October 1, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Code Black”


CODE BLACK:  Wednesday 10PM on CBS – Change the Channel

CBS’s new CODE BLACK is a mini-film festival of medical show cliches.  It’s set in a notoriously busy emergency room at a Los Angeles hospital, which frequently reaches the point where the patients needing immediate treatment swamp the resources available to treat them–designated “Code Black.”  (The show is distantly related to a feature documentary about the real LA hospital that has to cope with that level of constant pressure.)  There’s a board in the ER that flashes the designated colors as conditions worsen, like the levels of DefCon at the Pentagon, and all the while the gruff but compassionate doctor in charge, Leane Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden), snaps imperiously at her interns and makes them look and feel like fools, but always, of course, with the best interests of the patients (and the interns, too) at heart.

The interns are another compendium of tropes, with bite-sized backstories to explain how they got to the program and why they react to the pressure the way they do.  The patients treated in the pilot have traumas that include such old favorites as the crisis childbirth, the elderly couple who have to deal with one partner’s dementia, and the patient who has to be temporarily brought past the edge of death in order to save him.  There are some good actors playing these roles (Harden, of course, and Bonnie Somerville as one of the interns, and Raza Jaffrey as the by-the-book surgeon who can’t stand Rorish’s seat of the pants mode of operation, and who hasn’t figured out that Rorish will always be right).  But the sole survivor of Michael Seitzman’s script is that titan of character actors Luis Guzman, who wraps himself around the character of the sassy, all-knowing head nurse, Jesse Sallander (he calls himself the “mama” of the ER, and he’s the only one who can stand up to Rorish) and walks away with what there is of the show.  He’s the only one in the whole hospital with a pulse.

Seitzman is the man who created the flop thriller Intelligence for CBS last year, and Code Black isn’t much better.  As much as he and pilot director David Semel push the pace, constantly throwing interns and patients, blood and meltdowns at the viewer, with Harden queen-bee-ing over all of it, there isn’t a syringe worth of originality here.  It’s not that you might find yourself missing ER or Grey’s Anatomy while you watch–you may be nostalgic for the soapy humanity of The Night Shift.

Code Black has the benefit of a timeslot with light competition:  NBC’s Chicago PD and ABC’s bubble-resident Nashville.  If it does a few tenths better than last fall’s Stalker, it could survive, and since it’s tiresome rather than actively offensive, that’s certainly possible.  The real Code Black this season, though, seems to stand for the crisis afflicting the networks, who are using their airwaves for one toetag-worthy series after another.  Their prognosis is growing increasingly grim.

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."