[07/05/11 - 11:12 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Weekends at Bellevue" (FOX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! 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.]

(written by Lisa Zwerling; directed by Jack Bender; TRT: 45:42)

The network's description: No official description was released.

What did they leave out? The project, originally developed by NBC, is based on Julie Holland's memoir of the same name.

The plot in a nutshell: "You're like young Luke Skywalker," Diane Wallace (Janet McTeer) explains to psychiatric doctor Ellie Harlow (Lauren Ambrose), her new hire at the Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City. "You're powerful but out of control. I can help you but I can't do it alone." And she's right too as Ellie proves to be critical in handling the weekend's latest intakes: a man (Dallas Roberts) convinced he can meld his consciousness with a computer, a woman (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress) who refuses surgery to fix a brain aneurysm in order to attend her daughter's wedding and an athlete (likewise) who's showing symptoms of schizophrenia. Her philosophy: listen, improvise, and deal with the problem in front of you.

Most of all though: don't fight a patient's delusions ("Telling an acutely psychotic patient that he's crazy will get your ear torn off," she notes). Said methodology serves as a welcome wake-up call to her by-the-book interns, Casey (Amber Stevens) and Andrew (Aaron Yoo), but rubs her colleague Ben Jacobs (David Alpay), whom she went to medical school with (and he fosters unrequited feelings for), the wrong way. She likewise butts heads with Jared Knox (Eric Winter), the hospital's hunky ER doc who initially overrides her orders, and the aforementioned Diane after stirring the pot during a group therapy session. You see, Ellie doesn't believe in talking out one's problems.

Because if she did she might actually have to face her own issues: she's still reeling from her mother's suicide a year ago and has been flirting with the idea herself ever since. She tells herself her antics - jumping into the freezing river, driving at night without the lights on, etc. - make her feel alive, ignoring the obvious harbinger of what's to come if continues down said path. At the end of the day though, it's the patients themselves that are going to inspire her to stay on the straight and narrow. "The key is to let go of an illusion of perfection," the wife of one such patient reminds her. "Your life is your life, there is no normal."

What works: There's a solemn, almost sweet kernel of truth that rattles around the show, that for all the efforts to diagnose those we deem as crazy, they're still the very real heroes of their own stories. Opting against life saving surgery and feeding computer wire into your arm are obviously crazy to you and me, but to the patient it's as honest and forthright of a choice as any. When "Bellevue" stops to consider said idea there's almost a beautiful aura to it, one that director Jack Bender manages to capture in a handful of far too fleeting moments.

What doesn't: For the most part though, "Bellevue" is frustratingly haphazard and unfocused. Acts break on odd moments, patients disappear for long stretches of time and characters just kind of saunter in and offer up random predilections. It also doesn't do itself any favors by frontloading Ellie's craziness: she's initially shown making the aforementioned leap from a boat only to appear in the next scene dry as a bone wearing the same clothes. We're likewise privy to a series of flashbacks illustrating another such attempt, one that presumably was real. It ultimately gives a confusing aura to the show's proceedings, not to mention our understanding of Ellie.

Further complicating matters is that the doctors don't really solve any cases, they just kind of peter out on their own after their initial inertia dissipates. And while the end result can be earnest moments like the ones detailed above, it doesn't make for particularly compelling television. Coupled with what feels like the randomist of plot developments - Ellie, for instance, has to go to a cocktail party to charm money for Diane's MDMA therapy research as punishment for her antics group therapy - and there really isn't a throughline that grabs you and makes you want to invest in what happens to the patients or what's to come with the doctors themselves. Ambrose and company - which also includes Xzibit as the ward's amusingly pragmatic nurse Gus - do their best to tie things together but it's...

The bottom line: ...not enough to pull you in.

  [july 2011]  


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