Tuesday, August 25, 2009

RP episode 7: "Crazy Love" (Crazy, weird, radioactive, vaguely insulting love)

I'm trying something a little different for this episode. I'm still behind by four, and in the interests of speeding things up, plus making watching the show less of a task, I've adopted a format designed to keep it snappy while still touching on the most important points. It's less of a book this way, although even worse for people who might not have given the show their full attention. This week, "Boris has a shark in his basement." He also (SPOILER!) totally has cancer, or something.

The "A" Plot in one paragraph:

Jill's friend Katie (who got a call from Boris as soon as the shark arrived, remember?) is in town, for discussions about a research project which would be funded by Boris. She reveals that Jill, being a Hamptons native, has a string of summer-only flings. She also counsels Jill to be cut-throat and kind of evil about Hank... or does she?

The "B" Plot in one paragraph:

Divya's fiancee Raj is introduced; he's a floppy-haired hotelier, a nice enough guy, and I'm getting a serious "just friends" vibe off Divya. Faced with the hot-blooded, overwhelming "Lambada: the Forbidden Dance"-ness of this week's PDBs, Divya wonders what kind of relationship she's about to become locked into. This thread ends on a nicely unresolved note; is she craving a more passionate, less Old Country relationship with Raj, and frustrated because of how close it is? Or by how far away? In other words, when she kissed him with such passion, was it a test... and did they pass? He must be a good bloke, right? Who takes a freakin' bus to and from the Hamptons?

The "C" Plot in one paragraph:

Crazy, rich, Latin lover stereotypes have weird problems. Say what you want about American health care, but when we agree to secretly insert a GPS tracking device into somebody's breast implants without their knowledge or consent, we don't use plutonium-powered ones. Divya is really snotty about these particular PDBs, and ambivalent about her fiancee as a result of hanging around them. Evan hounds them for payment, and uncovers the truth; he's just as stupid about investing as she is stupid about him, so these DBs are less P than most.

PDBs of the Week:

Italian/ Argentinian/ Generic Exotic People Sofia and Javier; I had been hoping they would not in fact be redeemed by the end, and remain DBs. I was, for the most part, not disappointed. Credit is due to the writers for letting their characters remain horrible people throughout the entire episode, without much comment.

Obnoxius product placement moment:

"Wow, that's a good martini! When you showed me the bottle and declaimed the name of the brand, it made it more special."

Medical Moments:

* Opening on a stress test for Boris. Dude's treadmill is out on the patio. Nice. So, when's his colonoscopy? Sweeps?

- Roadside, after a Vespa goes off the road, Hank stil irrigates with nowhere near enough fluid.

- "I was going to cal 911, but then Divya told me about you..." say what, now? Didn't you get here thanks to a giant lawsuit arising from somebody thinking you were a dumbass who was doing too much?

* At Boris', Hank could be using enough irrigation for once, since the scene fades in on him using a 40ml syringe... but that pool table is wrecked if he's using the proper amount, with no towels down.

* When did they do a CT scan? I mean, cool. They did a CT scan. Okey-doke.

- The jewelry shouldn't even be in the same room as the MRI; never mind if it's powered on or not. It's still an enormous magnet. Physics fail. Oh, and same deal with the, uh, foreign object.


This episode sees Divya using the performance of medical duties as an excuse to postpone dealing with Raj, and the thorny nature of her personal life. This is something that plenty of real-life medical people might do, but so far it's not something we've seen on this show. So there's nothing to gague it against. I think here, it makes her look emotionally immature, rather than conflicted; and unprofessional, rather than distracted.

What's My Problem This Week:

Even before watching, I was thinking about the issues I've raised so far, and it sounds like actor Mark Feuerstein has been wondering something along the same lines. (It's a good interview at that link; read the whole thing. I'm referring to the very last question and answer.) In a nutshell, my issue is that Hank is such a nice guy, and everybody loves Hank. Always. Anybody who doesn't love Hank is either shown to be wrong and given the chance to change their opinion, or is a bad guy. But Hank, meanwhile, hasn't come to be in this situation because he's awesome; he's in this situation because things in Manhattan got utterly bollixed up. But since coming to the Hamptons, he's been nothing but wonderful.

As last episode showed, it's not like Hank is always even right; it's just that the show, centering as it does on him, is charitable to a fault about Hank's missteps. And a show about a perfect character is boring.

