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TV Review: CBS’ Generic ‘Three Rivers’ Needs a Creativity Transplant

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – “Three Rivers” takes its title from the Pittsburgh heart transplant hospital at which it is set but even the dull, “easy listening” name of the show should tell you something about the earnest, drab series debuting tonight on CBS. Generic, manipulative, and almost purposefully wasting the talented cast assembled, “Three Rivers” may satisfy viewers tired after a long weekend of football but only because it’s so safe and predictable - two words that never stopped a show, especially one on CBS, from becoming a hit.

HollywoodChicago.com Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0

There is nothing overtly “wrong” with “Three Rivers”. The cast isn’t bad and the plot of the premiere is certainly about good people doing great things, but with such a glut of medical shows this year - “Nurse Jackie,” “HawthoRNe,” “Mercy,” “Trauma” - doing “nothing wrong” is the same as doing nothing at all.

Miranda (Katherine Moennig, left) and Sophia (Alfre Woodard, right) discuss the case of a teenager with upper GI bleeding, on THREE RIVERS, Sunday, Oct 4 th (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network
Miranda (Katherine Moennig, left) and Sophia (Alfre Woodard, right) discuss the case of a teenager with upper GI bleeding, on THREE RIVERS, Sunday, Oct 4 th (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network
Photo credit: CBS/Cliff Lipson

Easily the best thing about “Three Rivers” is the charismatic cast, led by Alex O’Loughlin (most recently seen in “Moonlight” and “Whiteout”). O’Loughlin plays Dr. Alex Yablonski, a smooth-talking, charismatic transplant medical expert. With his piercing eyes, five o’clock shadow, and succinct delivery, he’s from the “George Clooney on ER” school of TV doctors - the kind we all dream we have the day that we end up in the hospital - caring, brilliant, and movie-star handsome. Yablonski will save your baby, get the girl, and ride off into the sunset. He’s an old-fashioned TV doctor in every way.

Dr. Andy Yablonski (Alex O'Loughlin, center), the highly-skilled workaholic lead organ transplant surgeon, Dr. Miranda Foster (Katherine Moennig), a surgical fellow with a rebellious streak, Dr. David Lee (Daniel Henney), a womanizing surgical resident and Ryan Abbott (Christopher J. Hanke), who despite possessing no prior medical experience, becomes the transplant coordinator on THREE RIVERS on Sunday, Oct. 4 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Dr. Andy Yablonski (Alex O’Loughlin, center), the highly-skilled workaholic lead organ transplant surgeon, Dr. Miranda Foster (Katherine Moennig), a surgical fellow with a rebellious streak, Dr. David Lee (Daniel Henney), a womanizing surgical resident and Ryan Abbott (Christopher J. Hanke), who despite possessing no prior medical experience, becomes the transplant coordinator on THREE RIVERS on Sunday, Oct. 4 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Photo credit: George Holz/CBS

The rest of the cast is filled with TV and film veterans, including Katherine Moennig, Daniel Henney, Justina Machado, Christopher J. Hanke, and the great Alfre Woodard as the hospital chief. The ensemble takes turns talking to people either about to give away their organs or the ones about to receive them. Essentially, “Three Rivers” attempts to turn the transplant process into a “CSI”-esque mystery-of-the-week show. Who will live, who will die, and who will give the gift of life by donating their organs appears that it will be a bit of a mystery of every week.

The original pilot has been massively reworked and “Three Rivers” isn’t nearly as painful as it once was. With it’s two-dimensional dialogue and hero always in scrubs, the original concept of the show was remarkably melodramatic. Things have improved but there’s still only so far a show this generic can go. Flashy new graphics and guitar riffs on the score can’t hide overly earnest, predictable writing.

There’s a fine line between old-fashioned and dull and “Three Rivers” crosses to the dark side far too often for my taste. I’m easily moved by medical dramas (look at positive words for “Mercy” and “Trauma” for proof) and I was still more aware of the TV cliches at work in “Three Rivers” than the actual human stories.

