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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
GIMME SHELTER (CBS)
(written by Hannah Shakespeare; directed by Christopher Chulack; TRT: 44:24)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. The John Wells-produced drama went as untitled before ultimately settling upon "Gimme Shelter," as evidenced by a brief title card.
The plot in a nutshell: Adrian Nourse (Sissy Spacek) is the perpetually exhausted head of the Temporary Emergency Ambulatory Medical (or T.E.A.M.), a mobile hospital that holds free, two-day clinics around the U.S. for those who can't afford health care. Their latest stop: Gainesville, Georgia where literally thousands of people have camped out for days in need of everything from routine checkups to life-saving treatment. "Where are we frickin' Kazakhstan?" Billy (Skeet Ulrich), one of the volunteer doctors, notes about their roughshod surroundings. There he's joined by frequent collaborators Paul (Jay Hernandez, obstetrics), Dennis (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor, dental), Meg (Amy Smart, physicians' assistant) and newest addition Katy (Rachelle Lefevre). Collectively they run a marathon triage for a community ravaged by unemployment and overrun by meth. Serving as the doctors' support then are head nurse Angel (Janeane Garofalo) and facilities manager Pen (Michael Beach).
Amongst the sea of thousands though we focus on a handful of stories ranging from the serious to the silly: an expectant mother who can't afford the C-section she'll need in a few weeks; a teenager whose younger brother is showing symptoms of meningitis; a heavy-set gentleman in need of a pacemaker; a woman whose son is being malnourished due to her meth habit; a fellow who was injured using his vacuum cleaner for masturbation; and a stray dog who won't leave the team alone. Along the way we get a few slivers of information about our heroes: Paul and Meg are sleeping together, the former of which is secretly getting married to someone else; Angel and Pen are likewise sleeping together and blissfully happy; Katy turns out to be Adrian's daughter, dragged home from Africa to be closer to her mom; and hard-living Billy is a de facto single father, his wife having abandoned them for her meth addiction. All their foibles however take a backseat to the endless rewards of their jobs, where they get to help people without pretense.
What works: I'm legitimately surprised how well the central concept works: it's medicine in its purest form as the doctors leave behind their personal lives to travel sometimes thousands of miles to volunteer their services to those in most need of it. And the fact that it's in our own country is all the more heartbreaking. The show frequently pings this fact in a crushing repetition that eventually causes the characters to boil over: Paul punches an EMT who refuses to transport an elderly woman without insurance to a real hospital since his company won't get paid for it; Billy takes it upon himself to take down the local meth dealer after witnessing yet another victim of his poison; and Katy tries to protect the aforementioned teenager from the local DCFS after it's revealed he's his brother's only caregiver.
Furthermore, it's all done in a way that doesn't feel artificial or preachy, rather the organic result of what Adrian and company are experiencing. I'd also be remised if I didn't mention how slick the show looks: we literally see a temporary hospital being built and taken down, complete with airlifts, 18-wheelers and tents that would make Barnum and Bailey blush. And the fact that it's quickly overrun by hundreds of extras like it's a third world country: again, all the more heartbreaking. It's an eye-opening experience, both visually and sociologically.
What doesn't: As is generally the case when a show turns the needle too far in the procedural direction, the characters often suffer - either because we don't really get to the know them or because the actions they take aren't given the correct context. The only head we really get inside of is Billy's and that's only due to a closing coda that sees him return to his home in Nashville. Everyone else is simply earnest because the job demands them to be as the details about their lives are either too guarded (Adrian and Katy butt heads for reasons yet to be revealed) or too "whaaaa?" (Paul, despite pledging his feelings for Meg, returns home to his wealthy fiancee) to get much meat out of. That's not to say the cast doesn't have its charms (Skeet Ulrich being among the standouts as he continues his undeserved journeyman status) or that everyone doesn't have their moments. Without out a doubt though, this is the best medical drama CBS has trotted out in recent memory...
The bottom line: ...making me wonder why it isn't on the schedule.