Professional sports teams are prone to recycling the same coaches or managers, with a manager’s value often seeming to be out of proportion to the achievement of their teams on the field. A Jim Fregosi — 15 seasons, losing record, three post-season appearances, no titles — will always get work because the theory is that when his teams have lost, it’s been the players or the organization that were at fault and that he got the best out of what he had. And when a Joe Torre arrives in New York as a journeyman manager and leaves as a legend, it seems to validate the whole theory.
Television casting works the same way. The same actors pop up as leads on pilots every single year and then the pilots don’t get picked up. Or they’re in pilots that get picked up every year, but then get cancelled. Sure, they’re called “showkillers” often, but every time George Clooney gets his “E.R.” or Jon Cryer lands his “Two and a Half Men,” it seems to validate the practice, by suggesting that these actors always had star potential, but they needed the right vehicle or supporting cast or whatever.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mark Feuerstein, star of “Fired Up,” “Conrad Bloom,” “Good Morning, Miami” and “3 Lbs,” presumptive cinematic romantic lead of “Woman on Top” and “In Her Shoes.” Networks and studios keep giving Feuerstein different projects because at one time or another everybody has liked him in something and he conveys the impression of being a genuinely good guy, so you have to figure that the long string of failures were all about context and not about Feuerstein. Or that’s the thinking.
The USA series “Royal Pains” is another show built around Feuerstein’s allegedly inherent likability, an asset I suspect is far more likely to carry a show on basic cable, even one as otherwise slight and conventional as this one.
[“Royal Pains” review after the break…]
“Royal Pains,” which premieres on Thursday, June 4 at 10 p.m. stars Feuerstein as Dr. Hank Lawson, a top-notch Manhattan doctor with a smoking hot fiance, a spacious apartment and a killer job. One day, he’s forced to make a difficult decision in the emergency room and his choice, the correct one, costs him everything. Wallowing in self-pity, Hank is scooped up by his hyperactive brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) and whisked away for a weekend in the Hamptons. A fish-out-of-water in the lap of luxury, Hank discovers a world where the wealthy retain concierge doctors as a high-priced commodity and comes to discover that even tending to this new crop of spoiled clients, there’s a way he can save his soul as well.
Sepinwall compares “Royal Pains” to “Burn Notice,” a logical pick since NBC has paired the two shows. I’d say it has a little more of the “Everwood”/”Eli Stone” vibe, where a psychological break leads our hero to leave the course of wealth and fame, except that Hank’s new course is probably a good deal more lucrative and, in the pilot at least, the prospect of a spiritually cleansing free clinic is still on the horizon. So maybe it’s more “dr. vegas” — Yes, I enjoy referencing short-lived, failed Rob Lowe vehicles — meets “Gossip Girl.” Actually, the “dr. vegas” comparison would be a great one, if anybody remembered what “dr. vegas” was — Hot-shot doctor becomes on-call physician to the wealthy in a hermetically sealed environment of sin?
Let’s just say that “Royal Pains” is derivative enough that most viewers will find their own points-of-comparison.
At its center is Feuerstein, whose Hank is much too much of a straight man, at least in the 75-minute pilot. He lacks the instantly identifiable comic edge that Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael Westen had from the first seconds of the “Burn Notice” pilot, as well as the comparable avenues for playful character details. Feuerstein is noble and incredulous, but he actually could use some of that Michael Westen sardonic clout.
Feuerstein has even been stripped of his most pervasive/reliable character traits, his unimpeachable and most excellent Jewishness. Not only is he playing a “Dr. Lawson,” (in anglicized contrast to other shows in which he’s played Blooms, Silvers and Fishers) but if you check out USA’s official press images for the show, his face has been notable de-Semiticized, in an unnerving piece of airbrushing. Even his quotation of the Yiddish proverb “Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht” is Fortune Cookied into “Man Plans, God Laughs.” It’s not like it’s bad or unbelievable for Feuerstein to play a Gentile or even a secular Jew, but the elements that might otherwise make this character culturally specific are absent. Or perhaps the show’s creative team is making a point about “Royal Pains” as an assimilationist narrative? I’m skeptical.
Because Feuerstein’s performance is so tepid, the show around him never commits to a tone and so the actors who make the choice stand out. Costanzo, while occasionally funny, has walked in off the set of a sitcom and the contrivance to keep his character around is labored at best. Similarly, Reshma Shetty’s Divya, an over-eager physician’s assistant, is circling a caricature, though she does a better job of suggesting a more interesting character to come. The pilot’s other female leaders Jill Flint, who will continue as a regular, and Tamara Feldman, who seems to just be a guest star, share a physical type and a “Gossip Girl” pedigree and, thus, are initially indistinguishable.
TV doctors almost never specialize and Feuerstein’s Hank is just the latest MD capable of treating any ailment, performing any surgery (regardless of its severity or the tools at his disposal) and identifying even the most obscure of conditions regardless of the setting. No wonder the Russian plutocrat played with suitable hamminess by Campbell Scott is so eager to keep Hank up in the Hamptons.
Scott’s Boris is just one of the embarrassingly rich eccentrics Hank in his first days in the Hamptons, including a plastic surgery junkie played by Christine Ebersole and an heir to a blender fortune. There’s no doubt that this is a milieu that sets itself up perfectly for countless potential storylines and the potential guest stars may keep me watching for a couple episodes while the ensemble’s core, especially its leading man, searches for a personality.
“Royal Pains” premieres on Thursday, June 4 at 10 p.m. on USA.
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