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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. 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.]
HMS (The CW)
(written by Amy Holden Jones; directed by Mark Piznarski; TRT: 35:05)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. Also, the pilot was filmed as a presentation, meaning only the essential scenes were shot.
The plot in a nutshell: It's Nell Larson's (Megan Boone) first day at Harvard Medical School and she's still understandably in awe. Her fellow first years, or "MS1"s, are equally as excited: nice guy Jonathan David (Steven Strait), with whom she shares an instant spark; rich girl Brittany "Brit" Knox (Sarah Jones), who lends her a hand during move in; chatty Carlos Guaderra (Jai Rodriguez); nervous bookworm Autumn (Ali Ahn); know-it-all douche Leo Heller (Tasso Feldman; "You're like a mean Harry Potter," Carlos quips about him); and teenage computer genius Krishna (Dejan Loyola). At orientation they learn in six days each of them will have to give a speech on why they think they were meant to be a doctor at the school's annual white coat ceremony. The ensuing week then sees them discover the daunting workload ahead (1,000 pages of material a week), the harsh odds against them (one in four of them will become clinically depressed, one in 10 will consider suicide) and the terrifying reality that they will eventually hold people's lives in their hands.
Not surprisingly it's a little overwhelming for Nell, who doesn't think a small town girl like herself belongs amongst the great minds of her chosen profession. Her fears are exasperated after she screws up diagnosing "Stan," the school's high-tech patient simulator, and reaches a boiling point when she's asked to dissect a body which bears a striking resemblance to a dying woman she spotted during their hospital tour. It's enough to send her running home to Martha's Vineyard, where some encouraging words from her high school sweetheart Zach (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor) and grandfather (ditto), the town's general practitioner whom she grew up adoring, help tend to her wounds and remind her why she's at HMS in the first place. Ultimately, she returns to school and claims her white coat alongside the rest of her class, as each proclaim their profound reasons for becoming doctors.
What works: The relatively unknown cast is uniformly charming and interesting as it's easy to see why there's rumblings of this making the cut for midseason. It's more or less your quintessential "college" show as potential couples emerge (Nell/Jonathan, Autumn/Krishna), personality roles are filled, doubts are had, classes are almost missed, drinks are shared, etc. - none of which are particularly earth shattering, but they get the job done. And as this is a presentation, Boone and Strait's characters not surprisingly get the most attention - and the actors do a nice job with their simmering attraction - but not so much that enough isn't left over to keep the supporting quintet interesting.
What doesn't: As you can probably tell from the above, nothing much happens in the pilot beyond Nell's crisis of confidence. The big dramatic moment, Nell trying to save "Stan," inadvertently comes across as wonky - picture any high-intensity scene from "ER"... with a mannequin as the patient - making her failure feel all the more silly. Another key scene, in which Nell breaks into the gross anatomy lab to see if her subject is the woman in question, likewise hinges on the ridiculous (I'm no doctor but I'm willing to bet it takes more than 24 hours for a living, breathing person to become a formaldehyde-filled donor body in a classroom), again making Nell's plight all the more hokey.
Even the teachers are mostly non-descript, interchangeable authority figures, making the school aspect rocky at best. "HMS" winds up working better when said facets are kept at arm's length, when everyone exists in that transitionary ether of scared medical student looking ahead on their lives of purpose. In that respect, the show clicks: our heroes' closing speeches give a nice coda to their characters and why we should want to follow them each week. Whether that journey can stay interesting without veering into the aforementioned silliness remains to be seen (a challenge considering as they aren't interns yet, they can't actually treat real patients), as coasting on its actors/characters' charms...
The bottom line: ...may not be enough.