week’s finale. I realize that Charlie’s arrival has necessitated some sort of discussion on the subject, but I just don’t care enough about them as a couple for me to feel he is threatening some part of the show that it can’t go without. I’d be happy with Jill sailing off into the sunset and bringing in a new hospital administrator who offers a more interesting dynamic. From the previews for the finale, the show is smartly returning to Divya’s family drama as well as Evan and Hank’s relationship, but the romance side of things seems so unnecessary to the show’s core that I can’t help but remain skeptical.
However, I think things are set in stone right now: it’s a hit show, which has had some moments of greatness (the island episode remains a highlight), and I don’t think it’s going to shake things up anytime soon. For now, that’s probably fine, but there’s every chance that like with Monk and Psych I’ll give up a few seasons in and look for something willing to shift into another gear.
- The boat sequences were just a bit too weakly drawn for me to really get pulled into them: Evan was being too short-sighted, Divya was being too ridiculous (the littering bugged me), and the pilot and the mistress were such cheap stereotypes that it never felt like we could really relate to them as characters. It also didn’t make a lot of sense to only have one person on that enormous boat even considering the security measures, and it really just seemed like an artificially condensed story for the sake of simplicity if not entertainment.
- I really liked Jill Flint during her short stint on Nurse Jackie, so the question remains: why is Jill as a character so boring? It seems like there’s something there which could work so long as the writers give her something to work with – consider it my wish for Season Two.
- Groan moment: the use of a song with shark-related lyrics as Boris pulls a Jason Street and injects the shark embryos.