[06/04/09 - 12:08 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Royal Pains" (USA)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c starting tonight; TRT: 70:39)

The network's description: "ROYAL PAINS centers on the young and talented doctor Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein - "What Women Want," "In Her Shoes," "Good Morning, Miami"), who loses everything fighting for the life of a patient. After one fateful and principled decision in the ER, he is fired by his hospital and blacklisted by the New York medical establishment. Months later, Hanks younger brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo - "Road Trip") convinces Hank to head out to the Hamptons for the summer season kick-off weekend. After they crash a party at a mega-mansion on the beach, Hank jumps into action when a guest requires medical attention that only he is able to diagnose. The next morning, word of the "hot new doctor in town" has already spread like wildfire and Hanks cell phone wont stop ringing. His career is revived as a "small-town" doctor who makes house calls � serving both the privileged community and the towns working-class residents. Walking the line between doing well for himself and doing well for others is made easier when a determined beauty, Divya (Reshma Shetty � "30 Rock"), becomes his physicians assistant. Hank finds a new outlet for his true passion � helping those in need - when he teams with local hospital administrator Jill (Jill Flint � "Gossip Girl") to open a free clinic."

What did they leave out? The pilot runs about 71 minutes (without commercials), so pad your recording devices accordingly. It's also the first freshman output from Universal Cable Productions.

The plot in a nutshell: Dr. Hank Lawson (perennial nice guy Mark Feuerstein), as they like to say, has it all: the perfect job at the number one trauma hospital in New York City, the perfect bride-to-be in the stunning Nikki and the perfect skills to MacGyver himself out of just about any life-threatening situation. But as is often the case for people with perfect lives in pilots, he's about to lose it all. When the hospital's billionaire trustee dies after Hank gives priority to a much more sick (and much less wealthy) patient, the board sends him packing, blacklisting him from all the top hospitals in the process. Even worse, a lawsuit drains his entire bank account, derailing his wedding and sending him into a deep depression for weeks on end. Hoping to cheer him up, Hank's scheming brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) drags him to the Hamptons to party with the rich and famous over Memorial Day weekend. There Evan manages to talk their way into an epic bash being thrown by a Bavarian duke named Boris (Campbell Scott) when for the first time in quite a while - Hank manages to smile. (Evan: "This is where God would party." Hank: "If he could get in.") Things however quickly switch gears after a party girl named April collapses and the resident "concierge doctor" incorrectly diagnoses her.

Thankfully, Hank is there to step in and save the day. Grateful for his help - and for keeping things out of Page Six - Boris invites Hank to spend the summer in his palatial guest house. Hank however refuses as he's not built to be the latest accessory for the rich. Word of "Dr. Hank's" deed nevertheless quickly spreads as his cell phone starts to ring off its proverbial hook - from rich teenagers like Tucker (Ezra Miller) who's totaled his dad's car to entitled cougars like Ms. "New Parts" Newberg (Christine Ebersole) whose latest plastic surgery upgrade has gone awry. And if that wasn't enough, three beautiful women turn up at his hotel doorstep: the aforementioned April, who's decided that she's in love with her hero doctor; Divya (Reshma Shetty), a local with access to state-of-the-art medical gear who wants to work as his PA (physician assistant); and Jill (Jill Flint), the local hospital's administrator who's more than happy to have Hank take the crazies - not mention her phone number - off her plate. While Hank turns all of them down, his inherent good guy nature gets the best of him. (Well, that and Evan seeing "a Roman orgy with the cast of Gossip Girl" in their future as a result of Hank's newfound fame.) In the end, as this is the premise to the show, Hank accepts Boris's offer to be the island's newest concierge doctor but an ominous warning suggests he doesn't realize what he's in for.

What works: Breezy and charming, "Royal Pains" proves to be the perfect summer show. From its perfectly timed rollout (the show will essentially air over the course of Hank's - and our - summer); to its amusing parade of the rich, the beautiful and the entitled; to its surprisingly clever procedural aspects, the series manages to establish a fun, intriguing world - and why Hank gets sucked into it - by the end of its 71 minutes. Much like its lead-in "Burn Notice," "Pains" has a knack for wry commentary (among my favorites - Hank, to an interested partygoer: "I have no money, no job and my Saab is older than you."; and Divya to an amorous Evan: "Don't objectify me sidekick.") as well as using an assortment of household items to stop the bad guys, or in this case the bad ailments.

I must admit I was a little skeptical with how this show would work - fixing botched boob jobs and kissing rich kids boo-boos week after week, no thank you - however in practice it's actually quite clever. Hank's weekly foibles turn about to be much more than medical - no one ever wants to go to the hospital (or at least the musty one in the Hamptons) so it becomes a slippery slope in terms of balancing their care and their demands. Sure it's not exactly Lincoln-Douglas, but it does frame the usual procedural mechanics in a fresh way. A lot of credit also goes to Feuerstein and Costanzo, two guys who are frequently saddled with journeyman status - the former has not one, not two but three leading roles on short-lived series under his belt while the latter was saddled with "Joey" for two seasons and was (not so) infamously replaced by Oliver Hudson on "Rules of Engagement." They're charming guys who - along with stellar newcomers Flint and Shetty - are finally being given a true showcase.

What doesn't: I should dial down the hype a little bit here - the MacGyver-esque aspects are a little creaky at times. While "Burn Notice" frames them as a sort of "you'd never guess but if you do X..." while here it's much more of a magic act. Can't go to the hospital, well get me a dart board, some bathroom cleaner and a felt tip pen - boom, it's fixed! The show also gets off to somewhat of a slow start - Evan and the Hamptons don't turn up until the 15-minute mark (again, without commercials) making the opening somewhat of a slow build.

The bottom line: All in all, "Royal Pains" ultimately proves to be not just a summer show, but one I'd definitely seek out during the regular season as well.

  [june 2009]  


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