Sunday, January 21, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Resident' - Devon Begins His First Day While Bell Covers Up More Complications in 'Pilot'

FOX's The Resident - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

On his first day as an intern, an idealistic Dr. Devon Pravesh faces the harsh realities of medical care, as third year resident Dr. Conrad Hawkins takes him under his wing and teaches his unconventional ways for treating patients. Conrad goes head-to-head with Chief of Surgery Dr. Solomon Bell, who uses power and intimidation to cover up his mistakes.

It's difficult to find a new take on the medical procedural. It's even more awkward to be launching a new medical procedural right now considering Hulu just announced it acquired all 331 episodes of ER just last Sunday. That show is the best medical procedural of all time. And so, anything new would absolutely be disappointing in comparison. Now, that's not exactly fair. It just makes it a difficult time for The Resident to debut. Now, I'm a fan of medical procedurals. There have been several variations of the formula that have proven to be extremely successful. ER and Grey's Anatomy are wildly different takes on the genre. And yet, both have aired for over a decade. The highest rated new drama for the broadcast networks this year is The Good Doctor. So, this may be the genre that broad audiences are looking for at the moment. As such, there's no reason why The Resident can't be a success. FOX has its own long-running medical procedural as well in House. This show also has an abrasive but genius doctor at the center of it. That could make this pilot seem annoying and overbearing. But for the most part, this is an okay premiere that only really works because of the likable cast. In this particular genre, sometimes that's all it takes in order to work. One strong performance can sometimes make a show. An ensemble of likable actors can elevate even weak material.

Of course, it should be noted upfront that The Resident is being way too obnoxious and aggressive with its whole "this is how medicine is really practiced" message. It definitely thinks of itself as an edgy take on a familiar world. However, it never presents medical situations that haven't been seen multiple times across a variety of shows. As such, the characters need to be interesting. If the audience doesn't care about what's happening to them, then there simply isn't a compelling show to watch. This premiere opens with a doctor killing a patient and it ends with a doctor wanting to kill a patient. Those are the biggest and broadest examples of how this medical procedural aims to be darker than the norm. At one point, Nurse Nic tells new resident Devon that human error is the third leading cause of death in the United States after cancer and heart disease. It's in those moments where this show wants to thrive. It wants to pull back the curtain to show the humanity of the people making these decisions and how narcissistic and abrasive they can be. The character work in this opening hour is pretty sketchy. The rough relationships are laid out effectively. It just basically has no time to actually find the nuance in the situation while hoping the audience will still like the characters.

Devon is the point-of-entry character for the audience. He's the newcomer at the hospital eager to practice medicine after graduating from Harvard. It's a character trope that has been utilized in so many ways in so many shows. Even ER did it in the early going. Grey's Anatomy made its lead characters a group of interns. And yet, Devon is kinda just awkwardly stumbling around in this world. He has a sense of entitlement that simply isn't earned. He's introduced as having his life perfectly figured out. He has the girl and the bright, new job. He's excited to make a difference in the world. Then, he meets the abrasive Conrad Hawkins and immediately views him as the problem and the reason why this won't be a good working experience. It's not wrong for him to feel that way. Conrad is just very sexually frank and off-putting. Those remarks should probably be sanded down in the future. It's awkward whenever he asks Devon about what he's sexually attracted to or congratulates him on popping his cherry. That feels like dialogue writers think is edgy but doesn't come out as natural. This entire premiere is mostly Devon realizing that what he thought about being a doctor is wrong. That he has the potential to ruin people's lives in an instant. It's not a new realization with this particular story. He miraculously saves a patient despite her brain being deprived off oxygen for too long. That could foster an interesting conversation about the hospital being able to bill that family for a long time. But it mostly just walks around that in order to explore something else in this world.

And again, it's easy to forgive the show for not wanting to spend too much time with Devon. He's not all that interesting or necessary in this world. He's simply the character who needs everything explained to him so that the audience understands it as well. The more important character developments come from the personal conflict between Conrad and Dr. Bell. Conrad is a shining star of a resident. He's cocky and forceful. But he's also a genius who understands how this job is done and does it well. He breaks his students but they are better off for it. Meanwhile, Bell is the public face of the hospital. He has built a career out of being a surgeon who plays to the wealthy donors. And yet, his complication rates during surgery have skyrocketed. Most of the staff is aware of that but are too intimidated to come forward. He brings in patients to the hospital. He's the face everyone wants to see. No one wants to talk about the dark realities of him botching what should be an incredibly easy surgery. He can't even remove an appendix. Of course, that opening scene wants the true nature of the mistake to be murky. The audience can't just blame Bell for accidentally cutting an artery. Just as much blame could be put on the anesthesiologist for the patient waking up during the procedure. It's a startling sight to see how quickly this can all go wrong. And then, the entire team is unified to cover it up because Bell knows where all of the bodies are buried. He protects this hospital against any potential malpractice disasters.

