According to my friend, this is not a good season for show names. I’m inclined to agree with her. Television has slowly been going toward shorter, quippier names for their shows. Sometimes, it really works (I think, for example, that Fringe is a fantastic name), but at other times…well, there’s a show coming out called Arrow. I mean, really? Arrow? Of course, that’s not as bad as the what my friend argues are the two worst names of the new season: Partners and The Mob Doctor.
But here’s the thing: it’s actually pretty good.
Yeah, I know! I was shocked, too. My fault for judging the book by its cover, I guess. But I settled in last night to watch The Mob Doctor on Hulu for precisely one reason: I am a Jordana Spiro fangirl (My Boys! How can you not love My Boys?). So I expected that I’d think, Oh, Jordana’s great, too bad the show descends into a mass of hackery and cliché. She deserves so much better.
On a completely related note, eating your own words is not fun, nor does it taste at all pleasant.
So, a little background: The Mob Doctor, which should really just be called M.D. to play on a cute acronym, centers around Dr. Grace Devlin, a surgeon from the bad part of Chicago. She’s a resident at the Roosevelt Medical Center in one life but—yes, sorry, did I not mention that Grace lives two lives? That’s right. In one life, she’s the competent, outspoken workaholic surgeon who butts heads with her boss, and in the other life…she works for the mob. Turns out her brother Nate (Jesse Lee Soffer) got in over his head with mob boss Moretti (Michael Rapaport! I LOVE Michael Rapaport) and now Grace is working to pay off his debt. As we find out in the show’s opening scene, this involves going and yanking screwdrivers out of the heads of idiot mobsters in vet’s office, accompanied by snarky commentary almost worthy of Dr. House himself.
I should stop here and point out that this show starts off rather, um, ominously, as in: it starts with child!Grace discovering her first dead body, the neighborhood drunk. And even more morbidly, child!Grace wants to touch said dead body. This is why Grace becomes a doctor and I didn’t, probably, though if you ask my mother, my handwriting more than qualifies me for the medical profession.
But anyway, Grace’s life is busy. On top of being a surgeon, she’s got her brother to look out for, her mother Daniella (Wendy Makkena, who I remember from Body of Proof and am really excited to see on my screen again) to avoid, her boyfriend Brett (Zach Gilford! HI, Matt Saracen!) to juggle, and released mob boss Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe) to take care of. Sounds crazy? Yeah, it is. Add in three cases of the week, Grace’s overbearing boss, a frosty rivalry with a colleague, and the show does not stop moving.
Case #1: a boy is shot and Grace performs an unorthodox surgery to save his life, butting heads with her boss Dr. Flannigan. Flannigan assigns his post-op care to Dr. Olivia Watson so that Grace can take care of Case #2. Grace recommends treatment to Olivia (Yes! Another Olivia!) who we find out later is overruled by Flannigan, and the little boy doesn’t make it. Grace urges Olivia to report Flannigan, but Olivia doesn’t want to make waves because she’s already having a hard enough time fitting in at Roosevelt. Olivia then gets angry at Grace for actually attempting to report Flannigan and not having her back.
Case #2: a mob informant in WitSec is brought in for surgery. The prosecution is worried that the surgery might inhibit his ability to testify, but Grace is familiar with a procedure that will safely minimize the risk of memory loss. It involves complicated science to explain, so I took them at their word.
Case #3: Susie, a 14-year-old that Grace used to babysit, comes in pregnant, though her hymen is still intact. Brett’s the attending on the case, and parental consent laws are brought into question when Grace begs him not to tell Susie’s father, who will kill Susie’s boyfriend (I’m sensing another mob connection). In addition, Susie will lose her scholarship to a nice school, her one chance of getting out of the neighborhood.
Look, whatever your views about abortion are, I think that this is such an interesting tack for a TV show to take. 9.9 times out of 10, TV shows are going to go with the Convenient Miscarriage or Secret Adoption storyline instead and avoid the meatier drama. So I was surprised that Mob Doctor didn’t even flinch when handling it. (My other favorite abortion storyline comes from Everwood, go figure) Grace and Brett argue, and argue hard. Brett’s less than thrilled with doing illegal things, especially when Grace lies to Susie’s father and tells him Brett will be performing a different-but-almost-identical surgery as an abortion. I’m sensing this legality vs. morality bit is going to be a thing with Brett when his girlfriend is secretly bopping around with mob bosses.
Speaking of illegal, want to guess what arrives at the hospital for Grace? If your guess was “a really cute ‘Get Well’ basket with a note that says ‘Kill Him’ attached,” you’ve just won a million internet dollars. Spend it well (avoid Nigerian princes that email you). Turns out mob boss Moretti wants Grace to off the informant and sneaks a syringe of epinephrine into the OR, marked with red tape. Grace kind of objects to this whole thing on the principle of the Hippocratic Oath, but if she doesn’t kill the informant, Moretti is going to take out her brother.
Here’s the other area where The Mob Doctor wins me over: on pretty much every other show I’ve ever watched, we would have had Grace outsmart Moretti here somehow, pull off some insane trick to save the informant’s life because she’s the most brilliant thing that ever brillianted in the history of brilliance. Grace Devlin, on the other hand, just drops the syringe. It shatters, earning a snarky “clean up on aisle four” comment from one of the nurses, and putting Grace in deep crap with the mob.
Moretti, once he finds out that the informant’s alive, doesn’t take the news well. In fact, he reacts by holding Grace’s mother as collateral. This turns out to be a supremely terrible idea if you’ve got a nice sports car because Grace, well, Grace has a Jeep Cherokee. Do not tick Grace Devlin off, people. SHE WILL RAM YOUR PRETTY CAR.
Grace proves herself rather like me in that department, then, because her ramming Moretti’s nice little convertible gets pretty much the OH CRAP now he’s coming for me what do I do now? reaction you would expect (Spiro’s brilliant. Have I said that lately?). There’s a car chase scene through an area I recognize from the pilot of Fringe and Grace goes to the one person she thinks she can trust to protect her: Constantine. Though the man has claimed to have changed his ways, he kind of proves that Grace is terrible at reading people by shooting Moretti in cold blood in front of her.
So now Grace knows too much about Constantine, who was apparently like a father to her (foreshadowing!). He offers her the chance to get out of town, but Grace turns him down, claiming that her life and her family is there. So now Constantine holds the debt that Grace owed to Moretti, and if you felt a chill wind blow there, you weren’t alone. And Grace, in a voiceover that I hope doesn’t stick around, reveals something we didn’t know about the corpse child!Grace saw: turns out that the town drunk was dear old Dad, and Grace was relieved because that meant he would stop hurting them.
So maybe Grace is a little bit of a darker character than I suspected. I see what you did there, showrunners, with Devlin vs. Devil and a modern day Dr. Faustus. I’m not 100% sure I really felt her reasons for staying in town weren’t contrived for the plot to work, but I like this nuance. If the show can keep this sort of balance up, I think I’ll be in for the long haul. What did everybody else think? Are my Jordana Spiro-colored glasses blinding me to what was actually a terrible show, or do you agree? Sound off in the comments!
(PS – There is a Boston Terrier in one of the cages at the veterinarian’s office. Any show that uses a Boston Terrier is A-OK in my book. And for Liz: Did you know that The Mob Doctor is on the same network as Fringe? There should be a crossover.)
The Mob Doctor airs on FOX on Mondays at 9/8c.