ABC’s Off the Map had a lot going for it when it premiered in January. For one thing, Jenna Bans, who worked on Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, created it. Shonda Rhimes, the brain trust behind Grey’s, produced it. The cast was excellent. Set in a South American jungle, it was a unique medical show about some very strange cases, and American doctors trying to escape their past having, while to adapt to the local culture. Think Grey’s meets Star Trek: Deep Space 9 in a setting that looks like Lost. Yes, those are all intended to be serious compliments.
The series begins as Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas, Wonderfalls) comes to the clinic, haunted by the memory of her dead fiance. She is accompanied by two other new, young doctors, Tommy Fuller (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) and Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer, The Good Wife). Fuller is a plastic surgeon who has a family who doesn’t like or respect him, as he spent his college days drinking. Minard let a patient die while exhausted, thinking he simply had a case of the flu, instead of the zebra of a case that it actually was. So she was kicked out of her residency program. All three hope this will be a nice change of pace, allowing them to re-evaluate their lives. Of course, they soon realize they are biting off more than they can chew.
Then there’s the older doctors, who have been there long enough to know the lay of the land. Dr. Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson, Big Sky) is the strong, male lead. Mentor to all, he is the subject of Lily’s initial crush, but he already has someone. Kind of. That’s Ryan Clark (Rachelle Lefevre, Twilight), who is struggling with her own severe medical problems. Otis Cole (Jason George, Grey’s Anatomy) is said to be a jerk, but he’s pretty likeable, and has a thing for Zita Alvarez (Valerie Cruz, True Blood). Zita is actually from the region, so unlike the others, she isn’t trying to forget anything.
It’s a motley crew, to be sure, but one that’s good in a crisis, and can get things done effectively. Which they do, over and over again, for the thirteen episodes of Off the Map‘s too-short run. Each character actually shows not only some depth in personality and back story, but growth. For instance, Lily only really drools over Keeton for a short time before switching to a guy that is actually available. Otis figures out his feelings for Zita, instead of continuing to stew over them. New relationships bloom where they may not be exactly expected. And there isn’t a weak actor in the cast.
There are such drastic improvements on most of the characters’ outlooks, it’s with bittersweetness that one begins to wonder where the series would have gone, had it continued. Surely, new, fresh faces would have joined the ranks, and life would have gone on. Not everyone can stay in the jungle long-term, but Off the Map already established a core group that could brave the dangers of the jungle and come through with flying colors.
The principal cast is not the only reason to watch. A slew of fantastic guest stars, from Michael McKean to Aimee Garcia to Cheech Marin to Judy Reyes cross the threshold of the small, poor clinic. Each brings their own intriguing twist with them. Plus, the staff often deals with strange medical conditions and has to rescue patients from dangerous conditions. Tourists aren’t easily prepared for such a risky environment, and many end up in the make shift hospital. As such, there is a lot going on in each and every episode. Plus, no subtitles for when the locals speak Spanish, making viewers feel as lost as the doctors!
The DVD release’s special features reflect the strange setting in which the story takes place. Clocking in at around five minutes, “Jungle Medicine” examines some of the strange medical mysteries the characters encounter, and promises that each is based on a real-life story. The eight-minute “On Set At Off the Map” interviews cast members and producers about what it was like to film in Hawaii, as well as how they made things look like South America. There are also eleven deleted scenes and a standard two-minute blooper reel. Not too shabby for a series that only last thirteen episodes!
In short, it’s a real shame Off the Map won’t be back this fall, and despite the cliffhanger of an ending, I do recommend purchasing this three disc set. It’s a wonderful adventure with rich characters in interesting scenarios, and not at all a waste of time to watch. It’s a unique show with some brave choices that set it apart from standard fare.
Off the Map: The Complete Series boasts Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, Spanish and French subtitles, and 1.78:1 Widescreen picture. Which means it looks and sounds fantastic.
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