California Literary Review

The Mob Doctor Recap: Pilot Episode

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September 18th, 2012 at 9:13 am

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Jordana Spiro stars in The Mob Doctor
©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Nathaniel Bell

What happens when the Fox network needs to fill the space left by a beloved, long-running medical drama centered on an intriguingly misanthropic doctor (which I recapped for you last year)? Apparently, a much younger, prettier doctor gets to work out her issues in the same time slot, but with the proviso that she’s also put herself in debt to the Chicago mob. The Chicago Code may have gone the way of Alcatraz and Terra Nova, but someone at Fox apparently still has a serious jones for urban corruption and car chases under the L.

The sharks already seem to be circling Mob Doctor. However, I have to say, I liked this first episode more than I expected, largely because I liked the ending — but then, my expectations were pretty low. (And what do I know? I liked Lone Star)

As anyone who cares enough to read this has probably known for weeks, Dr. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) has promised her services to Southside crime boss Paul Moretti (Michael Rapaport) as a way of paying off her brother’s gambling debts. The parts you may have seen in previews are pretty much all over before the opening credits roll – this is a very busy hour of television, and Grace clearly puts a lot of miles on her Jeep Cherokee, commuting at breakneck pace between her two lives.

We open with child Grace looking at her first dead body, the local drunk, who’s been shot and dumped in a vacant lot. The colors are all washed out, expect for the reds of child-Grace’s shocking pink coat and the blood on the man’s forehead, and it’s a nicely cinematic moment. Present-day Grace explains in voice over that she wanted to touch him, and I like seeing a female doctor allowed to be a bit creepy and morbid, instead of endlessly altruistic and nurturing. Of course, present-day Grace goes on to say that she remembers every other dead body she’s seen since, in her medical career, because she’s not like most doctors. But then we cut to the present, where Grace is attending to a mob associate with a screwdriver jammed into his skull; they’re apparently in the back of an animal shelter. When the patient gets mouthy, Grace notes that if it were up to her, she’d “pound this thing in another inch or so and call it a day”. Again, I kind of like this – my fear was that Grace would be annoyingly saintly.

Unfortunately, the screwdriver-ectomy, crude as it is, is making her late for more conventional surgery. We get the first of many scenes of Grace racing from one place to another, this time accompanied by rather scratchy Adele- or Amy Winehouse style vocals, indicating she’s an edgy modern woman. Once in the OR, she makes up for her nastiness towards the gangster by saving the life of a small child who’s been shot in the chest. She says something snarky about the Cubs’ chances, does something medically heroic (and kind of gooey) and gets hugged by the kid’s mom. (So she’s not unwomanly, she just has her priorities straight?)

Outside the OR, she sees an informer hidden by the witness protection program rolled in on a gurney. She finds out her own mom is waiting for her in the lobby, and we find out that her chief of surgery is a Dr. White, played Zeljko Ivanek (or, as I always think of him, That Guy Whose Name I Can’t Spell or Pronounce, But Who Was Really Good on Homicide. And Was a Dog Shrink on Frasier Once.)

Yes, the witness protection program patient is the guy from the previews. No, the credits haven’t rolled yet. That doesn’t happen until we’ve found out that: A. Her mom is here with Susie, the neighbor girl Grace used to babysit, who’s just collapsed. B. That her mom is also checking out the doctor Grace is dating but hasn’t brought home yet (mom-as-Facebook-stalker joke!). C. That Susie is –surprise! — pregnant like every other TV adolescent who mysteriously faints and/or complains of abdominal pain. But in this case her pelvic exam indicates she’s a virgin (House-style medical mystery!). D. That the witness needs a “cabbage” – acronym for a coronary artery bypass graft — but isn’t a candidate for the usual procedure. E. That Grace alone knows some groundbreaking new technique which can save him.

This is when she gets the bouquet of flowers with the enclosure card reading “KILL HIM.” And then the opening credits finally roll. The show’s creators are clearly terrified that we’ll get bored and change the channel.

Deep breath. When we come back, Grace is charging into Paul Moretti’s auto shop (chop shop?). She’s greeted by a happy dog she clearly knows well, who belongs to her presumably mobbed-up ex-boyfriend. And I have to say, it’s like the writers set themselves a challenge for how much back story they could provide per minute without slowing down the action. I’m not sure how I’d score them on artistry, but the technical elements are impressive. She confronts Moretti, who obligingly provides us with the back story about her brother’s debts, then races back to the hospital to give the kid she saved earlier a teddy bear in a super hero outfit. On TV, adorable stuffed animals in adult dramas are generally a sure sign that This Won’t End Well. Sure enough, she’s pulled off the case because of her upcoming surgery on the witness. She clashes with her immediate boss, Dr. Flanagan, and her replacement/rival, Dr. Olivia Watson, who accuses Grace of having “textbook counter-transference issues”.

