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So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.
THE EASTMANS (CBS)
(written by Margaret Nagle; directed by Jason Ensler; TRT: 44:25)
What is it? A medical drama centered on a complicated family of doctors.
Who was behind it?: "Side Order of Life" creator/"Warm Springs" screenwriter Margaret Nagle penned the hour which was helmed by Jason Ensler ("Chuck").
The plot in a nutshell: When Charles ("Dirty Sexy Money's" Donald Sutherland), patriarch of the medical dynasty that is the Eastman family, sends out an emergency page to his kids - they literally drop everything to come to his side: eldest James Leland (David Wilson Barnes), a workaholic cardiologist, was in the middle of therapy with his wife Maddie (Rebecca McFarland); ace surgeon Peter Walter ("Virtuality's" James D'Arcy) was in the middle of, well, surgery; transplant expert Seth Thomas (Jesse Bradford) was giving a consult to an attractive patient (Alexandra Holden); pediatric neurologist Anna ("My Own Worst Enemy's" Saffron Burrows) was continuing her quest to cure autism; and pathologist Sally (Gaby Hoffmann) was giving a post-mortem to, well, a dead body. It turns out however it wasn't a doomsday scenario at all - he simply wanted to show off his impressive clan to a reporter (Lisa Waltz) covering his receipt of the St. Andrews Genius Medal. Nowhere to be found however is their mother/his wife of 40 years, Emma ("Nip/Tuck's" Jacqueline Bisset), a veteran emergency room doctor. She's got other plans - namely a handsome EMT, Jack (Michael Shanks).
Not surprisingly, she isn't the only one that has issues with Charles: Anna and Sally are frustrated by his archaic attitudes - the former because he isn't willing to believe her son Connor's autism is a real condition (let alone lend her money to deal with the costs of it), and the latter because "tradition" dictates women aren't allowed to be partners in the family's Eastman Institute (Charles: "Sue me." Sally: "I just might."). The men also have their foibles: Maddie recently had an affair with Peter and, wait for it, she's pregnant, just as she's starting to patch things up with James and he's about the make a honest woman of his on/off girlfriend Hailey (Bre Blair). But wait there's more: Seth's medical license is in jeopardy for writing a few too many prescriptions for himself. And as a cherry on top: Emma's secret beau Jack, he's actually Peter's childhood friend.
Thus when Charles sends out another emergency page that same night - everybody is too distracted/pissed off to respond. The problem is the 911 is real - he's collapsed as the result of a AAA (abdominal aortic aneurysm). They however have bigger issues - doctors aren't allowed to operate on family. Regardless everyone rallies to his side, putting their own licenses in jeopardy as a result. Thankfully he survives and the experience gives everyone a new perspective on their aforementioned issues as well as each other's.
In the meantime, there's some procedural work to be done: James catches the case of a man without insurance who literally may be dying of a broken heart (like him, get it?). The solution ultimately involves Charles agreeing to pay for the man's procedure, a rare break from his tradition of making everyone lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. And at the end of the day the children decide it's time for them to step up as well - by demanding Charles step aside at the Institute and give all five of them equal share, not to mention start an endowment for autism research.
What works: It's not a bad show per se: Sutherland, Bisset and company are all interesting actors who make the most of what they are given. The problem is what they are given...
What doesn't: ...doesn't quite earn the emotional investment it wants. Everyone's plight is either taken in second hand (we're literally just told about Seth's problem) or feels rushed (the whole Peter/James/Maddie triangle). The only one who really breaks through is Burrows's Anna and even that is a little all over the place: she's got an autistic child, a useless husband (Jason Lewis in a blink-and-you'll miss role), self-absorbed patients, a misogynist father, ready, set, go! Furthermore we don't really get a sense that these are siblings - teasing and joking with each other is nowhere to be found. They're essentially just disparate cast members branded as family for no other reason than it serves the story.
Said facet makes the fact it's more family drama than procedural all the more glaring. The case of the week, if you can even call it that, is about as tangential as you could ask for, not to mention about as subtle in its metaphor as a shotgun. The same goes for how obvious everyone is roped into the case as the Eastmans fill so many roles in the hospital next to the Institute that they literally can't find another doctor good enough when it's Charles's turn on the operating table. Throw in some syrupy temp track choices (Sia Furler's "Breathe Me," among others) and you have the recipe for...
The bottom line: ...a hodgepodge family drama with a side of boilerplate procedural.