September 23, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

A GIFTED MAN –  Friday 8PM on CBS:  If Nothing Else Is On…
The ghost who returns from beyond to make someone a better person is a archetype that goes back to Dickens and beyond.  In the right hands, it can produce high-class hokum, and that’s certainly the case with CBS’s pilot for A GIFTED MAN, although as a continuing series its prospects are more dubious.

In Susannah Grant’s script (she wrote Erin Brockovich and the underrated In Her Shoes), the “gift” of the title has two meanings:  the medical talents of genius neurosurgeon Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson), and–as we’re told in an excruciating burst of expository dialogue by Michael’s sister Christina (Julie Benz)–the fact that he’s being haunted by the ghost of his ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle).  Anna, when she was among the living, was a saintly physician who toiled for the poor, most recently at a free clinic in the Bronx; now that she’s deceased, she wants Michael to get in touch with his better nature and share his high-powered practice with the less fortunate.  There’s little doubt that he’ll do so, and will in turn become less of a brusque, superficial human being and a kinder, better brother to Christina and surrogate dad to her troubled son.

TV is a medium of writer/producers more than directors, but not every pilot has a world-class artist like Jonathan Demme behind the camera.  Demme created such films as Silence of the Lambs, Something Wild, Philadelphia and Rachel Getting Married, and his crisp, matter-of-fact handling of the supernatural in Gifted Man gives it a persuasiveness it might otherwise not have. The show’s casting is terrific, not just Wilson, Ehle and Benz, but the wonderful Margo Martindale (who should win the Emmy for her Justified performance this past season) as Michael’s chief of staff, down to guest stars like Bill Irwin.  The production design looks great, and the pilot moves swiftly through its expected paces as Michael first resists and then accepts Anna’s presence in his life.

A Gifted Man could have been a very effective movie; as a series, though, it’s all too clear where the story is going.  Since it’s been established that Anna is haunting Michael, that he’s going to allow her into his life and, encouraged by her, he’s going to help the poor and generally improve the lives of those around him, every episode is likely to be more of the same, with Michael reluctantly saving lives at Anna’s request, due to his chaste, profound love for her.  Whatever edge the pilot has is likely to be lost, and the pilot doesn’t suggest where future conflicts may arise, apart from Michael’s attempts to keep his conversations with the invisible Anna secret.
The series isn’t in a particularly tough time slot:  on Fridays at 8, it’ll face B-level reality shows in Kitchen Nightmares and Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition, as well as the last 13 episodes of Chuck.  The show fits the profile of the CBS Medium/Ghost Whisperer audience, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t find a place for itself (Mitch Metcalf’s projection has it in 4th place, but all the slot’s shows are within a tightly-packed few tenths of one another), although with the production values of the pilot, it’ll be a pricey show on a low-rated night .  The bigger question is:  can A Gifted Man find enough creative purpose to stay among the living?


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."