August 14, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Complications”


You have to feel a little sorry for COMPLICATIONS, introduced by USA Network during the same summer that the network unveiled Mr. Robot, a game-changer that may be the most exciting new show of the year on any network.  Complications, by comparison, felt like the last act of a dying old programming regime–specifically, the one that gave us Rush and Satisfaction, both of which it resembled–although in fact all the series were ordered by the same executives.  The sad fact, though, was that comparisons weren’t needed to make Complications seem like the weak and unmemorable hour of television that it’s been.

Complications might have made more of an impression if it had been reconceived as a nightmarish comedy.  It was already tantalizingly close, a fantasia of middle-aged white guy paranoia in which everywhere tightly-wired Atlanta doctor (and bereaved parent) John Ellison (Jason O’Mara) looked, he was being menaced by someone black, Latino or female, his only ally lesbian (and therefore hard-boiled) nurse Gretchen Polk (Jessica Szohr).  It would have taken just a bit more spin to turn the tale into a parody of its own constricted world-view.  But series creator Matt Nix, who had previously given USA Burn Notice, isn’t that kind of out-of-the-box thinker, and Complications remained straightforwardly dumb, instead spinning Ellison into gang confrontations, the procurement of illicit drugs, and showdowns with one murderous gangster or another.

Tonight’s season finale, written and directed by Nix, was almost entirely concerned with its Big Reveal, which was that the gang warfare had actually been kicked off by corrupt cops, who had killed the brother of a Latino gang leader during a robbery and made it look like the black gang had done it.  They were white men, which was a change of pace for the show, although as played by veteran TV guest stars Brent Sexton and Todd Stashwick, they were themselves so stereotypical that they could have come out of pre-Hill Street Blues era television.  Ellison shot Sexton’s character (seconds after once again saving the life of the gang leader’s son whom he had rescued to kick off the series) and magically ended the gang war, also magnanimously forgiving wife Samantha (Beth Riesgraf) for her brief adultery after their daughter died, and thus re-establishing his core nuclear family.

There were occasional allusions to the idea that the death of Ellison’s daughter might have unbalanced him, turning his existing doctor’s god complex into something dangerous, but in the end, Nix didn’t have the temperament to deal with that possibility with any seriousness; ambiguity isn’t in his skill set.  There weren’t any additional layers of characterization from O’Mara, either, a capable actor who lacks the gift of edginess.  (His arc on The Good Wife, where he was supposed to be a threat to the show’s status quo, was as bad as that show has ever been–and that includes the Kalinda’s husband story.)  Here O’Mara was playing a variant of the role Michael Douglas patented 25 years ago, but without Douglas’s brand of barely-hidden venality, not to mention charisma.  The only performer who made a mark was Szohr, who had a one-note role but at least brought consistent energy to the repetitive plotline.

The final minute of Complications introduced a half-hearted cliffhanger that was clearly designed to provide a bridge to a 2d season (Ellison had previously fire-bombed a clinic that was fatally diluting the meds it gave cancer patients, and someone mysteriously called to summon him to answer for that), but really this should be the end of the series.  The story it set out to tell is done, the ratings have been limp at best–and more important, USA has successfully started walking a new, far more interesting path this summer.  While no network could successfully field a line-up limited to programming as demanding as Mr. Robot, the return of the simplistic Complications would be a conspicuous step backwards.


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."