At the end of the premiere of "The Mob Doctor" (8 p.m. Sept. 17, Fox; 2 stars out of 4), the title character is offered a free pass on a mob debt, but she must leave her hometown of Chicago to earn it.
If only Dr. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) would take the pass. Roosevelt Medical Center's top resident wouldn't have to perform life-saving surgeries and then run out to pull screwdrivers out of the heads of low-level thugs. She wouldn't have to call out her hospital superiors (Zeljko Ivanek, others) or butt heads with a needlessly bitchy co-worker (Jamie Lee Kirchner). She wouldn't have to steal her cute boyfriend's (Zach Gilford) patient and then compromise his job. She wouldn't have to argue with her best friend (Floriana Lima) or her nagging mom (Wendy Makkena).
Most of all, Grace wouldn't have to be right all the damn time.
The biggest ailment facing "The Mob Doctor" isn't its silly premise or its even more ridiculous title. It's how co-creators Josh Berman and Rob Wright make Dr. Grace Devlin—see what they did with her name there—a superwoman who seemingly does no wrong.
In order to create a credible anti-hero, you need the "anti." But Grace appears to walk on water. (Actually, that's the only walk Grace doesn't perform in the pilot, which gives her about three slo-mo glamour strolls.)
Grace has two mob connections when we first meet her. She secretly works for mob boss Paul Moretti (Michael Rapaport) to pay off gambling debts incurred by her brother, Nate (Jesse Lee Soffer), and keep him alive. Also, recently paroled ex-mob kingpin Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe) is an old family friend and someone she still turns to for advice.
When Moretti orders Grace to kill one of her patients, a former gangster turned federal witness, we see the moral dilemma she will face—apparently on a weekly basis. Does she follow the life-saving medical oath, not to mention her own ethical code, or does she operate in a murky moral area? Maybe she cheats on her boyfriend with her old thug pal Franco (James Carpinello). Maybe she asks her mob friends to put the screws to a workplace foe? Maybe she accidentally, or purposefully, kills someone.
I get the feeling Grace will always do the right thing, which is going to make "The Mob Doctor" predictable and not all that entertaining. And that's too bad, because there's an intriguing show waiting to burst out from under the medical-case-of-the-week sub plots and Grace's unbelievably impossible schedule. (Not to mention the umpteen lapses in logic, like Grace having Constantine's number in her cell phone under his real name. You're busted, girl!)
Spiro, who was always charming in "My Boys," projects strength, vulnerability and extreme likeability as Grace. The actress definitely can handle the complicated emotions Grace must feel juggling her two lives. Her scenes with Forsythe, who knows how to play a multi-layered mobster, are some of the best in the pilot.
There's something going on with Constantine that I think I've figured out, but that still isn't keeping me from calling time of death on "The Mob Doctor." Nor does the fact that the pilot already has played one of the premise's most dramatic cards.
It's too bad only one episode was available for preview, because I am eager to see if the writers surprise me. Otherwise, "The Mob Doctor" is already on life support.
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