PURE GENIUS isn’t living up to its full potential, and it’s a little frustrating.
The appeal of the show is its scope: you have the best doctors, at the best hospital, with the best technology, who can help any patient in the world with any illness or affliction. The last thing this kind of show should be is dull.
Why, then, does it feel like we’re just repeating the same plot elements week after week?
I get that most shows have a formula – it’s a necessary skeleton to hang the rest of their body of work on – but that doesn’t mean it has to feel formulaic. And this really does. It’s episode five, and I still feel like I have only the barest understanding of who the characters are or why I’m supposed to care about what’s happening at Bunker Hill.
To be fair, this week the teaser starts out promising enough: Bell promises Amy Delgado, a woman with a severe facial burn, bioprint skin surgery to reconstruct her scarred face – a procedure that is currently illegal. Bell enlists Dr. Wallace to convince his wife Julianna, an FDA executive (how hasn’t this been brought up before?), to approve the procedure.
In the meantime, the Bunker Hill team goes to a hockey game for “team building.” A hockey player suffers a severe spinal injury, with swelling in his brain. As the team rushes to assist, Dr. Channarayapatra asks for a drill, and drills into the player’s skull right there on the ice, relieving the pressure and saving his life. What a badass!
After the teaser, though, the show reverts to its old cliches. Bell proceeds to be predictably Bell and gives false hope to the paralyzed hockey player, Billy Watts, by showing him a video of a former paraplegic up and walking again, even attempting to play sports. This, of course, gets Billy all excited, which Dr. C is not happy about (I’m going to refer to her as Dr. C from now on; Billy’s girlfriend did it in the episode, so I take it that it’s fine). Billy has the surgery done to hopefully restore his mobility, but his progress isn’t immediate like he hopes, and thus he throws a tantrum.
With new patients every week, I’m not asking for each patient to be incredibly complex or densely written; I’m just asking that they be more than walking, talking plot devices. In Billy’s case, I can’t dredge up even a modicum of sympathy for this particular character; they could have done anything with his story line, and yet his bruised ego is what they use to create the flimsiest of conflicts between himself and his girlfriend. Personally I think the audience’s time is better spent elsewhere.
In the meantime, Bell is busy trying to convince Dr. Wallace to convince Julianna to approve the bioprint surgery. This involves setting up a romantic dinner for “W” and “Jules” to discuss the matter.
Here is where Pure Genius really drops the ball in terms of character dynamics. Dr. Wallace recounts to Bell that he lost his last job when he went up against the FDA for performing a controversial surgery; it turns out his wife is an executive at the FDA. This set-up is loaded with possibilities for tension: did she know about him performing the surgery? If she did, was she the one responsible for reporting him to the FDA? If she isn’t, did she feel betrayed when she found out? Could there be any resentment there with them both experiencing conflict between their personal and professional lives?
But no; their conversation plays out like the stereotypical, perfect married couple. I don’t necessarily want them to argue – I just want there to be some kind of emotion to relate to!
Things get a bit more interesting when the hockey team visits Billy and proceeds to give him alcohol. I know television doesn’t typically portray athletes as the brightest bulbs, but this is really stupid. Plus, shouldn’t such a hi-tech hospital have some kind of security in place so people can’t sneak stuff like this in? Aren’t patients always being monitored?
Anyway, Billy goes into cardiac arrest; fortunately, Dr. C and Dr. Wallace are able to save his life. I have to say, Dr. C is turning out to be the heavy lifter of the team. The cast is too big as it is; we’ve barely had any time to get to know characters like Dr. Verlaine or Dr. Strauss, and Bell and Dr. Wallace are just not gelling in a believable partnership. Honestly, if it were up to me, I’d be perfectly happy with a show focused on Dr. C, Angie, and Dr. Brockett – Dr. C as the brilliant neurosurgeon, Angie as the tech genius, and Dr. Brockett as the go-between for the patients and medical staff. Each of them has their defined role, and they are all incredibly good at their jobs – I’d love to just cut the fat and use what’s actually working in the show.
Pure Genius isn’t terrible; it just seems so determined to be as average as possible. I think that’s more frustrating than if it was genuinely awful. It has its good moments – in this episode, the chess-playing scenes between Bell and Lewis Keating were nicely done – but it’s lost its forward momentum. Maybe a closer look at Bell’s struggle with his GSS diagnosis will help it regain some of that.
Overall, the show would benefit from spending more time fleshing out its main cast rather than on just the cases of the week.
Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
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