Last week, NBC's ludicrous insta-flop Do No Harm (about a Jekyll-Hyde neurosurgeon) pushed TV's medical genre beyond its melodramatic limits. Taking the completely opposite tack, and likely to get a much longer leash (this being cable), TNT's Monday Mornings (Monday, 10/9c) is a surprisingly mellow drama set at a hospital, about doctors forced to face up to their shortcomings, with an ensemble led by (trend alert?) gorgeous and flawed - though decidedly not bonkers - neurosurgeons, played by Jamie Bamber and Jennifer Finnigan.
"I see such brilliant minds, such gifted hands, all this talent, science and technology. Why do we need any humanity?" queries the hospital's "almighty in chief" head of surgery (Alfred Molina), who oversees the weekly morbidity-and-mortality conferences that give Mornings its title and narrative spine. Arrogance more than incompetence is the recurring theme in these solemn soul-baring sessions, which like the show itself can be awfully preachy and earnest. But it's unquestionably heartfelt as the doctors consider the consequences of how they treat their patients, and Mornings is refreshingly free of the self-consciously outrageous antics that have defined many of executive producer David E. Kelley's recent shows. Collaborating with CNN's medical guru Sanjay Gupta, on whose novel the show is based, may have something to do with the more restrained, thoughtful tone.
The cast is solid and admirably diverse, including Ving Rhames as the trauma center's authoritative leader, Bill Irwin as an intense transplant surgeon called out as a "predator" when he overeagerly covets a dying patient's organs and Keong Sim in the thankless role of a linguistically challenged surgeon whose blunt genius often gets lost in translation. While never as engaging as Grey's Anatomy nor clever enough to make us forget the void left by House's departure, Mornings at least does no harm. In this dreary midseason, that's almost a victory.
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FOR LAUGHS: At last there's an end in sight to the relentless tease of CBS' How I Met Your Mother, which announced last week that next season will be its ninth and last, promising finally to reveal the identity of the mother. Too little too late? No doubt, but for now let's be glad for one of the show's few continuing pleasures, as Monday's episode (8/7c) gives us another look at Robin's cheesy past as Robin Sparkles. The long list of Canadian celebs showing up in cameos to play themselves includes Alan Thicke, Jason Priestley, Paul Shaffer and k.d. lang. Fresh from the cancellation of Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, James Van Der Beek returns as Robin's long-ago ex Simon. In a separate storyline, Marshall and Lily worry that Ted's latest girlfriend (Abby Elliott, and no, she's probably not the mother, either) is a stalker.
If it's midseason, it must be time for CBS to bring Rules of Engagement out of cold storage. This long-time utility player, the ultimate show-that-won't-die, returns for a seventh (!) season (8:30/7:30c) with Russell's ex Liz moving in with Jeff and Audrey, and wouldn't you know, she quickly comes between them. Hilarity presumably ensues.
THE CRIME (DRAMA) BLOTTER: In a sweeps stunt for those with long memories, CBS' Hawaii Five-0 (10/9c) reaches into its past, remaking an episode from the classic original series: 1973's "Hookman," in which McGarrett is targeted by a double amputee (here, played by Peter Weller) seeking revenge on those he holds responsible for the loss of both of his hands. ... Who knew she could skate? On Fox's Bones (8/7c), Angela goes undercover in the world of roller derby to help the team solve a murder. ... A critic meets his maker - are they trying to tell us something? - on the third episode of Fox's new hit The Following (9/8c), which unmasks last week's "firebug Poe," while new tensions among the three kidnappers spawn more creepy twists, including a final scene that even by this show's standards is unnerving. ... Jack Coleman returns to ABC's Castle (10:01/9:01c) as the smarmy senator behind the death of Beckett's mother. Will Beckett finally get her man, now that she and Castle have linked him to another killing?
THE MONDAY GUIDE: The (sizable) butt of countless late-night jokes, New Jersey's outspoken Gov. Chris Christie makes his first appearance on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman (11:35/10:35c). Also dropping by: Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens (will his post-game "f-"bomb come up?), and every night this week, Dave spotlights Elvis "tribute artists" - is that we're calling them now? ... Homeland's Damian Lewis gets behind the wheel as the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" as the 19th (!) season of BBC America's Top Gear (9/8c) gets underway. ... On the eve of the second season of NBC's Smash, CNBC looks at the financial risks and high costs of Betting Big on Broadway (9/8c) in a half-hour documentary hosted by Maria Bartiromo. ... In a much more sobering exposé, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney explores sexual abuse within the Catholic church in HBO's Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (9/8c), focusing on a Milwaukee priest who abused more than 200 deaf children in a school under his watch.
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