Now this is a reality series that leaves you pining for more. ABC's "Houston Medical" deftly intermingles medicine and soap opera among the doctors, nurses and patients of Memorial Hermann Hospital at the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Less like "ER" than a fast-paced "St. Elsewhere," the opening installment has a compelling quality that feels neither invasive nor contrived. And no one appears to be mugging for the camera.
How did this happen? How did this six-part, very human medical docudrama seemingly get it so right? It's clear that Emmy-winning executive producers Charles Bangert (who directs) and Louis Gorfain (who writes) know their stuff. They also know to trust their instincts -- when to zoom in, when to back off, when to let the picture tell the story. The result is a pilot that's realistic and involving, casting an unblinking eye on the lives of some very vulnerable people with remarkable sensitivity.
Quick-cut without being choppy or somehow shortchanging the stories, "Houston Medical" interweaves vignettes that carry over from one episode to the next in a fashion that evokes a surprising intimacy. Memorial Hermann granted production crews unprecedented access for more than a year to its trauma centers, capturing the effect the hospital has on the lives of doctors and patients alike.
In the opener, the players include Marnie Rose, a 27-year-old pediatrician bravely battling the ravages of a brain tumor while continuing her residency; Terri Major-Kincade, a neonatologist married to a rap producer who fights a highly emotional (and ultimately losing) battle for a newborn baby's life; Mark Henry, a hand surgeon who performs a remarkable toe-to-hand operation on an amputee; and a hulking, goateed nurse named Kirk Spencer, who looks like a biker and treats kids like an angel.
The grief that pours forth from the anguished mother of twins -- one of whom is destined to die -- is gut-wrenchingly palpable. We are also furnished a front-row seat to a brain operation on Dr. Rose that leaves her partially paralyzed. And it's clear that Dr. Henry, while a helluva guy, is neglecting his marriage, inspiring his young wife to desperately seek an ill-advised quick-fix through pregnancy.
Bangert and Gorfain successfully navigate the tightrope between storytelling and prying, overlapping the various personal glimpses with laudable dexterity. We emerge from "Houston Medical" wanting to delve even further into the lives of its all-too-human subjects. The narration (from Jeff Colt) is spare, the music still sparer. It underscores the fact that this show never goes in for manipulation, opting for illumination instead.
New Screen Concepts Inc.
Executive producers: Charles Bangert, Louis Gorfain
Producers: Janis Biewend, Robin Groth, Mitchell Horn, Tracey Bagley Washington
Director: Charles Bangert
Writer: Louis Gorfain
Editors: Jonathan Moser, George Baluzy, Amina Megalli, David Schewel, Victor Zimet
Music: Scooter Pietsch
Medical consultant: Robert E. Fuisz
Narrator: Jeff Colt