Tuned In: New Doctor drama "Off the Map" is flatlining

TV Review

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Depending on how good an arm you have, watching ABC's "Off the Map" could require medical attention: It's a head smacker. You know, a show so preposterous that it inspires the watcher to smack his or her forehead with the palm of the hand.

Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice") and created by Jenna Bans (a "Grey's" writer), "Off the Map" follows a trio of young doctors who arrive at a clinic "somewhere in South America" (played by Hawaii and locations that may look familiar to "Lost" fans).

These young docs proceed to behave like stereotypically idiotic, privileged Americans -- and sappy characters on a TV melodrama.

Wednesday's premiere opens and closes with scenes of doctors diving off cliffs into the ocean, which provides a fantastic, tropical visual but may also leave rational-minded viewers to wonder, are these doctors complete morons? Have they never had a kid in the ER who dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool?

Each of the young docs comes with a pre-fab back story that explains what brought them to this place. Brunette Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas, mostly MIA since the short-lived 2004 Fox series "Wonderfalls") grieves the death of her fiance; Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter who had a memorable guest appearance on "The Good Wife") misdiagnosed a child patient when she was exhausted and the kid died; frat boy Tommy Fuller (Zach Gilford, "Friday Night Lights") disappointed his family by becoming a plastic surgeon.

These three pups are matched by three elders: Local doctor Zitajalehrena Alvarez (Valerie Cruz), Dr. Otis Cole (Jason George) and aloof clinic founder Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson, looking a lot like Sawyer from "Lost"), who also serves the role of designated hunk.

"You realize we're objectifying one of the greatest humanitarians of our time," Lily says as she watches Keeton doff his shirt.

"Just checking out his credentials," Mina says, virtually wiping drool from her lower lip.

Tommy arrives at the clinic expressing a desire to get his "swim on," but Dr. Cole throws him for a loop by sending him out with the clinic's interpreter -- Charlie (Jonathan Castellanos), a child -- to treat a possible tuberculosis patient. When Tommy complains about the hike, Charlie replies, "This is the reason Americans are fat and lazy: They only drive." (OK, so the natives can be just as cliched as the Americans.)

Continuity is not the show's strong suit. In one scene, Lily goes down a zip wire to get to a tourist who got his arm mangled while soaring though the tree canopy. Viewers see her cutting the guy loose and then next thing you know they're on the ground. How exactly did they get down?

The show's absolute worst moment is saved for near the end of the premiere. Lily, having bonded with the zip wire patient who returned to the country where he honeymooned to dump his recently deceased wife's ashes, demands that rather than immediately move the man to safety when an infection sets in -- with a helicopter standing by -- they take time to help the man fulfill his wish to spread his wife's ashes on a lake that glows from the phosphorous microscopic organisms that live in it. The next scene is of Lily, Dr. Keeton and the patient, still on a stretcher, rowing through the lake in a canoe. It's intended to be a heartwarming moment, but it's difficult to have your heart warmed when your intelligence is being insulted at the same time. Seriously, would any real doctor take time in an emergency for such sappy nonsense?

It's a shame that the writing makes "Off the Map" so unwatchable. The show benefits from a strong cast -- particularly the three young docs -- but even they cannot offset the show's fatal flaw: It's brain-dead and clearly expects viewers to be, too.


Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published January 9, 2011 5:00 AM


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