Then it’s off to Susie’s room, where Grace asks if she remembers how they used to watch Star Wars together. She then uses Star Wars as a metaphor to explain how pregnancy can sometimes occur without actual penetration – it’s like Luke Skywalker and his one-in-a-million shot at the Death Star! I still cannot believe I actually heard that – and that Luke Skywalker really gets around. Oh, yeah, and this is called “outercourse”. Can’t we just get back to pulling screwdrivers out of people’s heads? Susie, needless to say, is not happy, especially as she’s won a scholarship to an exclusive Catholic school.

And it’s taco night at the Devlin residence! More back story – mom is in remission from cancer! If this show’s not cancelled, they’ve got enough potential storylines for the next six seasons. But Grace has to rush off to give an insulin injection to an elderly former mobster, Constantine, with whom she has some mysterious bond (played by William Forsythe – who for me will always be John Goodman’s partner in crime from Raising Arizona). He’s watching news clips of himself while chopping vegetables and has newspaper stories about his fall from power framed on the wall, so that’s how we get his back story. Constantine is as calm and unhurried as Grace is punchy and hyperkinetic; William Forsythe easily steals the show. (Oh, and some guy photographs Grace and tails her as she leaves.)

Later, Grace and her doctor boyfriend make out as she ignores Moretti’s calls. He’s the in charge of Susie and her Death Star pregnancy. It’s an ectopic pregnancy, and “totally nonviable”, so she can terminate it without getting Fox into hot water with anti-abortion viewers, but she requires surgery. Grace rushes off yet again – the boy she saved from the gunshot wound is dead, because Dr. Flanagan overrode her care instructions. The superhero bear lies abandoned on the floor (what did I say?).

Grace storms into the room where Dr. White is scrubbing for surgery. She’s had Flanagan paged, too, and she tells White she’s not operating on the witness unless the hospital investigates Flanagan’s actions. The she storms into the room where her boyfriend is speaking to Susie’s father, and announces that Susie needs surgery for an ovarian cyst before her boyfriend lets out the truth.

After all the storming in and out, she finally talks to Moretti, who tells her she’ll need to inject the witness with a specially marked syringe during surgery. Frankly, if he has that level of access to the hospital, why does he need Grace? Why can’t whoever’s in charge of getting the syringe into the OR take care of the guy?

After a nightmare in which she goes through with the plan, Grace wakes up and performs the actual surgery, “accidentally” dropping and breaking the deadly syringe. After clashes with Dr. White (about Flanagan), Dr. Watson (about Flanagan), and Dr. Boyfriend (about Susie), she takes a call, presumably from her mother, but actually from an angry Moretti, who’s just taken Mom hostage.

Grace races/storms home – if the show’s not cancelled soon, this could be the basis for a Mob Doctor drinking game. She lures Moretti out of the house by crashing her car randomly into other cars out front, and then leads him on a high speed chase (under the L tracks) to Constantine’s. Where Constantine calmly shoots him. “You didn’t see anything,” Constantine tells Grace.

After tying up various loose ends related to the other storylines, Grace is called back to Constantine’s house. There are a lot of cars out front. It seems that Constantine has been plotting to get rid of Moretti and reclaim his old empire for a while. The witness was working for Constantine (I think). Now Grace is working for him, too.

And here’s the kicker, the moment the show came close to winning me over. We go back to child Grace looking at the corpse of the local drunk. Who was her dad. She talks about how she was actually relieved, because now he wouldn’t hurt her mother anymore. Child Grace turns and watches a white sedan, presumably driven by her father’s killer, pull away. In the present day, she turns and watches Constantine walk away from her. Nice visual parallel. So Constantine, presumably, killed her hated father. Now that is an interesting premise for a show. If we get more of Grace’s warped Oedipal relationship with her murderous mentor – and therefore more William Forsythe — I’m happy to keep tuning in. But I’m not holding my breath.

  • Sam Brown

    I too was on the fence about this show until the ending. There was so much going on that it got a bit confusing, but that final scene came through strong. I really liked the mob storylines, but was not to keen on the hospital drama parts. Hopefully she loses her medical license and goes into the mob full time. I was talking to a coworker at Dish about the show, and he really liked all of the action. I was a little surprised at how much action there was, and I think it could work to expand their audience. I am afraid that it won’t survive in that time slot no matter how good it is though. I will admit that I tuned in to The Voice while this aired last night, but I was able to watch it on a recording that my Hopper automatically makes for Primetime Anytime. With all of the primetime shows starting their fall seasons I love how I can catch them all without setting a million timers. This one seems like it could actually end up being rather interesting in unique. Who would have figured that mashing to overplayed genres together would actually give us the potential for something fresh.

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