I went in to the first episode of 'The Mob Doctor' with low expectations. I was not a fan of 'House' and the forced melodrama therein, and it seemed like 'The Mob Doctor' was constructed to fill the void the morally-challenged Dr. House left behind. I expected a bland genre re-tread, but I am happy to report that I was surprised.
While 'The Mob Doctor' falls victim to the same heavy-handed narrative that is characteristic of all FOX series, there is enough nuance to the plot and situation to hook the viewer for more episodes. The titular character that we are supposed to root for is not the whining, shrinking violet of many hospital shows: Dr. Grace Devlin is strong-willed and willing to buck authority, in the vein of 'Fringe's Agent Olivia Dunham. The majority of the negative reviews concerning 'The Mob Doctor' seem to accuse Grace's character of hypocrisy or inconsistency; to these reviewers, I would say that what they are noticing is the entire point. Devlin is leading a double life, partly out of necessity but partly out of a need for power and control. As her name makes clear--Grace, for heaven, and Devlin (think Devil) for hell--this is a character with good intentions who sometimes does bad things. She is absolutely hypocritical in the pilot episode, but this is no more a weakness in character than it is for 'Breaking Bad's dual natured Walter White. Grace's character doesn't live up to her own ideals; all that proves is that she is as human as the rest of us. She is willing to get her hands dirty, but when she is asked to violate one of her strongest values, she holds firm. While not the stereotypical vision of a heroine, that act alone gives us reason to cheer for her.
I had misgivings about Jordana Spiro's chops when it comes to carrying a drama, but so far it would seem she is up to the task. It doesn't hurt that 'The Mob Doctor' has surrounded her with an absolutely stellar supporting cast: award winners William Forsythe and Zeljko Ivanek are bona fide talents with impressive credits to their name. Ivanek is best known for his critically-acclaimed performance on 'Damages,' where his contemplative countenance loaned immeasurable gravitas to the plot at hand. On 'The Mob Doctor,' Ivanek is the Chief of Surgery at Dr. Devlin's hospital, none the wiser that his star surgeon is moonlighting with the mob. Forsythe, the biggest name on the cast, has a list of stellar roles as long as my leg; I personally know him best for 'Raising Arizona' and 'Once Upon a Time in America.' Forsythe is also no stranger to playing members of the mob--no, not just as Flattop in 'Dick Tracy,' but as Al Capone himself in 'The Untouchables' television series. Here, Forsythe is former mafia kingpin Constantine--a man with a past connection to Grace and her mother.
Speaking of Grace's doting, nosey mother, the actress that steals every scene she is in is Wendy Makkena; Makkena maximizes her minutes and translates clear motivation for why Grace would go to the lengths she has in order to protect her family.
Sadly, the finest performance of the first episode was by guest star Michael Rapaport; his haunting naturalness as a powerful mob boss was the most compelling aspect of the episode. Rapaport's presence was even enough to make up for the vacant stilted performance of Zach Gilford as Grace's good-natured boyfriend and fellow surgeon. Gilford is a black hole on the screen where all interest and suspension of disbelief disappears--you are unmistakably watching an actor in his scenes, rather than a gifted surgeon.
As I mentioned, 'The Mob Doctor' is guilty of some ham-fisted theatrics that hurts the debut. There is a lengthy dream sequence that is more laughable than intense and the pop music selections are groan-worthy. However, there is enough here to develop a following. I admittedly would not have even tuned in for the first episode if I had not been tapped for this review, but it won me over to tune in next week; that alone speaks volumes for the success of the pilot.
FINAL GRADE: B+
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