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TV Review: Off the Map – “Saved By the Great White Hope”

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With Shonda Rhimes on board as producer, and the main characters mostly doctors by profession, you can be forgiven for thinking that ABC’s new Off the Map is just another Grey’s Anatomy clone. Forgiven, because it sounds likely, but you would be mistaken. The show is not created by Rhimes, but rather by Jenna Bans. Bans has worked on Grey’s and Desperate Housewives, so she’s part of the ABC family, but also brings something slightly different to the table. That’s what Off the Map is: different, but not so much so that it feels out of place among the network’s popular series.

When Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas, Wonderfalls) first appeared on screen, I immediately pegged her as Meredith Grey type. Then I started thinking Christina Yang. Soon, it became apparent that she was neither, and both, with a dose of House‘s Cameron mixed in, as she did lose her fiance. But Brenner is more than that. She’s that idealistic hero, brave and smart, that can rise to the circumstance, that every great show needs. After saving a man (the great Michael McKean guest starring) who trapped his arm in a zip line, and then making sure he got to dump his wife’s ashes before he took off in a helicopter, Brenner has already made herself TV’s newest leading lady. She owned the show.

Brenner may have stood out to me, but she is not alone. Two other young docs arrived with her in the form of Tommy Fuller (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) and Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer, The Good Wife). Each of the three has something in their past that has driven them far away into the wilderness, as we’re told each person that comes to the clinic from the U.S. has. Brenner’s is the dead fiance, which caused her to take an extended leave of absence. Fuller has a family who doesn’t like or respect him, as he spent his college days drinking. He has already earned the nickname ‘Plastics’ because his idea of a great surgery is implanting fake breasts. 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. You know, when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras? We’re told she was kicked out of her residency program for the mistake, though that seems a little harsh to me. Perhaps there is more to the story?

Not only the young ones, but the elder doctors must have issues, too. Something has to make Otis Cole (Jason George, Grey’s Anatomy, Eli Stone) the jerk that he is. At least, he’s called a jerk. I found him very likable, as George’s characters always are. In fact, I liked him best of the elder docs on staff. He has spirit, a sense of fun, and he doesn’t put up with anything that he shouldn’t, especially from snotty new arrivals.

Cole isn’t the only one displeased with the newbies before he even gets to know them. Zita Alvarez (Valerie Cruz, True Blood, Dexter) had an even better reaction. The barb she gave that stuck with me was about the new doctors not even bothering to learn Spanish, though clearly that’s what most of the locals speak. I like this, because it reinforces the idea that this clinic is someplace to run to, not someplace anyone really wants to be. As such, it sets a different tone from other medical dramas immediately, and tells us something vital about each of the characters, even though its not an obvious characteristic of everyone… yet. Not only that, the culture barrier is emphasized nicely to the audience by not subtitling the Spanish speak. I’m as clueless as those new doctors as to what the residents are saying. Very neat.

Though George is certainly a hunk to many, as a show with Rhimes involved, there has to be a Mc-someone, and he is there in the form of Dr. Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson, Big Sky. From the moment Brenner and Minard ogle his abs as he takes off his shirt, you know he’s going to have a Mc-nickname soon. Plus, he has an accent, so double points. Honestly, I found Keeton a little bland, the only character I thought that of. I’m sure it’s simply because he didn’t get enough development. We got only the barest glimpse into his issues at the end of the episode, and there will surely be more to come.

Speaking of the end of the episode, I was incredibly disappointed that Ryan Clark (Rachelle Lefevre, Twilight, What About Brian?) had so little screen time in the pilot. She is one of my favorite TV actresses, and we still know nothing about her character. As she is listed as a principal cast member, it can’t be long before more of her is revealed, but I’m impatient in that regard.

I won’t say that this show changed my world, or that it belongs at the top of the ratings. But I will say there’s something pretty cool here, and it’s not just another procedural clone. As such, I urge you to check out Off the Map, which airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Rhimes Stereotypes

    Shonda Rhimes & ABC either refuse to portray Black women on their shows in the TV lineup – consistently eliminating them from roles, as in “Off the Map” – or continue to stereotype Black women as (arguably) successful, but dysfunctional with sterile roles, as in Grey’s Anatomy and, to a degree, Private Practice. Although Rhimes is a Black woman, the typical pattern for her shows is to
    1. systematically and completely exclude Black women, or
    2. in the rare cases where Black women are portrayed,cast them as less-desirable than their non-Black counterparts – feel free to pick your negative stereotype as Rhimes uses them all, unable to be involved in healthy relationships with any man, and definitely not a Black man.
    At best, Rhimes may cast a Black woman as the “best friend” to a non-black cast member, as if that is some special compliment. At worst, Black women are portrayed as the stark “b*tches” she wants America to believe them to be.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Audra MacDonald’s Naomi is less than impressive, but what about Chandra Wilson’s Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy? Sure, she lost her husband, but her relationship was no more dysfunctional than anyone else on that show. She’s always been one of my favorite characters. She’s tough, but has more heart than any other character, too. And she is no one’s sidekick.