June 18, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Complications”


COMPLICATIONS:  Thursday 9PM on USA – Change the Channel

USA Network has been hammering away at its own image for some time now, trying to find a show that will brand it as cooler and edgier than the home of Monk and PsychSuits has given the network a 2d generation hit, and a few of the other resulting series have won renewals, but none has been the kind of breakout success that would really move the network’s needle.  This week’s attempt (another is coming next week) is COMPLICATIONS, a medical-based thriller that hails from Matt Nix, who gave USA the more conventional Burn Notice, one of its signature hits.  The network put its all behind Complications, airing the equivalent of 2 1/2 hours in a single night via the supersized pilot and first regular episode (the initial telecast was sponsored by a car company with product placement in the pilot, which allowed it to squeeze with minimal commercials into a 2-hour slot), and making the 3rd episode immediately available on VOD.  Nevertheless, this is another shaky candidate, with a lack of evident purpose that may be fatal.

Complications is more or less a blend of last year’s USA efforts, combining the medical milieu of Rush with the ordinary-guy-in-over-his-head tropes of Satisfaction.  The protagonist is Dr. John Ellison (TV journeyman Jason O’Mara, of Terra Nova, Life On Mars and Vegas not-quite fame), an emergency room doctor still wounded by the death of his young daughter a year earlier from cancer.  John is sensitive yet forceful, and one day as he’s driving a near-dead squirrel to an animal hospital (you had to be there), he sees a boy become the victim of a gang shooting, and after he goes to help and the assailant comes back around for another attack, he shoots one of the men himself.  Before long, the gang that didn’t succeed in killing the boy is trying to finish the job in John’s hospital, and the victim’s gang family is embroiling John in its affairs, invading John’s house and causing him to illicitly transport his patient to another hospital.

Even accepting the contrivances of this set-up as a necessary evil, they don’t take Complications to any clear destination.  At the end of 2 1/2 hours, John isn’t a vigilante or a crimefighter, but we’ve given to believe that his life won’t go back to normal, either.  He’s apparently going to get sucked into weekly crises, at least in part through Gretchen Polk (Jessica Szohr), a nurse who clearly knows about the rough side of life because she has tattoos, and who pulls John into the case of a young woman being beaten by her boyfriend, which will apparently lead to the crisis of Episode 3.  Meanwhile, Dr. Bridget O’Neil (Lauren Stamile), a colleague of John’s, is nosing around, aware that there’s something not quite right going on.  And back at home, John hasn’t figured out yet that his wife Samantha (Beth Riesgraf) had an affair with that guy from the DA’s office, but we sure have.  None of this feels organic and it’s neither escapist fun nor particularly revealing about John or the people around him.

Complications is ungainly, with an awkwardly structured pilot that uses a flashback-within-a-flashback-within-a-flashback set of framing devices, and an abrupt, nearly random cliffhanger conclusion.  Nix, who wrote both episodes and directed the pilot (Scott Peters directed Episode 2), is a better craftsman than that, making one wonder if the show has been through a post-production wringer of network notes.  Even though the pace is reasonably quick and the script keeps things in motion, there’s nothing terribly compelling here.  The actors are competent but with no sign of having uncovered anything distinctive about their characters.  Worst of all, the 2 episodes leave one not even understanding where the series intends to go, since it’s ineffective as both a procedural and a serial.

USA’s desire to break its mold continues to outstrip its ability to create a workable new identity for itself.  Next up to bat:  the high-tech Mr. Robot.


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."