So it's nice to see a little erosion of his calm; what if Jill is only into him as an MSG? Then again, by the patented end-of-show tender moment, he's such a stand-up guy about not knowing his plans for Labor Day and beyond... he basically does the heavy lifting for Jill, allowing her to dump him with a minimum of fuss. "Gee, I'm sorry breaking up with me is so trying for you. Perhaps if I made some cocoa?"

Best line: "right now, I feel like I'm living on a Bond villain's property..."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

RP Episode 6: "If I Were A Rich Man" (...I'd fly to Hollywood, buy the writers lunch, and calmly explain where they go terribly wrong)

This is the episode full of dogs. And it's got some dog-like characteristics, in its own right.

I've found that while the treatment of Divya's career is overall excellent, in fact better than I could have hoped for when this show started, the show itself doesn't always deliver on what I optimistically like to think of as its promise. Maybe I seem grumpy about it, but from my point of view it's better to believe in the show's potential and then bitch about it than to shrug and nod at the decent parts. Besides, the most fun part of writing these is finding new ways to express my dismay when it's lame. (This was a good week for the writing project.)

Last week, Hank and Jill were flirting over drinks in a bar, and almost did it; this week, as the episode begins, they've just done it. Wow, for a show about the hedonistic Hamptons, six episodes is a long time. Especially considering that any possible reason for these two NOT to do it is... well, for one thing, not adequately shown on screen. Hank's broken engagement hasn't been anything but the Best Thing Ever for him. Jill is one of those TV women who is in control at work, and a total flake in her personal life, so by TV rules we know everything will be great for her, in the end, despite setbacks and wacky misunderstandings, once she and Hank get together. There has been no "will they/won't they?" -- it's all been "when will they?" and "why don't they?" and "why did I care about this in the first place, anyway?"

At any rate, for our opening-shot product placement this evening, we see a dashing shot of their two cars parked at jaunty angles in the huge driveway; this would be a witty visual joke about Hamptons materialism if it referred to any other two characters on the show. Then we see the whitest couple on TV, perfectly composed, not a hair or a pillowcase askew. They look for all the world like they just solved a crossword puzzle together. Now, not to belabor this but either she slept over naked and they just got around to the sex at 7am, or they haven't spoken all night, and look amazing because they haven't moved at all since drifting into their lightweight, bland dreams. My personal vanillameter is already ticking spasmodically, and then Hank offers cereal for breakfast. Awesome.

I've been noticing that when Jill and Hank talk, they frequently talk in themes, like college students at a Denny's late at night. This week, they frame a discussion about rebeliousness and wild times. As they do every week, they'll come back to this anvilicious line of conversation in the final scene, and we as the audience will go, "oh, so that's what you were trying to do." The intervening action will touch on this subject only peripherally, or clumsily. If it sounds like I'm beating on the writers, it's because I like this show, and want it to be good. And it frequently isn't. I figure the least I can do is be specific.

But we must fast-forward some, for the sake of sanity. There's a party, in fact a Bar Mitzvah, for dogs, therefore called a Bark Mitzvah (get it? get it? huh? right?) and the writers get points for acknowledging how totally stupid this is. I was not surprised to learn last weekend that these are a real thing, because you just can't make up stuff this stupid. (Also, if these writers had invented the idea, they would have had characters react to it as though it were clever and cute, rather than totally stupid.)

Christine Ebersole is appropriately loopy and infuriating, in the way a beloved but crazy aunt would be; we're always happy to see her, and she makes us smile, but soon we wish we were somewhere else. It's a fine performance, and credit is due this week to the writers who seem to have made the commitment to this character being harmless but utterly batty. Good on you, people. The rest of the show needs a similar level of clarity.

There's some medical stuff; Esperanza the beloved maid (whom the benevolent crazy lady treats like family, of course) is sick, the dog was sick a week ago, and there's a Tunisian guy in the guest room who was jetting around the world recently who's been sick for days. He's the decorator, or the decorator's Indiana Jones-style procurement guy, or something. The benevolent crazy lady treats him like family, of course.

The message of the show is frequently something like "rich people are so cute." They manage to look down on wealthy eccentrics - for their eccentricity - while simultaneously reassuring the rest of us that with that boatload of money, they do stupid shit but also some nice things for the people around them. If we find out that Ms. Newberg earned her fortune selling arms to Somali warlords, that would be quite a twist. (It's my secret hope that the rumored Burn Notice/ Royal Pains crossover hinges on exactly that revelation. A guy can dream.)

