Series Premiere — Off The Map, “Saved By The Great White Hope”

Yesterday, in my discussion of the Lights Out pilot, I talked a lot about the enjoyment of something familiar, but well executed. That conversation could just as easily apply to ABC’s new medical drama, Off The Map but the resulting discourse would certainly be more negative than the one about Lights Out.

As expected, Off The Map is Grey’s Anatomy in the jungle. Or at least it’s trying to be. It’s written by a longtime Grey’s and Private Practice writer and executive produced by Shonda Rhimes, so this makes sense. Critics haven’t too kind to the new series and I can see that. Off The Map takes most of the general framework and character types from the beginning of Grey’s — new doctors learning the ropes from veteran docs, lots of discussion about sex and hooking up, etc. — but doesn’t really have the kind of kick or spunk that Grey’s had in those early seasons.

But you know what? It does have Zach Gilford. And Mamie Gummer and Jason George. Plus, pretty locales!

In all seriousness, I understand the criticisms of this pilot. It lacks a lot of things the Grey’s pilot did have, most importantly a real directed perspective. I’m pretty sure that we are supposed to think that Caroline Dhavernas’ Lily is our eye into this world, our Meredith Grey if you will. However, the pilot jumps around a lot more than I remember the Grey’s pilot doing (again, it’s been like six years since I’ve seen that episode, so don’t judge) and Lily just doesn’t make that strong of an impact in this episode for me to really care about her dark and twisty past or whether or not she’s going to hook up with Martin Henderson’s horribly accented replacement for McDreamy.

In general, there’s less definition to the characters, especially the veteran ones. Martin Henderson is, well, Martin Henderson. He’s not a very interesting presence, but he’s not terrible. He just lacks the kind of inherent woundedness that Patrick Dempsey brings to his role on Grey’s or even what Tim Daly or Taye Diggs do on Practice. Jason George is basically playing the same kind of character that Jason George always plays, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but doesn’t offer a whole lot up in this initial episode. And Valarie Cruz’ Zita is even less interesting.

However, I do like Zach Gilford and Mamie Gummer’s characters. The problem is I can’t really decide if I actually like their characters or I’m just happy to have them on my television screens on a weekly basis. Neither of them are especially brilliant here and they’ve done better work in their previous television gigs, but hey, if you’re going to give me Matt Saracen and the smoldering goofball attorney from The Good Wife every week, I’m going to take it and like it.

Moreover, I’m kind of in the mood to watch a series like this. I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy a long time ago when a lot of people jumped ship, but I really adored that series when it was in its glorious run in seasons two and three. Hell, I think I’ve probably watched at least 20-30 episodes of Private Practice and had little to complain about with them as well. But Thursdays are just too busy these days and I don’t really have any interest in catching up with what I missed. But Off The Map is brand new. It has really great location shooting. It has so many likable actors that I adore. And the jungle location allows the series to be as ridiculous with the medical cases as it wants. So in this episode when a guy has a sting ray in his foot, that’s kind of awesome and sort of realistic! Or in the least, it’s not any worse than Izzie nursing a deer back to health in the Seattle Grace parking lot.

Watching Off The Map obviously makes me recall the two similar series that were probably much better from the beginning. But I don’t really care. I’m not watching those programs anymore for various reasons, but I can still enjoy this one for its goofy charms and appealing performers. There is nothing original in Off The Map and it’s not even a well-executed version of the kind of story it is telling (unlike Lights Out), but I’m not really sure I care. I’ve already set the season pass. I might not write about it every week, in fact I know I won’t. But I’ll probably watch Off The Map for rest of the season and generally enjoy it. If you don’t, that’s cool; I see the criticisms. I’m just choosing to ignore them.

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