`Presidio' to offer dose of soap opera mush

ABC show relies on flawed formula

Fall TV

September 24, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Presidio Med, a new medical drama from ABC, is the worst kind of new fall series. It's the kind that makes you crazed about the way network television can waste tremendously talented performers in the worst sort of formulaic, assembly-line mush.

There are wall-to-wall flawed, awful new series this fall, and none of them makes me angry the way Presidio Med does. How you can take a cast that includes Blythe Danner, Anna Deavere Smith, Dana Delany and Julianne Nicholson - along with Ossie Davis as guest star - and wind up with such a sorry soap opera of a series is almost beyond comprehension. But I have seen such waste again and again, year after year in network television. Unfortunately, it never gets easier to witness.

Presidio Med is about a group of doctors in a medical practice attached to a hospital in San Francisco.

Why should we care about these doctors? As the CBS publicity package puts it: "At a time when the world of medicine is becoming more impersonal, the doctors at the Presidio Medical Group set bureaucracy aside and put their patients first, forming trusting, long-term relationships."

Talk about a fantasy. Presidio Med is one of several new series trying to tap into a growing anger over the increasing corporatization and de-personalization of U.S. medicine.

That's not exactly an original insight on the part of the producers. In 1997, you could see theatergoers standing and applauding during the feature film As Good As It Gets when the Helen Hunt character excoriated HMOs for denying coverage to her ailing son.

Better late than never, though, I guess. The problem with Presidio Med is the simplistic answer it offers: women doctors. Why? Because women doctors will care for patients the way male doctors won't. And why is that? Because, in the world of Presidio Med, women are just given to forming trusting, long-term relationships with their patients the way men won't.

I am not going to waste anyone's time explaining how crackpot that generalization is. Such answers are the stuff of two-bit, Venus-Mars, pop psychology on daytime TV talk shows.

Presidio Med takes every cheap shortcut it can in trying to exploit easy emotion. The opening scene gives us Dr. Rae Brennan (Delany) in bed with a man in a tent near a battlefield. We hear the sound of helicopter blades thwack-thwack-thwacking overhead as the two try to have sex. They are interrupted when the man is summoned to tend the wounded.

Dr. Brennan is in Pakistan, where she is donating two weeks of her time to Doctors Without Borders. But instead of getting any sense of her politics or medical ethics from the scene, what we get instead is titillation. The scene is part of an overall effort by the producers to recycle Delany's persona as Nurse Colleen McMurphy of the ABC series China Beach, instead of having to actually invent a new one for Dr. Brennan. Shame on Delany for going along with it.

Shame on producers Lydia Woodward and John Wells, of ER, for a pilot that relies on an undersized baby fighting for its life, an ovarian cancer scare and infidelity for its drama. As feminist as this series would like us to think it is, it winds up demeaning women with the way it describes and circumscribes their concerns and world in soap opera terms.

Presidio Med premieres at 10 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).

`Hidden Hills'

Dad is horny, but mom is busy and doesn't seem to care.

That, and nothing but that, is what the new NBC family comedy Hidden Hills is all about.

Set in an affluent California suburb full of SUVs, cell phones and big homes, Hidden Hills might have had something to tell us about two-career families and the price of upward mobility, particularly in terms of the choices one is forced to make between children and career. But instead this series always goes for sex.

We see Hidden Hills through the eyes of two couples, according to NBC, but the pilot mainly focuses on one, Doug (Justin Louis) and Janine Barber (Paula Marshall). Doug is the horny dad.

The other couple, Zack (Dondre T. Whitefield) and Sarah Timmerman (Tamara Taylor), seem mainly to be on hand in the pilot to further frustrate Doug with all the sex they seem to be having. Since the Barbers are white and the Timmermans are black, I shudder to think what kind of strange and dangerous messages about race this carelessly stupid series will wind up sending before it is canceled.

Doug coaches a Little League baseball team, but instead of using that as a window on parent-kid relationships, it's exploited as a prop to introduce a newcomer to Hidden Hills, a single mom (Kristin Bauer) who in addition to being Doug's assistant coach also runs a pornographic Web site featuring pictures of herself. Doug and the other dads only get their wives' attention when the women find out about their husbands' regular visits to porn mom's site.

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