Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pilot Review: Do No Harm

Do No Harm (Thursdays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres January 31)

The similarities between NBC's new drama Do No Harm and last season's Awake are abundant. Both have featured promo photos with the lead actors' faces split down the middle; both aired in the same timeslot; both feature split personalities; both are/were in some way a procedural; and both had or have plots better suited to a shorter format like film.

Do No Harm plops us right down in the middle of a crisis when Dr. Jason Cole (Steven Pasquale, Rescue Me) wakes up at 8:25am. We quickly learn that he has been drugging himself every night for the past two years to suppress his alter ego, the deranged Ian Price, with the help of a pharmaceutical tech (Lin Manuel Miranda, House). Price is the epitome of evil, having at some point in the past ruined Cole's personal life and nearly ruined his career as a surgeon. But Cole discovers that Price has built up a resistance to the drug, and he will now take over Cole's body everyday for twelve hours, beginning at 8:25pm, and there's nothing Cole can do to stop or control him.

The plot is a modernization of the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and it hits upon most of the important points of that story early on. Cole is obviously Jekyll, and Price is Hyde; there's the aspect of medical experimentation; there are two women, one mirroring Lucy (Alan de la Garza as Dr. Solis) and one mirroring Emma (Ruta Gedmintas as Olivia). The pilot of Do No Harm closely adheres to Robert Louis Stevenson's original story, just bringing into more modern times with Cole being a surgeon and the drug deactivating Price (whereas in the story it makes Hyde manifest himself). There isn't much more to say about that; if you're a fan of the story, you'll likely be amused by the many nods to it thrown in by creator David Schulner (The Event). But otherwise it's a fairly standard retread of a well-known story. And where it does stray from the source material is in the medical procedural moments, and those are by far the weakest. The case-of-the-week here is a man who undergoes brain surgery and then can't recognize faces. That alone isn't all that interesting, and the way it is tied into Dr. Cole's story (the man can't recognize anyone anymore, but Cole can't even recognize himself anymore now that Price has resurfaced) is really cheesy. Director Michael Mayer (Smash) gives the script some visual interest and moves everything along at a speedy clip, forcing the plot along so quickly that there's barely room to think (a blessing considering the show's familiarity).

The cast is fine. Pasquale is a decent leading man, if not the commanding presence a dual role like Cole/Price requires. I wouldn't go so far as to call him "dull," but he's not all that exciting either. The supporting ensemble was full of fresh faces, mostly New York stage actors (Mayer is a Tony-winning Broadway director, so no real surprise there), and they're all getting the job done without setting the screen on fire. Phylicia Rashad is the biggest name here, and she's hardly in the episode at all; I imagine she'll play a larger role in the future if she is supposed to be the equivalent of the original story's character I think she is (Utterson). Michael Esper is the only weak link as Dr. Cole's work nemesis, playing his character like a combination of Snidely Whiplash and Regina George.

But the biggest question I have for the show is, where do you go from here? How do you stretch this story into a full-fledged series? Stevenson's story isn't even full-length; it's a novella. This isn't a story that needs 12 hours or more to be told, so what's next? Do we have to see Cole's internal struggle in every subsequent episode against the possibility that Price will go apeshit? Are we going to get 11 more ways for Cole to outsmart his alter ego once he does appear? Price is the more interesting character, so I want to see him emerge more often. How Cole deals with the consequences of Price's emergence would be more interesting than Cole just knocking himself unconscious for twelve hours everyday. If that's the story Do No Harm will tell going forward, then they should be in good shape to improve upon the pilot... even if the producers will have to stuff a bunch of filler into the next 11 episodes to arrive at a conclusion.

All in all, Do No Harm is totally fine, even good at times, but it suffers from a big case of the "mehs." How's the story? Meh. How's the acting? Meh. How's the script? Meh. Did we really need another updating of Jekyll & Hyde? Meh. Nothing about it makes you stop and say "wow" because it's so great, or "ew" because it's so bad. Do No Harm is totally middle of the road entertainment.

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