The new Fox series "The Mob Doctor" wants to be a dark, ethics-questioning drama that mixes mob machinations with hospital politics. The young surgeon at the center of the show is a tough-as-nails South-side Chicago girl, who's pursuing her big career while paying off her brother's debt to the mob with back-alley medicine for criminals. It's an intriguing premise, but the pilot packs in too much plot too fast and strains credibility with shaky character motivations and actions.
From zero to 60 in one episode
The premiere begins with a quick portrait of feisty doctor Grace Devlin, who doesn't shy away from blood, guts, bad guys, wise guys, or dead bodies. Jordana Spiro supplies plenty of verve and swagger, giving "The Mob Doctor" bonus points for having a believable actress in the role. Actors need good scripts, however, and the character's potential sadly faded as the story careened off course.
Grace doing some shady medical side work for wise guy Moretti (Michael Rappaport), while on lunch breaks from her regular hospital job, would be enough intrigue to sustain the series for a good while. Instead, "The Mob Doctor" ramps up instantly, having Moretti send her an order to kill her mob informant patient. This shocking instruction is sent by a florist to her workplace, because nothing is more discreet than brightly colored balloons and a giant "KILL HIM" message that her colleagues can easily read over her shoulder.
The plot thickens
Since a murder plot isn't enough either, "The Mob Doctor" pilot also adds in multiple storylines for Grace's day job. She's portrayed as a crusader type, who loves to break all the rules, but the character loses the audience's sympathy on a bizarre case involving a 14-year-old girl from the neighborhood. In order to save the girl from her father's "freak-out" and not jeopardize a college scholarship, Grace talks her doctor boyfriend (Zach Gilford) into lying about the necessary ectopic pregnancy procedure and passing it off as a different kind of surgery.
While the show is obviously wanting to explore gray areas, the situation plays out in a way that indicates viewers should be impressed at her forward-thinking ways. No consideration is given to the girl's relationship to her father, his right to know what his daughter's been up to, and any future mishaps that might occur due to falsified medical records. Along with a poorly handled dust-up with a superior on another case, Grace suddenly comes off as cavalier and callous, and distinctly unlikable.
The plot goes off the rails
The freewheeling surgeon draws her ethical line at murder, however, and doesn't go through with the hit on the informant. This leads to Moretti taking Grace's mother hostage without any of the usual henchman you'll find accompanying TV crime bosses. Grace easily leads him away and into a high speed car chase that ends on the property of a former wise guy, Constantine (William Forsythe). Grace asks this formidable family friend for help, so he shoots Moretti dead and disposes of the body.
If your mind isn't already swirling, the least credible moment of the pilot follows. Constantine announces his "reformed ways" have ended, and he's taking over Moretti's business. This means Grace's debt now belongs to him. He offers Grace a get-out-of-jail-free card, provided she leaves town. Otherwise it's back to doing mob dirty work. She decides ... to stay.
It's possible the intent of "The Mob Doctor" is to paint a picture of a morally ambiguous surgeon, who plays with people's lives and sticks with the mob boss because she gets a rush from the danger. That kind of edgy drama could give viewers something to work with, but the uneven writing merely gives us a semi-ridiculous plot and characters we don't care all that much about. Unless the show finds its range quickly in the following episodes, the series will likely find its way onto the network's hit list.
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