Friday, June 24, 2011

Pilot Review: Combat Hospital

Combat Hospital (Tuesdays at 10:00 on ABC)

ABC is once again trying to compete during the typically-dead summer season with another original scripted series. Last summer their vampire-werewolf-demon drama The Gates failed to find an audience, though cop drama Rookie Blue was a moderate success. Part of the reason Rookie Blue was renewed for a second season (which also began this week) is because though its ratings weren't particularly high (though they were the highest for a scripted series all summer on the broadcast networks) ABC acquired it for a mere fraction of what a regular-season series costs; guess estimates have put it at about $350,000 per episode whereas a regular season show (including The Gates last season) averages upwards of $1,000,000 per episode. So when ABC was offered Combat Hospital at a price similar to Rookie Blue, it was no surprise to see them snatch it up and try for another summer sucess story.

Unfortunately, this show is nowhere near as interesting as Rookie Blue. It's Shonda Rimes light, Grey's Anatomy on sedatives. The story is impossibly easy to follow because none of the characters have any personalities, just defining physical traits (Bobby is Asian, Simon is British, Rebecca is a brunette, Ada is a blonde, etc.). The show follows a group of doctors and nurses at a war zone hospital in Afghanistan in 2006. And that's honestly the entire plot. There are no real personal dramas, no pre-established or even hinted at relationships or true friendships between the doctors, no real emotion or interest in the war victims. It's a sluggish hour because there's nothing keeping you from changing the channel at any moment. I don't know any of these people; who are they and why are they there? How did they end up at this point?

The performances are universally one-note, most likely due to the stagnant writing. The only recognizable face is Elias Koteas (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Thin Red Line) and he's just too good for the material. He plays a colonel/doctor who is obviously going to be the mentor figure for the newly arrived doctors, and it's just boring. Luke Mably (The Gates) plays the only entertaining character, a pretentious (and horny) Brit who collects Oriental rugs; but he's wasted in his few scenes of the pilot. The direction is awful, or at least that's who I'm going to blame for my biggest gripe with the show: the noise. Completely on purpose, there are several instances in this first episode when helicoptors and jets fly overhead so loud that the actors start screaming their lines... but (I suppose) in order to portray realism, the lines shouted over the noise are completely lost. Then there's an air-attack siren that goes off for about seven minutes, so every line of dialogue is underscored by an annoying shrieking of an alarm. All for the sake of "realism."

But you want "realism?" Let's talk about why this concept has never been done before on broadcast television. The language and actions of soldiers are something that can truly only be replicated on cable, and I mean like HBO cable. I can almost 100% guarantee that you'll never hear a soldier say, "Tell him to eat crap and die." Nor will you hear their expletive of choice be, "Shoot." Let's be real, these soldiers are going to use four-letter words that aren't appropriate for ABC.

Overall this is a silly series. It doesn't provide any impetus for anyone to continue watching beyond the fact that it will fill a void left by the summer hiatus of Grey's Anatomy. But for me, there's no reason to keep watching. It's boring and uninspired.

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