A Gifted Man (Fridays at 8:00 on CBS)
Even though its timeslot screams "trainwreck," A Gifted Man is far and away CBS's best pilot of the season. At its center is Dr. Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson), a brilliant but selfish neurosurgeon with one of the most successful and in-demand practices in New York City. His clientele ranges from world-class athletes to well-known tabloid celebrities, as well as Manhattan's priveleged elite. One night as he's picking up dinner for himself, he randomly encounters his estranged ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle), the love of his life whom he left many years ago to open his practice in the city. Michael is curious about how long Anna has been in New York without his knowing, so he does some research only to discover Anna died two weeks earlier in a car accident. Michael begins testing himself for medical issues but can find nothing wrong. So his sister (Julie Benz) sets him up with a shaman (Pablo Schreiber), to understand why Anna's spirit is clinging to Michael.
There's so much to like in A Gifted Man. It's an emotional hour of television, and it unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve. When we first meet Michael, he acts like a total prick (Upon being reminded by his secretary that it's her birthday so she'll be leaving early, it never crosses his mind to say the words "happy birthday;" instead he criticizes the restaurant she's eating at that evening.) and doesn't seem to care. Anna's appearance begins his softening, though by episode's end he is still (realistically) not completely changed. But he's on the right path. The moments in this episode in which Michael is vulnerable are the best. His reaction to seeing Anna again after he has discovered she's dead is beautiful and sad; Michael's interaction with his nephew is tender and patronly; and the episode's final confrontation between Michael and Anna is heartbreaking.
In case that breakdown of the episode's most emotional moments didn't give you the idea, Patrick Wilson owns this show as Michael. Even behaving badly, his Michael is immediately likeable. So with the growth of his character comes the ability to not just like Michael, but to love him. His performance is grounded but deep. Jennifer Ehle is striking as Anna. Margo Martindale and Julie Benz are giving decent performances as the secretary and sister, respectively, so far but hopefully their roles will improve over time. Jonathan Demme's direction is stunning. The many close-ups, the slight shakiness every so often, and the muted colors give the show a very intimate feeling. He also wonderfully films Michael and Anna's encounters in a way so that they are never looking in the same plane, as if they're both present and not at the same time. He steers around Susannah Grant's elegant script ably.
So far A Gifted Man doesn't immediately come across as like any of the other medical dramas on TV. The premiere didn't have a traditional case-of-the-week, and Anna's spirit isn't treated strictly as a moral compass as one might expect either. A Gifted Man seems content to ride the line between genres. I'm not sure exactly what the series will become, with its many open plotlines both predictable and not. Hopefully it will keep up some sense of mystery while still retaining the emotion, but without devolving into a typical medical drama.