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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2011

ABC's 'Off the Map' tempts the 'off' button

Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice) and created by Jenna Bans (a Grey's writer), Off the Map follows a trio of young doctors who arrive at a clinic "somewhere in South America" (played by Hawaii and locations that may look familiar to Lost fans).

These young docs proceed to behave like stereotypically idiotic, privileged Americans -- and sappy characters on a TV melodrama.

Wednesday's premiere opens and closes with scenes of doctors diving off cliffs into the ocean, which provide a fantastic tropical visual but might also leave rational viewers to wonder: Are these doctors morons? Have they never treated a kid in the emergency room who dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool?

Each of the young docs comes with a prefab backstory that explains what brought them to this place. Brunette Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas, mostly MIA since the short-lived 2004 Fox series Wonderfalls) grieves the death of her fiance; Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter, who had a memorable guest appearance on The Good Wife) misdiagnosed a child patient when she was exhausted and the kid died; frat boy Tommy Fuller (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) disappointed his family by becoming a plastic surgeon.

These three pups are matched by three elders: Local doctor Zitajalehrena Alvarez (Valerie Cruz), Dr. Otis Cole (Jason George), and aloof clinic founder Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson, looking a lot like Sawyer from Lost), who also serves the role of designated hunk.

"You realize we're objectifying one of the greatest humanitarians of our time," Lily says as she watches Keeton doff his shirt.

"Just checking out his credentials," Mina says, virtually wiping drool from her lower lip.

Tommy arrives at the clinic expressing a desire to "get our swim on," but Cole throws him for a loop by sending him out with the clinic's interpreter -- Charlie (Jonathan Castellanos), a child -- to treat a possible tuberculosis patient. When Tommy complains about the hike, Charlie replies: "This is the reason Americans are fat and lazy: They only drive." (OK, so the natives can be just as cliched as the Americans.)

Continuity is not the show's strong suit. In one scene, Lily goes down a zip wire to get to a tourist who got his arm mangled while soaring though the tree canopy. Viewers see her cutting the guy loose, and then next thing you know they're on the ground. How exactly did they get down?

The premiere's absolute worst moment is saved for near the end: Lily, having bonded with the zip-wire patient who came back to the country where he went on his honeymoon to dump his recently deceased wife's ashes, demands that -- rather than evacuate the man immediately when an infection sets in, with a helicopter standing by -- they take time to help the man fulfill his wish to spread his wife's ashes on a lake glowing from phosphorous microscopic organisms. The next scene is of Lily, Keeton, and the patient, still on a stretcher, paddling on the lake in a canoe. It's intended to be a heartwarming moment, but it's difficult to have your heart warmed when your intelligence is being insulted at the same time. Seriously, would any real doctor take time in an emergency for such sappy nonsense?

It's a shame that the writing makes Off the Map so unwatchable. The show benefits from a strong cast -- particularly the three young docs -- but even they cannot offset the show's fatal flaw: It's brain-dead and clearly expects viewers to be, too.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen writes for the Post-Gazette.



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