Hank has this thing about listening to people's breathing and heartbeat with his stethoscope, through layers of their clothing. In real life, it doesn't matter how good a clinician you are, you need to lay that thing on their skin or you can't hear very much, or very well. It would be more interesting if the high-strung, appearance-obsessed Hamptonites had to deal with Hank's no-nonsense approach in the little, everyday things like this, rather than just when someone is about to die.

Hank and Divya take a fairly lousy history (but at least they take one) and Hank decides, somehow, that the pneumonia is bacterial rather than viral. Despite Divya having a portable x-ray machine right outside, Hank never thinks to order a chest x-ray, which is how pneumonia is normally diagnosed (pneumonia and bronchitis sound somewhat different, but there can be a lot of overlap). So they throw antibiotics at everyone, and promise to come to the stupid dog party as a way to check on the patients.

But first, Hank sets Esperanza up with a banana bag, a classic treatment for dehydration and folate depletion - in other words, a hangover. She exhibits none of the clinical signs of dehydration -- and assuming this is because she's "TV dehydrated," so it counts anyway, there's no reason to give her anything other than normal saline. I guess in the Hamptons, we can just assume that anybody who's feeling a little under the weather is actually hung over. Not a bad thought, actually. Also: a butterfly needle is not an IV catheter. It's gonna take more than an hour for that bag to drip in through that tiny needle, which isn't meant to stay in a vein that long.

I particularly liked a bit that happened later in the episode. When Hank is leaving Esperanza, he says "I'll check on you tomorrow" and (I think) adds something like, "don't worry, you'll be fine." The next day, Esperanza is telling somebody that Hank said she was "supposed to be okay" by then. This is a classic example of the doctor choosing words carefully, but the patient still hearing what he or she wants to hear.

The B plot, with Jill and Hank's budding relationship threatening to interfere with Jill's career, was a snoozer for me. Out at brunch, Dr. Adams, who is positioned by the writing and performance as basically Walter Peck from Ghostbusters, which is to say too-concerned with the rules and dedicated to ruining the heroes' fun, warns Jill that getting involved with Hank could cause trouble, at least in terms of people's perception. He ominously asks her to think about "last time," and all but twirls his mustache as he goes. But the thing is, he's right. Come on, show, what the hell? Conflicts of interest are just The Man worrying about nothing?

Meanwhile, it turns out Divya is engaged. There's a funny exchange where she feigns outrage at Evan for suggesting this could be one of those weird, foreign-type arranged marriages, playing the "just because I'm Indian, you think my parents arranged this marriage" thing... but loses steam and has to admit that, yeah, that's pretty much it. Points to Reshma Shetty for working this well-worn comedy maneuver with a nice combination of embarrassment and pique. We get only a few drops of story on this front, this week, but yes, there will be more. So for those of us playing along at home, Divya's parents have her set to marry some guy, and they also don't realize that she has a Master's Degree in PA practice, or PA studies, or a Master of Medical Science, if she went to Yale. Best. Family. Ever.

Evan, for me, was something of a problem this week. What I was saying above, about how I think this show needs to decide what kind of a show to be, is a problem that's nicely encapsulated in the character of Evan. At times, when it's right for the story, he's a self-involved douche who cares too much about material success; at other times, he's a sweet kid who survived some crappy years with an absent and/or abusive dad, and came out of it full of swagger and talk that don't conceal his vulnerability as well as he thinks.

The problem is, while there's a way to merge all that together into a multi-layered character with several interesting facets, and while Paulo Costanzo is actor enough to pull it off, the writing, directing, and editing often give him only one side or another to work with, and so he comes off fairly bipolar. Is he a lovable but overcompensating con man with a heart of gold, or is he actually, down where it counts, a shallow jerk?

In this episode, he's more of a sociopath actually, giving a younger, even less-experienced guy some truly lousy advice, in the process proving that Tucker is more emotionally mature than Evan, and Libby is more emotionally mature than any character who has appeared on screen to date. It's to the show's credit that we have an interesting, watchable teen couple on the show; it's kind of a bummer that they're far more interesting than the central character and his supposedly adult love interest.

There is an "Evan redemption scene" later wherein he makes a lame excuse about how love makes morons out of even the best of us. While that's true, Evan isn't in love with Libby, Tucker is. So where does Evan's idiocy come from? What motivates it? The plot, and only the plot that's what. Mehhh.

