The Mob Doctor Is Silly but Promising

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 17 2012 5:10 PM

Don’t Kill The Mob Doctor Yet

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Jordana Spiro in The Mob Doctor

Nathaniel Bell/FOX

The Mob Doctor, which premieres on Fox tonight, has received none of the respect that Mafia dons are known to demand. Fresh Air’s TV critic David Bianculli snarked, “In terms of TV longevity, this should be a flash Mob.” The one-word Twitter review from the Daily Beast’s Jace Lacob: “don’t.”

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Perhaps because my tolerance for—heck, my love of—procedurals is far higher than that of most TV critics, my response was less harsh. If you aren’t already addicted to procedurals, The Mob Doctor isn’t the place to start, of course; the gateway drug of choice is currently The Good Wife. But it isn’t without its charms.

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Granted, the pilot is as overstuffed as a Huffington Post SEO tag list: It packs medical mysteries, Mafia power plays, workplace rivalries, family drama, class consciousness, car chases, and romance into the first 44 minutes. The medical themes are preposterous. (Immaculate conception is like throwing fire in rock, paper, scissors—you can only do it once in a lifetime, so it’s best to hold it for a special occasion.) The hospital politics are ludicrous. (A surgical resident humiliates her supervisor in front of the chief of surgery, and the big boss sides with the resident.) And the dialogue is sometimes absurdly tin-eared. (Actual quote: “Like the 19th-century philosopher Lord Acton said …”).

The upside? Procedural pilots always try to do too much—they need to distinguish themselves from the other cop, lawyer, and doctor shows right out of the gate—but when it comes to sustaining the concepts and characters for a 22-episode series, too much is better than too little. At the beginning of last season, I complained that new shows Unforgettable and Person of Interest relied on gimmicks to grab viewers’ attention. As the year spooled out, Unforgettable simply repeated the “character with an infallible memory” trick and went nowhere. Meanwhile, Person of Interest expanded its universe beyond the “machine and a couple of mysterious dudes” stunt and turned into a compelling series.

There’s no guarantee that The Mob Doctor will prune its plot lines prudently, of course. But a couple of elements make me hopeful. The first is the cast. The eponymous Mafia medic is played by Jordana Spiro, who single-handedly made My Boys, another Chicago-set show about a plucky young woman in a man’s world, worth watching. Also hovering around the hospital are Friday Night Lights’ Zach Gilford and the man beloved by procedural casting agents and crossword compilers alike, Zeljko Ivanek.

The second big plus is the show’s creator, Josh Berman. Berman worked on Bones, another show about an extraordinary female professional navigating two very different worlds (in Temperance Brennan’s case, forensic science and law enforcement). He also created Lifetime’s irresistibly goofy Drop Dead Diva, about an extraordinary female professional with a secret (lawyer Jane Bingum’s zaftig body contains the soul of an aspiring model). And now he’s built a show around an extraordinary female professional balancing competing loyalties. Of course, just because he succeeded with a brilliant, socially autistic scientist and a brilliant, socially savvy lawyer doesn’t mean Berman will find the right tone for a brilliant, morally compromised doctor. But that track record is enough for me to give The Mob Doctor a few more chances.