Off the Map 1.01, “Saved By the Great White Hope”

“So much for a clean slate.” – Tommy Fuller

Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas) treats a patient while hanging from a zipline.

This midseason, The Signal will be reviewing the midseason pilots as they air. This group includes Off the Map, a medical drama set in South Africa, starring Caroline Dhavernas, Mamie Gummer and Zach Gilford, amongst a group of others.

Medical dramas come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Will setting one in South Africa set it apart? A review of the episode, written by Jenna Bans and directed by Daniel Minahan, after the jump…

Off the Map won’t blow your mind with its originality; at least this early, it resembles Grey’s Anatomy, not difficult with Shonda Rhimes producing.  This manifests particularly in some scenes with Rhimes-ian dialogue quirks (such as the opening dialogue and the fan scene) that aren’t quite needed. I expect Jenna Bans, whose baby this is, is thinking exactly of the quote above as she reads the reviews of the show that largely compare it to her former boss’ – no clean slate here. That said, I very much enjoy Grey’s Anatomy, and while I’ll be unhappy if this ends up being Grey’s in the jungle, I’m definitely content to enjoy these first few episodes while the show finds an identity of its own. The problems stem not from the premise, as Off the Map is definitely its own creature there, but from how it treats its characters emotional lives.  That is, they give a dramatic monologue that goes in line with their patients’ stories.

However, this is a process most new shows go through. Bones spent half a year figuring itself out before it became the immensely watchable show it transformed into, based on the time we spent growing to care about the characters. The chracters here are just as thinly drawn, but they definitely have potential, especially with the strong cast the show’s hired. I’m already familiar with three: Caroline Dhavernas, whose work on Wonderfalls was brilliant and deserving of a larger showcase; Zach Gilford, whose work on Friday Night Lights was definitely praiseworthy; and Jason George, who is, no matter what character he plays, always very likable. And all three have left their makr on their characters already, which means I’m excited to see the characters grow as things develop.

The show itself is interesting. I suspect it will inspire plenty of donations to medical centres in South America, as viewers watch week-in and week-out as doctors struggle with too little supplies and too few drugs. The setting is gorgeous, and the stories are potentially unique in that they are working without the fancy equipment that the Grey’s doctors rely on. There, it’s an astonishing event if they revolutionise a procedure; here, it’s a miracle if they can do half what can be done in an American city hospital.

The pilot, at points, suffers from pilot-itis: the characters overshare in order to reveal exposition about themselves, there are clear lines that feel ready-made for promos (with the last scene being the worst for this), and the characters are still being formed as you watch. The most fun and interesting characters don’t get this treatment: Zee Alvarez (Valerie Cruz) as the sharp-tongued doctor sick of training newcomers who return the favour by leaving, and Charlie (Jonathan Castellanos), the young translator who works for the clinic. Both bring a ‘seen-it-all’ wit and weariness to the show that is much more engaging than the leads. We don’t get their entire backstory, but the writers don’t worry so much about establishing them, allowing the characters to breathe a little. Here, due to the confines of the story, Zee mostly interacts with Dr. Cole (Jason George) and Charlie with Tommy (Zach Gilford), so I can’t wait to see their dynamics with the rest of the crew build.

It’s not the most layered, intense, or subtle show by a long shot, but it definitely has the potential to be interesting. Worth watching, if only for the great performances I know are forthcoming from the cast. I doubt this will become a regular coverage show, at least not for the first half-season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a regular in the Weekly Roundups.

2 Responses to “Off the Map 1.01, “Saved By the Great White Hope””
  1. Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had and commented:
    I would have loved to see the second season.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] the Map grew to be a much better show than its pilot, which I gave a lackluster review, but never really became something truly special. At times, Grey’s Anatomy (Off the […]

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