CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
TV Review: A&E Mini-Series Remake of ‘Coma’ is Lifeless
CHICAGO – When I heard that A&E was airing a remake of Michael Crichton’s wonderful slice of ’70s health care paranoia “Coma” (based on the book by Robin Cook), I thought, “That makes perfect sense.” With our current national focus on what’s going to happen to us when we get sick along with the continued health issues of the aging Baby Boomer generation, a “Coma” remake was a great idea. There are plenty of reasons to do another “Coma.” It’s just too bad that the producers of this turgid mess never stumbled upon any of them.
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
It’s truly maddening to see so many talented people sucked into a morass of bad writing, lazy direction, and personality-free filmmaking as they are in “Coma.” Leading lady Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under,” “Torchwood: Miracle”) proves to be a capable lead and Steven Pasquale breaks out of the blockhead role he played on “Rescue Me” to adeptly play a prominent surgeon but the two stars of this two-night affair can’t overcome the many flaws on every level of the production, even within the supporting cast of living legends that includes a bizarrely ineffective Geena Davis, a solid Richard Drefuss, reliable Joe Morton, wasted James Woods, and a movie-stealing Ellen Burstyn. Of all these talented people, only Burstyn seems to be relishing the chance to inject this drowsy piece with a bit of morbid personality. She’s more fun than the film around her deserves.
Photo credit: A&E
Ambrose plays Susan Wheeler, a rising medical student who shares a name with one of the buildings at the school she attends. Her health care industry lineage allows her to climb the ladder more quickly than her jealous peers but it also means that she’s the first to uncover a massive conspiracy at the world-renowned hospital at which she works. The first question is a simple and obvious one — why does this hospital have a higher percentage of patients who enter comas during seemingly routing surgeries than the national average? Could there be a relation to the Jefferson Institute, a controversial building at which coma patients are housed like dry cleaning in a futuristic laundromat?
Photo credit: A&E
Before director Mikael Salomon can let an ounce of actual paranoia enter his production, Susan is off on a thankless series of discoveries and near-misses. As you might expect, the closer that Susan gets to the truth about her hospital’s patient record and what might be happening at the Jefferson Institute, the more powerful people want to keep her quiet. Salomon and his team leave a few question marks as to which of the power figures circling this unraveling conspiracy are the actual bad guys but things get really silly when the house of cards starts to collapse. One character is attacked in the most bizarre and implausible murder attempt I’ve seen in a very long time but that’s nothing compared to when Susan makes a crucial connection and decides to text her discovery to another character. She texts! If you thought you were on to something that would make front page news and change hundreds of lives, don’t you think you could at least make an actual call?
In all seriousness, this is a minor complaint but there are far more broad ones I could levy at this disappointing production. Overall, the piece just doesn’t have any personality. Crichton and Cook brilliantly exploited that fear that we all have when we submit to being put under anesthesia. How do we know we can trust the people who now have complete control over our bodies? How can we be certain we’ll come back? As he so often did, Crichton painted a scary vision of a future where one of the most essential authority figures of our lives — doctors — could no longer be trusted.
The 2012 “Coma” could have brilliantly played with how our fears of hospitalization, mortality, and even health insurance costs have changed since the original. It could have, but that would have required more ambition than the going-through-the-motions production we get here. Nearly everything that was altered, including a substantially different climax and finale, is dramatically lesser than the original. Sure, things get a little bizarrely morbid in the final act but it’s too little too late. Before that, “Coma” is a lifeless mix of routine TV mystery filmmaking. It’s more than a wasted opportunity. It’s a waste of time.