‘Mondays’ Dull No Longer

Courtesy of TNT

Courtesy of TNT

“Monday Mornings” is no “Boston Legal,” but Chelsea General is conspicuously located in the same universe that houses the law offices of Crane, Poole, & Schmidt. In fact, one wonders just how many episodes into the first season it’ll take before a “Boston” attorney appears in Portland to attack a “Monday” surgeon on criminal malpractice charges. For die-hard “Boston” aficionados, here’s hoping they send trial lawyer extraordinaire Alan Shore (James Spader). David E. Kelley’s latest drama-cum-satire doesn’t abandon the legal trappings easily; the eponymous title refers to the weekly Morbidity and Mortality tribunal held in the forbidding Room 311 of Chelsea General Hospital (the use of Room 311 is so spooky that literature buffs may be tempted to infer a chilling “1984” Room 101 reference).

Within 311, a sometimes-bald Alfred Molina does a superb bit of acting as Chelsea General’s ridiculously British Chief of Staff Dr. Harding Hooten. While his outlandish name may elicit a quiet chuckle during the premiere, the banal Hooten transforms into a vicious Grand Inquisitor during routine cross-examinations of surgeons whose patients suffer morbidity or mortality within the hospital. The ensemble cast includes Jamie Bamber, an equally British actor doing his best to sound genuinely American as star neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Wilson.

Rounding out the cast is the inimitable Ving Rhames (Dr. Jorge Villanueva), whose casting is brilliantly against racial type. Villanueva’s soft-spoken grace and Gregory House-caliber deductive and inductive processes are not only fascinating, they are entirely believable.

There is no forgetting this is a David E. Kelley production, since an ironic mixture of career-chasing heartlessness and laissez-faire interpersonal ethics seems to permeate his women. At the time of the third episode, “Who’s Sorry Now?” any latent misogyny hasn’t been relieved by a Shirley Schmidt-type (Candice Bergen) character; in short, the series lacks a strong feminine touch.

To be fair, the male characters tend to be equally vacuous —  rather than projecting a deep level of understanding into every character as per “House,” “Monday” is unapologetically true to the real-world experience of working in a hospital, in which callousness and vapid gossip proliferate with nearly as much virulence as antibiotic-resistant pathogens. There is an unyielding irony that the most realistic aspects of “Monday” are precisely those that a layperson would find the least believable. Chances are, these are some of the most genuine representations of medical professionals in narrative fiction (fittingly, the series is based on real-life neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s experiences); nonetheless, it’s easy at times to wish they were caricatures.

“Monday” has its share of David E. Kelley quirk: While a significantly less funny show, “Monday” has its own unique comedy. Most of the laugh-out-loud moments involve the unflinchingly deadpan Dr. Sung Park, whose broken English and stifled emotions lend him an air reminiscent of an anachronistic samurai. The taciturn surgeon completely lacks a bedside manner, but makes up for it in raw honesty and one hell of a language barrier; when Dr. Park tries to convince patients of the imperative necessity of particularly risky procedure, he simply utters the obvious: “Not do … Dead.” When Dr. Park does emote, it is as harrowing as it is unexpected.

“Monday Mornings” may not be the next “M*A*S*H,” but it follows the tried-and-true Hollywood formula “laugh a little, cry a little” with generally successful results.

Recommended: It’s not M*A*S*H*, but it’s good.