A serious case of one-dementia

Review: It's a great idea in concept, but with such flat characters, `Strong Medicine' will need more than one dose of Whoopi Goldberg to be a success.

July 22, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Strong Medicine," a new medical drama starring Janine Turner ("Northern Exposure") and Rosa Blasi ("Noriega: God's Favorite"), is the best series pilot I've ever seen on the Lifetime cable channel.

Don't get excited. That's not necessarily as great as it might seem: A) Lifetime has not had much success with regular weekly series. B) A good pilot does not necessarily make for a great series, especially one as dependent on the guest star as this is.

The pilot is worth going out of your way to see tomorrow mainly for the performance of Whoopi Goldberg.

Why is Whoopi Goldberg in a Lifetime pilot? Because she's the executive producer of "Strong Medicine," and she's trying to give it a nice launch.

Congratulations on the launch, Whoopi. Now all you have to do is find a way to make the series work without you on screen.

I like the concept: Two female doctors from disparate backgrounds are forced into a shotgun marriage professionally. Both are dedicated to women's health, but they have very different ways of going about it.

Despite all the other medical dramas on TV, there is certainly room for this concept, especially on the cable channel that bills itself as "Television for Women."

Dr. Dana Stowe (Turner), is all theory, research, policy and the big picture. She holds a specialty fellowship in women's health at the prestigious Rittenhouse Hospital in Philadelphia, where the care is costly. She's extremely competent, but not the most empathetic doctor you've ever met. Some might say she's a little uptight. She's defi-nitely a by-the-book doc.

Dr. Luisa "Lu" Delgado (Blasi) is the opposite. She's all touch-me, feel-me, in-your-face, empathy and emotion. She just wants to heal the poor people who come into herSouth Philly Women's Clinic, a storefront operation that she runs with a male nurse and midwife (Josh Coxx) and a receptionist (Jennifer Lewis).

But the clinic is behind on paying its bills and will close by the end of the week if Dr. Delgado can't find an angel. The two doctors meet when Delgado goes to Rittenhouse asking for money, and the chief of staff (Philip Casnoff) sends Stowe to visit the clinic.

Do I have to tell you the visit is a disaster? Stowe disapproves of virtually everything Delgado does. And, before the visit ends, Delgado tells Stowe where she can stick her disapproval.

The problem is that each is one-dimensionally drawn and the points of conflict are obvious. Just once during the hour, I'd love to have been surprised by some nuance of character. But it doesn't come close to happening with either of them.

However, Goldberg's character, Dr. Lydia Emerson, is all nuance. And it's not in the script. Dr. Emerson is constructed as a kind of medical superstar -- pioneer researcher, super fundraiser, best-selling author of books on women's health.

But the character is constantly surprising you with her gestures, attitudes and even body language as she moves through the hour -- ultimately bringing these two adversaries together. That's due to Goldberg, the actress. I'd tune in next week and the week after that if she were one of the leading characters.

Goldberg made me want to know more about Dr. Emerson. The weak script and uninspired performances of Turner and Blasi left me feeling that there's little or nothing more to know about theirs.

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