All of this makes it clear that this is a conflict that will define the majority of the season. Conrad is absolutely right to be saying that Bell shouldn't be operating on patients anymore. He keeps killing them during routine procedures. And yet, the system still props him up for success. He takes the credit of someone else's work. Conrad saves a patient while Bell just stands there not knowing what to do. Conrad doesn't need the appreciation. But Bell thrives on it. He loves the spotlight. He needs to be the man to perform the first surgery using a new piece of technology. And yet, he has no patience to learn how to operate it. He just expects it to come naturally. He no longer wishes to be challenged and pushed. He's reached a powerful position where his actions are no longer questioned. That's an intriguing and timely story for the show to address. This season could articulate how the system in place could prop up a man like Bell. But it also feels like a case of the show wanting a villain to oppose the main protagonist for a long period of time. Bell shouldn't be operating. He's abusing a position of power. But he's also just a construct in order to keep things as dramatic as possible. It's a little too forced and melodramatic. It can still be entertaining. There's still tension in Conrad expecting Bell to kill a patient on a live stream only for him to succeed thanks to Mina. And yet, that kind of dynamic would grow stale and repetitive after awhile as well. So, it puts the show in a potentially awkward position.

And then, there is that ending. It perhaps feels a little too audacious. A way to push the darkness of the narrative to the forefront. Conrad believes he is showing mercy to Devon's patient and her family simply by turning off the life support machine without anyone's consent. That's against the law. It's something he secretly tries to do. He only turns the machine back on after Nic walks in on him. In the moment, the show paints a good picture of why this is something Conrad would do. He wants to right the wrongs that have been committed to this family. He wants to end their suffering. But it's also a selfish action. It's all about him knowing best and making sure everyone else knows it. He's a rogue doctor who doesn't play by the rules. That's a familiar archetype as well. He's only stopped by his on-again/off-again love interest. She understands this about him and that's probably why they aren't together anymore. It's a moment that suggests he may still have further to go in order to be a good and ethical doctor. Or perhaps it's suggesting a much darker take on the medical field in that sometimes there's no way to prevent this situation from happening and no way to prevent someone trying to end it. It's just a little too awkward without a clear message.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Amy Holden Jones, Hayley Schore & Roshan Sethi and directed by Phillip Noyce.
  • Of course, Devon also gets his shining moment of success where he proves he's a smart and capable doctor as well. He saves the cancer patient everyone in the ER has formed a close attachment to, Lily. Yes, Devon gets drawn into her personal story as well. It's a personal story that just sorta ends as well - which may suggest a recurring presence this season. She does survive after all.
  • And then, the show just lingers on the gross absurdity that these doctors deal with as well - like anal exams and toes that just casually fall off. Conrad throws a bucket of ice into a woman's face in order to get her heart working properly again. The show is very graphic and broad in that way. But at least, it's a direction that gives the show some personality.
  • Mina is presented as a tremendous surgeon in the hospital as well. She would rather spend her time learning this new machine than interacting with patients and their families. She doesn't really have empathy. And yet, she's also good friends with Conrad. Of course, it also needs to be explained to her how abusive and destructive Bell can be during surgery.
  • The show attempts a timely twist with Bell and Mina's relationship in that Bell threatens to get her visa revoked if she doesn't help him pull off this surgery. It's a white man in a position of power abusing that power against a black woman who is already battling a system stacked against her. It's just a brief moment. It's one that should have consequences later on too.
  • It also wouldn't be surprising in the slightest if the show tries to redeem Bell in some way by blaming all of his mistakes on the hand tremors he is experiencing. Those seem quite frequent throughout this premiere. He has medication. But it may put him into a situation where Conrad needs to save his life. That would be a melodramatic twist that is completely plausible. And yet, it could only rehab one part of his character.