'Off The Map' premiere review: Good or bad TV medicine?
If you didn’t know that Off The Map was from producer Shonda Rhimes, who’s given America Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, I’m sure you made the connection early on during Wednesday night’s premiere. Young, cute doctors, gazing at the bright blue sky and ocean (ah, the purity of nature!), spoke of reinventing themselves: “If there was ever a place to start over, it’s here.” It’s the kind of moony goop-speak that would not be out of place coming from the mouth of Meredith Grey or Addison Montgomery.
Pretty soon, in another Rhimes trademark, a shirt was doffed, revealing rippling abs, as a female gaze gave us permission — nay, insisted of us — that we do the same.
Off The Map‘s only distinctive gimmick is to come up with fact-based but exotic remedies for medical problems. Thus, coconut milk as plasma substitute. And thus, the medical mission-statement announced by Dr. Ben (Martin Henderson): “We have plants that cure viruses… tree sap to heal wounds… This is where medicine was born!” No, sorry, it simply was not born here. Wherever “here” is — “somewhere in South America,” as the show stated early on (it’s actually filmed primarily in Hawaii), just won’t cut it.
Off The Map is Grey’s Anatomy with flies; Private Practice with no sun-block. The doctors divide into two groups: the dashing “old” pros (Martin Henderson, Valerie Cruz, Jason Winston George) and the eager young pups (Zach Gilford, Mamie Gummer, Caroline Dhavernas, Rachel Lefevre). Because Gilford used to star in Friday Night Lights and Mamie Gummer has done fine work on The Good Wife, my hope was that Off The Map would be swashbuckling nighttime soap opera.
But the premiere episode was marred by a dreary earnestness and a smothering flood of character backstories. (Example: Gilford’s Tommy used to be a med-school party-boy and so his South American stint is a form of penance – boo-hoo.) If the show was really about, as one character says, “Baby docs padding their resumes” by frolicking in a warm climate – well, that might be fun, and not the have-it-both-ways pious drag it was too frequently this night.
The first episode was titled “Saved By The Great White Hope,” as though simply by acknowledging the infusion of pretty white people into this South American setting, the producers were forestalling any criticism of a show that sets up privileged white people as saviors of people with different color skin. But that’s exactly what Off The Map did anyway. The scenes of Gilford’s Tommy or Gummer’s Mina bestowing their knowledge upon wet-eyed, grateful “natives” were excruciating. Combine this with the fact that the “baby docs” arrive with arrogant ignorance of the Spanish language, and Off The Map became something more than mawkishly melodramatic — it was insulting. Were we supposed to think we were superior to, or sorry for, Tommy when he asked someone what “gringo” means?
Will you keep watching these people practice medicine and their seduction skills?