NBC Drama ‘Heartbeat’ Flatlines

Tony Schwab
Don Hany and Melissa George portray doctors in NBC's new drama, "Heartbeat".

“Heartbeat,” a new bewildering NBC medical drama, stars Melissa George as Alexandra Panittiere, renegade surgeon. Ostentatious and rule-breaking, Alexander would surely be unemployed if he existed outside of this television show. Yet here, as in so many medical dramas, we are asked to sympathize with reckless mavericks under the pretense that their rule-breaking is done out of love for their patients, while those who follow protocol are heartless.

The pilot introduces the many characters that Alexandra will interact with. There is a boyfriend who wants a more serious committed relationship and a rock star ex-husband who left her for a man. At work, there is an older doctor who serves as a mentor and boss who tries to contain Alexandra’s passion by reminding her about legality and malpractice. It becomes clear that each character has learned to adapt to Alexandra, neurosis and all.

What makes the show so muddled and unclear is that it constantly changes how the audience is supposed to view Alexandra. For the first half of the pilot, her character appears to be the star of a dark comedy — she celebrates the death of an old woman whose heart can be used for a transplant. As the plot progresses, Alexandra’s role seems to shifts to more of an antihero character. She allows a man to kill himself in order to get his heart for a patient in need. Alexandra’s morbid backstory would have created a very dark and intriguing network show, but this is ultimately abandoned. The end of the episode vindicates this decision as it becomes clear that she will be treated as a good, thought somewhat zany doctor. This is, of course, one of the most generic character types.

The show would be better if it were more certain on what kind of tone it wanted. When it is trying to be funny, it has no sense of comic timing. There is a horrible moment when Alexandra attempts to impress a group of wealthy hospital investors by listing all of their business failures. At more dramatic points, the show resorts to the most banal kind of melodrama, full of weeping in slow motion, soaring string arrangements and minor key piano.

All things considered, “Heartbeat” is the type that generally debuts silently and unimpressively in the middle of the TV season.
“Heartbeat” airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC.

Email Tony Schwab at [email protected]

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