'Medicine Ball' humor operates at a gratingly sophomoric level

March 13, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Anything would be an improvement over "Models, Inc.," right? That's the glass-is-half-full way of looking at "Medicine Ball," the drama about young and sexy professionals that takes up the after-"Melrose Place" spot on Fox starting at 9 tonight on WBFF (Channel 45).

The less upbeat view: Do we really need another series about medical doctors -- in this case, young doctors-to-be, living and loving their way through their first year as resident interns at Seattle's Bayview Medical Center?

Didn't we go through this television cycle of doctor-worship in the early 1960s with Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey and all the rest? I don't care if resident interns have to eat junk food and don't get much sleep. The same can be said for truck drivers, and we don't make television series celebrating them.

OK, I admit that's a bit of a rant on my part, but that's what tonight's pilot is mostly about -- how hard they work, how much they care, how difficult is the path trod by these special and gifted individuals. That and sex -- and the tease of even more sex to come. This is, remember, the series that follows "Melrose Place," and most of these young doctors are sexy, too.

Take Dr. Katie Cooper (Jensen Daggett), who gets more time tonight on screen than any other character in this ensemble drama. The press kit describes her character as "a self-assured surgeon, as strong-willed as she is attractive." She looks a lot like Sarah Jessica Parker.

As Dr. Cooper goes racing down the hall, late for her first day on the job, two male colleagues from another department look on admiringly.

"Whatever you are thinking, forget it," one says to the other. "She's surgery."

"Yeah, she'll cut your heart out," the second doctor replies, with a leer on his face.

"No, she'll cut your eh-hem out," the first says, looking at an area just below his fellow doctor's waist.

"Yeah, and convince you it's elective."

Ha, ha, ha -- they both explode in laughter.

If this is doctor humor -- and the show does list five medical advisers -- maybe it could be presented in a context that suggests how sexist it is instead of inviting viewers to revel in it as the camera focuses on Dr. Cooper's derriere. Or, maybe the male writers could spare us their castration anxieties.

Because Dr. Cooper is late, her male supervisor dumps 10,000 tasks on her, including the circumcision of a grown man. The laughs in this segment are supposed to come from the patient becoming aroused as Dr. Cooper examines him. This scene -- with the patient's wife looking on -- is played and overplayed until you want to scream, "Grow up!"

Then, there's Dr. Cooper's supervisor, Dr. Tom Powell (Vincent Ventresca). The press releases describe him as "the cocky hospital heartthrob and a skilled surgeon."

Dr. Powell is right out of a Harlequin Romance -- Fabio with a stethoscope. By day, he saves lives as a brilliant surgeon. By night, he blows white-hot alto sax in a smoky little bistro down the street from the hospital.

Of course, like any romance novel, Dr. Powell and Dr. Cooper hate each other on first sight. Or, is that hate really the young heroine trying to smother the relentless, pulsating, not-to-be-denied . . . You know how it goes in Harlequin country.

The next-to-last scene of the pilot finds Dr. Cooper getting into bed for a nap in the residents' room after her horrible day, when who should come in but Dr. Powell. He left his saxophone under the bed, he explains . . . You know how it goes.

There is some talent in the cast, though most of it's wasted. The biggest waste is that of Donal Logue, a.k.a. Cabdriver McBride on MTV -- the sweaty guy with the greasy glasses on a nonstop rant. Logue plays an uptight resident who has his first patient die on him. It's mainly played for laughs, as he struggles for the words to tell the family of the dead man.

It's a mistake to write off a drama series after seeing just the pilot. So, I won't.

But, by the time Dr. Powell was explaining how his saxophone really was under Dr. Cooper's bed, I started to think that maybe "Models, Inc." wasn't all that bad.

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