TV Review - A Gifted Man

Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson
in "A Gifted Man"
In the fifth episode, which aired on October 21, 2011, Eric La Salle was added to the cast of A Gifted Man. La Salle was one of the stars of the hit series ER, and I think that this cements A Gifted Man as a medical drama that has a gimmick for a premise but isn't really striving to be much more than a patient-of-the-week show.

A patient-of-the-week show would be fine, if the writers bothered to make them exciting or thrilling at all. As it stands, they're pretty unimpressive.

I wouldn't mind it if the writers instead balanced it with perhaps a deeper exploration of the show's premise or had more fun with its characters. This series takes the time-slot previously held by The Ghost Whisperer and briefly held by Medium. Both were about a person who can communicate with spirits. A Gifted Man is selfsame, but it so far has not really been about the afterlife or spirituality or even faith. Those themes obviously come up, but only because you can't have them not, given the subject matter, but it feels as if the writers really could care less about those themes.

Patrick Wilson received an Emmy nomination for his performance in the HBO adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America. Since then he has given a string of amazing performances on film. Those films have not had tremendous business at the box office, so Wilson may not be a household name. This network gig may help to change that.

Wilson plays Dr. Michael Holt, a neurosurgeon with his own private practice. He's very successful, very rich and very much a jerk. Things change after he learns that his ex-wife Anna has died, yet she appears to him in ghost form. She's the Sam Wheat to his Oda Mae Brown, if Oda Mae Brown was a handsome, Caucasian medical doctor with an amazing physique.

Whereas Sam Wheat needed help solving his murder and stopping the theft of tons of money, Anna needs help saving her free clinic as well as help making Michael less of a jerk. Anna, played by Jennifer Ehle (The King's Speech and Contagion), pushes Michael to volunteer his services to people who aren't wealthy enough to afford his services. He's resistant at first, but he does come around.

Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) directed the first episode and of all the episodes that followed it's the best looking. Demme shoots mostly if not all hand-held, not unlike his recent Rachel Getting Married, but the shots are never shaky or too documentary-like. There are a lot of dirty two-shorts or over-the-shoulder shots and many close-ups. Demme loves to rack-focus. He also comes up with very clever angles and movements.

That energy and visual creativity though are lost immediately in the subsequent episodes. The look becomes quite standard. What isn't standard are the actual brain surgeries that are depicted. Every week, Michael has to cut into someone's skull. Aside from the intimate shots of blood and gray matter, we also get 3-D imaging of neurons. It goes beyond anything we've seen in something like Grey's Anatomy or the TV movie Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.

If the show has shined, it's done so by pitting Holt who is this stubborn man of science against forces in which he either doesn't believe or can't explain, like the visitations from his dead ex-wife. One other is his sister's boyfriend, Anton, played by Pablo Schrieber (The Wire and Lights Out). Anton describes himself as a Shaman who practices mysticism, something Michael thinks is bunk.

I will say the writers have given Wilson and Ehle some great dialogue. Their conversations are funny and often poignant. They also do have fun by playing with Ehle's character as a ghost in the modern and ironic world. The question is how long can it reasonably go on. Sam Wheat had a defined purpose. When he fulfilled it, he moved on. Anna has somewhat of a defined purpose, but that purpose is basically fulfilled by the fifth episode. So, what is she really going to do for the rest of the season?

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Fridays at 8PM on CBS.


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