As "Grey's Anatomy" winds to a close -- it will be back for the 2014-15 TV season, but surely its days are numbered -- it's not surprising that ABC is trying to find another medical show with a strong female lead.
But "Black Box" (10 tonight, WTAE) probably won't turn out to be the "Grey's" successor. It likely will prove too gonzo for some viewers and not smart or subtle enough for others.
The series focuses on Dr. Catherine Black (Kelly Reilly), a New York neurologist who attempts to unwrap the brain's mysteries while keeping her own counsel on her bipolar disorder diagnosis.
"The brain is the ultimate mystery: That's why doctors call it 'the black box,' " she says, explaining the show's title, which is both too on the nose (Get it, the doctor's name is Black!) and easily misconstrued as dirtier than intended slang.
The medical conditions explored in "Black Box" are not run-of-the-mill (one woman can no longer recognize her wife; another patient sees only the right side of objects), but the way they are presented is fairly routine. It doesn't help that the pilot is almost entirely focused on Black and doesn't do much to build out her team of co-workers besides Dr. Ian Bickman (Ditch Davey), the new chief of neurosurgery who may also become part of a love triangle with Black and her boyfriend, Will (David Ajala), a chef she's been dating for a year. She fails to tell Will she's bipolar until she cheats on him while on an out-of-town business trip.
"I have a tendency to go off the meds and do very bad things," she eventually confesses.
Flashbacks suggest Black had a rough upbringing that hasn't been made easier by some of her decisions, including allowing her brother and sister-in-law to raise Black's daughter as their own. Because bipolar isn't enough of a secret to keep, let's throw in a now-teen daughter who doesn't know her aunt is really her mom!
"It's all about you, all the time," says Black's sister-in-law, perhaps voicing some viewers' point of view. "God, it's exhausting!"
This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to storytelling does not help "Black Box" to be taken seriously. The pilot, written by series creator Amy Holden Jones ("Indecent Proposal"), comes across as a medical melodrama with a hint of the "Homeland" bipolar story and a desperate plea for attention through Black's hypersexual episodes.
As Black, Ms. Reilly makes for a pretty pouty "world-famous neurologist" that doesn't help the show in the believability department. But it does work well when the focus is on Black's off-her-meds sexual exploits, including a rough sex scene that leaves Will bloody.
"What you did to me that night? I liked it and I want to do it again," Will tells Black in a scene that would seem more at home in a Harlequin romance novel than in a self-serious medical drama.