Tune In: Pittsburgh setting lifts 'Heartland'; 'Conchords' is silly

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When: 10 p.m. Monday, TNT.
Starring: Treat Williams
'Flight of the Conchords'
When: 10:30 tonight, HBO.
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie.

It looks as if 2007 will go down as a banner year for Pittsburgh as a setting for prime-time television series. "The Kill Point," premiering July 22 on Spike TV, is currently filming here, and two more shows set in Pittsburgh (but shot in Los Angeles) will debut.

This fall Fox introduces the Kelsey Grammer-and-Patricia Heaton-as-newscasters sitcom "Back to You," and this week TNT breathes life into "Heartland" (10 p.m. Monday), a new doctor drama from David Hollander, the Mt. Lebanon native who created and ran CBS's 2001-04 series "The Guardian."

Premiering tomorrow after the season premiere of "The Closer," "Heartland" will please Pittsburgh viewers who love to hear familiar names and see familiar sights. In the first two episodes sent for review, Hollander peppers the scripts with references to Allegheny County, Squirrel Hill and the Steelers. The episode also shows off the city with establishing shots (soaring over the West End Bridge, a shot of One Oxford Centre Downtown, and a view from near the Duquesne Incline around when the lower deck of the Fort Pitt Bridge was under construction, which coincides with when "The Guardian" was in production).

As for the show itself, "Heartland" is a pedestrian medical drama that sparks to life near the end of the pilot in a scene that's set aboard a private jet.

St. Jude's Transplant Center surgeon Dr. Nathaniel Grant (Treat Williams, "Everwood") bickers with his ex-wife, organ procurement coordinator Kate Armstrong (Kari Matchett, "Invasion," "24"), who attempts to make nice with Grant's new girlfriend, nurse Jessica Kivala (Morena Baccarin, "Firefly"). Details of the relationship between Nate and Kate are revealed (he was unfaithful to their wedding vows, she didn't quit her job to care for the family as she said she would) in a scene that crackles in a way that most others do not.

It's clear that Hollander, who wrote and directed the first two episodes, aims to explore the flaws in the characters and the burden of brilliance.

"I can't be away from the hospital," Grant says regretfully near the end of the pilot. "I can't do other things. I've tried to be a father, a husband, collect a damn baseball card."

It's an interesting theme, as is the backdrop of an organ transplantation unit, but I have to wonder if either is enough to nourish and sustain a series over the long haul.

"Guardian" veteran Dabney Coleman recurs as Grant's aging mentor, who's now in need of a transplant himself. "Heartland" is certainly more accessible than "The Guardian," which featured a much less heroic lead character. Grant has his flaws and quirks -- he's an arrogant doctor who smokes; he sees the faces of organ donors in the faces of transplant patients who inherit their organs -- but he's certainly devoted to saving lives and taking risks to achieve that goal.

It's always challenging for a new series to find its footing (I wasn't wild about "The Guardian" pilot either), so there's hope that "Heartland" may evolve beyond the run-of-the-mill medical drama it begins as this week.

'Flight of the Conchords'

How you react to this new HBO comedy will depend largely on whether you enjoy absurd humor, because "Flight of the Conchords" (10:30 tonight) is most certainly a silly flight of fancy.

Transplanted New Zealanders Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) and Bret (Bret McKenzie) live in New York, searching constantly for girls and their next gig. The duo form a band called Flight of the Conchords, and they have one overzealous, stalkerish, married fan, Mel (Kristen Schaal), and a useless manager, Murray (Rhys Darby). Occasionally, the duo break into song to comment on their situations.

"I want to tell her how hot she is, but she'll think I'm sexist," Bret sings in episode two when he falls for a fellow sign holder (his job to supplement the band's income, which is pretty nonexistent). "Oh, my God, she's so hot, she's making me sexist."

It takes time to get into the rhythm of the humor in "Conchords." My initial reaction was to dismiss the series as a waste of time, but the second episode was more palatable.

My biggest gripe: The relationship between the guys and Murray is pretty much the same as the relationship between Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on HBO's "Extras."

"Conchords" is the kind of show that is likely to develop a cult audience, particularly among stoned college kids. We'll have to wait to see if other viewers follow suit.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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