March 24, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere + 1 Review: “Heartbeat”


HEARTBEAT:  Wednesday 8PM on NBC – Change the Channel

NBC’s HEARTBEAT differs from most of the post-ER, post-Grey’s Anatomy medical shows that have come down the pike in that it’s an unabashed star vehicle rather than an ensemble piece.  And this isn’t an antihero story, a la House:  Dr. Alexandra Panttiere (played by Melissa George) is her hospital’s “Chief Innovations Officer,” which means her job is to perform the most daring, most experimental surgeries week in and week out.  (In the pilot, she saves a heart patient by transferring a donor heart–from the patient’s suicidal boyfriend, no less–atop the damaged one, so the two will beat as one forevermore; in the 2d episode, she separates adult conjoined twins, one of whom has cancer and the other a heart condition.)  She’s a warrior, not only the last surgeon standing at the end of a grueling 24-hour operation, but the only one who sees how to save her patients’ lives after all that when one goes into cardiac arrest.  It goes without saying that she’s gorgeous, and she juggles her current surgeon lover Pierce (Dave Annable, wearing a white coat again after Red Band Society), her mentor/former surgeon lover Jessie (Don Hany), and her gay rock star ex-husband Max (Joshua Leonard), the father of her adorable two sons, with grace and minimal effort.  When a patient’s blood splatters on her expensive dress during an emergency life-saving procedure, there’s an equally chic outfit just waiting for her.  And did I mention that she’s a headstrong renegade who won’t let procedure stand in her way?

In short, although Alex is inspired by the real-life surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato (who has a producing credit), as conceived by series creator Jill Gordon, her world bears about as much resemblance to real-life Earth as the ones depicted in Shadowhunters or The Flash.  Despite the efforts to make Alex empowered and cool, the show’s singleminded focus on one character/one case feels old-fashioned and a little slow.  (The surgical cases featured in each episode would have as much depth in a Grey’s hour, and be surrounded by half a dozen other stories.)  George is fine, believably compassionate, determined and charismatic, but Alex isn’t a terribly interesting character, with the biggest conflict in her life being which of the great-looking men who are madly in love with her she should be with.  Even her supposed antagonist, hospital administrator Millicent Patel (Shelly Conn), is her off-hours BFF.  The closest thing to a B story Gordon (who wrote both of the 1st 2 episodes) could come up with was a weary one about the more socially awkward surgeon of the bunch being an unaccountable ladies man, to the confusion of the nurse who won’t admit she likes him.  (Awwww.)

The broadcast networks have increasingly turned to the most basic kinds of procedurals to hold on to the big tent crowds they need to keep their lights on, comfort food for mostly aging viewers.  Heartbeat, which airs in the Mysteries of Laura timeslot before the geriatric SVU and its universe-mate Chicago PD, may satisfy that crowd, but there’s nothing nourishing here for those now accustomed to more ambitious TV.  Heartbeat needs its own pacemaker.

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."