Well, here we are at Bunker Hill again. What shenanigans is Bell up to this week?
Some pretty big ones, actually. Bell has decided that the city of San Francisco, no, the whole planet, is too small a platform for his hospital. This week, to get the press on his side, Bell is having the Bunker Hill team perform surgery in space.
To its credit, PURE GENIUS seems like it’s finally using its scope to its advantage. I mean, outer space seems a little random, but as the premise of this show weighs on a billionaire going “Why not?” while throwing money into building a miracle hospital, yeah, why not?
Performing the remote surgery via robot (and a video feed to millions of people around the world) is Dr. Walter “What-the-heck-am-I-doing-here” Wallace, whose temporary foray into idealism last week has devolved back into a weary veneer of exasperated tolerance for Bell, a tolerance which grows thinner and thinner as the episode goes on. Given the repetition of the show in its themes and characterization thus far, one has to wonder how much of it is acting and how much of it is just Dermot Mulroney’s face.
Luckily, Brenda Song is there to give the show the comedic energy it desperately needs, as Angie starts obsessing over Dr. Strauss again while Dr. Brockett listens, grinning. I really like the dynamic between these two; they seem like real friends, and it’s nice to have a relationship here that feels natural. You can’t always know if actors are going to have chemistry or work well together, but this show seems to enjoy forcing characters together that don’t really work (more on that later).
Then lo and behold, no sooner is Song off screen than we get an unexpected guest star – Brian Stepanek, probably best known (at least to my generation) for his role as Arwin on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, where Song was also one of the main cast. I don’t know if there are any Suite Life fans watching this show (probably not), but they’re getting a reunion no one was expecting!
Stepanek plays Lenny, the astronaut in charge of overseeing the surgery as Dr. Wallace performs it. It’s heart surgery on a dummy called SAL, but Bell makes sure to mention that the heart still pumps real blood – oh, and did he also mention the video feed is live?
Dr. Wallace, though not pleased, proceeds with the surgery. Disaster strikes, of course, when the robot doesn’t stop cutting, and SAL essentially dies on air – not great advertising for the “hospital of the future.” While Bell tries to run damage control with the press, Dr. Wallace realizes they have a bigger problem – Lenny’s appendix is about to burst.
Meanwhile, running with the theme of “the heart,” I suppose, the writers try to use the narrative of an engaged couple who are patients at Bunker Hill to pair off potential romantic partners in Dr. Brockett and Dr. Verlaine, and in Angie and Dr. Strauss. Dr. Brockett and Dr. Verlaine work together to cure the couple and other E. coli victims; this brings them closer together, which, of course, doesn’t go unnoticed by Bell. The problem with this set-up is, the characters are still too thinly written for them to have much chemistry. I’m not saying they couldn’t work well together; I’m saying the show hasn’t established the characters enough as themselves for a deeper connection between them to be plausible. What is there to connect to, when they haven’t been made distinct as individuals?
It’s the same problem with Angie and Dr. Strauss. As charming as Angie is, the writing still hasn’t done great favors to deepen her character, and Dr. Strauss is so bland. Angie’s musings about his supposed “secret past” are more entertaining than he’s ever been – though perhaps that’s not fair, since he’s barely been given enough screen time to establish anything involving personality. I have to say, though, one of my favorite moments is when he speaks Mandarin, with Angie’s immediate response – “The plot thickens.” If we started getting flashbacks to Dr. Strauss’s “secret past,” including the alleged five years in a Chinese prison Angie imagines, I think we could have some great comedy on our hands.
As it stands, though, the show is still mainly focused on sentimentality, as the episode ends with the engaged couple’s wedding, with Dr. Strauss officiating.
Lenny’s okay, by the way. He had to perform surgery on himself in the space station (shouldn’t there be a doctor there who could do that?), then blacked out and nearly died, but he came back. I would have spent more time on it, but the show seemed more concerned with its various romances than with a life-or-death situation.
Focus. This show needs focus.
What I’m trying to say is, this show is so far up in the air with its technobabble and barely-plausible medical treatments, it doesn’t feel based in reality; thus, when it tries to switch its subject matter over to emotions and actual human connections, they don’t feel real, either, and thus unearned. How are we as an audience meant to connect to something that doesn’t feel real?
Shows are supposed to progress and evolve as they go; Pure Genius seems stuck in its own mediocrity, with no end in sight without some drastic changes. Since it’s been announced that CBS will not be ordering any more episodes of Pure Genius and will simply air the thirteen it originally ordered, I don’t think I can hold out much hope.
(Side note: my favorite moment of the episode was from, of course, Dr. C, being brilliant and awesome as usual, creating a siphon for Lenny out of a tube and a plastic bottle. Dr. Wallace’s face was priceless, and I loved her line: “What? We had Girl Scouts in India!” If the impossible happened and we had a spin-off of this show, can it be Dr. C being an amazing doctor? I would write that; I volunteer!)
Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
Pure Genius airs Thursdays at 10PM on CBS
Read all of our reviews of Pure Genius here.
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Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
Follow Cailin on Twitter: @sherlocked1058
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Cailin Coane | Contributor