Here’s what you need to know about the photo above: The bus shelter is fake, a prop built for the ABC series Going to Extremes, which is about American students at a fictional medical school set on the fictional Caribbean island of Jantique. The shelter is, however, also real (it replaced a less photogenic structure) and now it protects actual bus commuters from the fierce midday sun on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, where Extremes is filmed.
You need to know that the people posing in the fierce sun are actors who have temporarily relocated to Jamaica while they play Jantiquan medical students and doctors, and they don’t have to take the bus because the series’ production company, Lorimar, ferries them around in cars usually driven by Jamaicans hired for the job. The woman on the left and her daughter, however, are real Jamaicans waiting for the real bus to arrive and thus are not members of SAG or AFTRA.
You must also understand that the actors are not as travel-weary as they are posed to look, having been given good pay and desirable roles in a well-promoted big-budget TV series devised by the hot creative team of John Falsey and Joshua Brand (Northern Exposure, I’ll Fly Away, and St. Elsewhere) and airing in the hotly desirable slot following Coach (and now Tom Arnold’s Jackie Thomas Show). They are, however, truly sweaty — except for the Jamaican woman and her daughter, for whom such fruit-bursting heat is as unremarkable as the lush sweetsop and breadfruit trees that line the road down which the bus will, God willing, eventually come, invariably with music pulsing out of the windows from the island’s all-reggae-all-the-time station, IRIE.
Once you understand this photo, you understand the arrhythmic Caribbean heart of Going to Extremes. The series is an irregularly beating endeavor from a creative team masterful at medical drama but novices, like all First World visitors, at the intersection of Hollywood requirements and Third World realities. The characters may be the drama’s neural network — the eccentric doctor-teachers, the sexy, underachieving students, the colorful locals they meet in the course of treating patients at the jumbly tin-roofed shanty that serves as the med school’s village clinic. But the island itself — real, seething, flowering, rumbling Jamaica (with its poverty and happiness, unrest and joy, and elongated sense of time) and the fictional Jantique it means to be — is the pulsing heart of the show.
And regulating that heartbeat in the weeks ahead may mean the difference between life and death for the series itself: because Going to Extremes is averaging a tepid 35th in the ratings and has not yet caught on — not like Northern Exposure and the adorably idiosyncratic types in the adorably idiosyncratic town of Cicely, Alaska — and not like it has to if it’s going to survive. As ordered now, the show is scheduled to run only through the end of January.
”We’ve got to get the characters more accessible,” says executive producer Falsey in his L.A. office. (Another ailing Falsey-Brand series, I’ll Fly Away, was on the critical list at press time.) ”We’ve got to get underneath the characters more, make them more layered.” Pressed by outgoing ABC Entertainment president Robert Iger to ”fix the show,” Falsey talks about ”adding poignancy.” Which means a hopeful viewer might expect less of the predictably kinky sexual escapades between Dr. Davis (June Chadwick) and her willing student, Alex (Daniel Jenkins), and more of the emotional attachments formed between Cheryl (Erika Alexander) and her village patients; less of the cartoonish General Patton-like barking of the school’s founder, Dr. Croft (Roy Dotrice), and more of the personal doubts experienced by Colin (Robert Duncan McNeill), the frustrated second-year student slowly awakening to the healing powers of compassion.