October 1, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on A GIFTED MAN:  Dr. Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) is a brilliant, prosperous and narcissistic New York neurosurgeon.  One day he runs into his ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle), who he hasn’t seen in years, and they talk at length about her new job as Medical Director for a free clinic.  Soon after, Michael is shocked to discover that Anna had been dead for 2 weeks when they had their reunion, and in fact he’s being haunted by her ghost.  A very demanding ghost, too, who keeps reappearing to insist that Michael rediscover his better instincts and help the poor at her clinic–which, reluctantly, he begins to do.  
Episode 2:  The series has had a bit of shuffling since the original pilot:  the character of Michael’s down-to-earth sister (Julie Benz) has vanished, although the word is that she may recur every so often.  Meanwhile, the healer Michael visited in the pilot to have Anna removed from his life has been made a regular, played by the very hard-working Pablo Schreiber, who in the past year has been cornering the market on NY-produced shows, with roles on Lights Out, The Good Wife, Weeds and now this.

The big question, though, after the Gifted Man pilot was how the series would balance the three main elements of its story:  the patients at Michael’s fancy uptown practice, his new unofficial post at Anna’s clinic, and the Blithe Spirit scenes of his haunting by Anna.  The answer seems to be that he’ll do an awful lot of commuting.  
The first regular series episode, written by Executive Producer/Showrunner Neal Baer and Daniel Truly and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, is much more a conventional medical series than one about the supernatural, as Michael shuttles back and forth every few minutes between his office and the clinic.  Uptown, there’s the case of an old friend’s wife who finds out in quick succession that she’s unexpectedly pregnant with her first child and has a massive brain tumor–she can’t have needed chemo treatments while pregnant, so does she lose the baby to save her own life?  Meanwhile, at the clinic, a lovable little Haitian immigrant boy is diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, and the resulting tests prove that his single father isn’t actually his biological dad at all.  Both plots are resolved in the most sentimental way possible, as the pregnant woman’s tumor hemorrhages and Michael manages to save both her and her premature child, and urged by Anna’s ghost, Michael convinces the boy’s father to take his son back no matter what the biological facts might be.
When A Gifted Man is telling stories like this, there’s nothing very interesting about it at all.  And the dynamic between Michael and ghostly Anna is so far one of sheer repetition, with Michael resisting doing the right thing because it’s too much effort for no financial return, and Anna shaming him into doing it anyway.  Playing a begrudging hero is blanding Patrick Wilson out and makes Jennifer Ehle seem downright smug; there’s an attempt to liven things up with smaller, more colorful roles played by Rhys Coiro and Raul Esparza, as well as Schreiber, but despite the excellent casting (Margo Martindale, who just won a titanically deserved Emmy for her work on Justified, is also around as Michael’s assistant), the center of the show is far too flat and tame.  
A Gifted Man didn’t do much in the ratings on its debut, and with this content, it’s hard to see how it’s going to win wider audiences over. By choosing to be the safest version of itself, it’s responsible for putting itself in the TV ER.

Original Verdict:  If Nothing Else Is On…
Pilot + 1:  And Only If You’re Desperate For a Medical Show

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."