Back to Jill and Hank, we find that now it's Jill who has a good point - perception matters, at least to some degree, and especially in small towns - and it's Hank who pouts like an adolescent upon learning that the world won't bend to his every whim and desire. Also, he skirts an ethically weird area where he clamps down the party into a quarantine zone, without wanting to, y'know, actually call for backup and activate a real quarantine. Although everything that happens shows him to have been wrong about that decision - the party guests would have run amok in the community if not for Jill making the call - Hank learns nothing, and in fact they never mention that he was wrong.

There's a nice moment where Hank shuts down a complainer who says she "only saw the assistant" instead of the doctor; he says that Divya "is a medical professional, not a secretary." Yay. The portrayal of the PA profession turns out to be the thing about this show I have the least to complain about.

Then, for some reason, Hank is 'doing surgery' on Koufax, the dog who today has become, I guess, a man. Actually what he's doing is draining an abscess, but it's hard to convince a dog to hold still while you just numb up an area of the skin, so let's go with it. Lots of things were messed up about this:

- Intubation is always done with the laryngoscope in the left hand. Doesn't matter if the clinician is left- or right-handed.
- When you're passing a tube down a person's (or a dog's) throat, it's important that you never take your eyes off the vocal cords. You've gone to all that trouble to find them; raising your head to say, "okay, give me the tube" is defeating the purpose. And Hank's supposed to have been an Emergency doc, so he's done this a bazillion times. You put out your hand, and somebody who knows what they're doing slaps the tube into it, right way up and curvy side forward.
- Hank gets points for clipping Koufax's fur closely with scissors, rather than shaving. The latest word is that infections happen easier when the skin is irritated and the hair shafts are cut way down. But the tiny little daubs of Betadyne he put on the dog's belly were stupid. He should have just about poured that stuff on there.
-Having expressed a nice big blob of pus, Hank goes all Van Leewenhoek and re-invents the microscope. That was fun, and gave us the important info that we were dealing with MRSA.

...but hang on. Sure, MRSA can colonize the respiratory tract, but just because the dog has a MRSA-infested abscess doesn't mean that same bug is in his lungs. These are two different infections, and there's no particular reason to think they're caused by the same pathogen. Even given that the previous antibiotics didn't work - which by the way has not been proven after just a day or two - we'd need to get a sputum sample to really see what's in these people's lungs, throats, and noses. But having Esperanza hawk up a big loogie isn't as MacGuyver-ey as cutting into a dog.

So, to recap: Evan was wrong, and made Tucker even more wrong. In fact, Tucker's not just asking Libby about the websites brings him closer to Evan's level of plot-imposed stupidity. Jill was wrong to be offended when Dr. Adams suggested this thing with Hank might give people pause, and should in fact be thinking about that, even if it does hurt Hank's feelings to consider the rest of the world for a minute. Hank was wrong to get annoyed with Jill for wanting to involve the public health system in a public health problem, and she actually saved his ass by making the call. The medical parts of the show gave us some cool bits, but totally failed to reflect reality. And the Divya stuff was almost interesting, but got too little attention.

Except for a couple of specifics, I just described every episode so far. Hmmm. I'm going to have to find some different approaches.

I'm traveling this week, so in another 10 days or so, I'll see what's up with the next episode.

Still alive, still awake

What's up?

You'll have to pardon my spotty posting, yet again. I was out of town, relaxing lakeside with friends. All my paperwork is definitely in, I made sure, so I'm waiting it out to see which comes through first, my temporary permit or my permanent registration (which I am given to understand they will soon be calling a "License" in my state, since it's the same board that approves MDs, with essentially the same process). And I've watched "the dog episode;" even took notes. I just have yet to write about it.

I've had little glimpses of future episodes, and there is indeed more Divya ahead. Okay, then, I'm doing it for Divya.

Which is not to say it's painful, exactly, to watch this show. Overall, Royal Pains is not bad, it's just not grabbing me the way its lead-in, Burn Notice, consistently does. And House, which is medically pretty silly sometimes, nonetheless gives what I think is a nicer, clearer idea of how medical thinking works, and how that changes the course of the story.

So I'm struggling a little to adjust my ideas about the show that RP could be, as opposed to the one we get each week. And that process is hampered a little by some quirks of the writing and plotting that I'll say more about as I go -- basically, I'd like it more if they took a firmer line and showed us what kind of show they want to be. For now, they're still kind of all over the place, and there's a lot of mush in between the fun, smart, or cool moments.

Naturally, this has become the highest-rated show on cable right now, and has been picked up for a second season.