It may be too soon to write off “Three Rivers” and allow the cast to be transplanted into other series. These are talented people. O’Loughlin, Woodard, and Moennig are particularly promising and CBS can make practically anything a hit nowadays. The fact is that “Three Rivers” is likely to find an audience looking for heartwarming drama on Sunday nights, even if it’s predictable. Now if only the writers and producers of “Three Rivers” could throw them a curveball or two and try and sketch a few medical professionals with flaws as interesting as the people they operate on. “Three Rivers” could yet be saved.

‘Three Rivers,’ which airs on CBS, premieres on October 4th, 2009 at 8PM CST. It stars Alex O’Loughlin, Katherine Moennig, Daniel Henney, Christopher J. Hanke, Alfre Woodard, and Justina Machado.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Natalie's picture

Thank you for this article.

Thank you for this article. I agree with you that Alex is like a George Clooney. Handsome, cerebral, and deeply engaging, he and the cast have the noblest of intentions. They are doing good things with the television/media they are given. By changing the face of TV to not only one of entertainment but of purpose. I feel so proud of Alex O’Loughlin and the rest of the cast. I hope it does well. Sometimes intelligent TV gets tossed aside by goofy people doing goofy and weird things. If one life gets saved because of this show, it would have been worth it. I will watch Three Rivers to find out what happens next to Alex’s character Dr. Andy Yablonski.

Caro's picture

Three Rivers

Thank you for your review of Three Rivers. This show has so much to offer….important subject of organ donation/transplantation, great cast with super talent and easy on the eyes and a new and different medical angle. After watching the other new medical shows on the other networks……I believe Three Rivers will be true winner. Alex O’Loughlin believes in this show and his character Dr Andy Yablonski who is patterned after a REAL surgeon Dr Gonzalo “Gonzo” Gonzalez-Stawinski. Alex has become an ambassador for Donate Life and many of his fans are following his lead and becoming organ donors and speaking out to others about this important life-saving decision. So many people have been touched by organ donations: themselves, family members, friends or co-workers!

Please watch Three Rivers………..you’ll be glad you did!

Blahblahblah's picture

Show was Horrible!!!

I was excited for a new medical show and one with a good message, but after seeing it what a miss! It was overshadowed by the horrible acting!! To think that a husband would be watching his wife code and doesn’t even look panicked on his face….the main doctor was sooo cheezey!! and the other female doctor goes to talk to her chief about her emotional involvement in her case…blah!! Hopefully this series will be over sooner than it started. Please trust me and don’t subject yourself to the soap opera-esque acting. It felt like a made for TV special. I do hope they upgrade the talent, so more people will be interested - I don’t think it will last very long.

Marie's picture

I really liked Three

I really liked Three Rivers!
It is enjoyable and refreshing to watch a show that is upbeat.
Why is it that shows have to have complex characters and depressing storylines to be entertaining? With all the unemployment and the economy crisis we are living with today, having a tv show that has a happy ending is what I call entertainment.

lanouette's picture

I really love the show

I love Three Rivers because of the great rythme, the cast, the storyline. I need more of Three Rivers and believe it will last for a long time!

TV Obsessed's picture

I guess CBS thought sticking

I guess CBS thought sticking Alex O’Loughlin would work. He’s clearly not the right person, and the writing for his character only makes him annoying. The editing was atrocious with the random green, red, yellow montage crap before the commercials. Full review of the episode.

http://th3tvobsessed.blogspot.com/2009/10/cbss-three-rivers-needs-heart….

Anonymous's picture

Three Rivers inception

You should have noted the show’s Chicago roots. Steve Boman, who used to be a newspaper reporter here was in film school at USC and pitched the concept of this show as his final project in a class. It was based on his experience as a transplant coordinator at U of C before he worked at the Daily Southtown. Anyway the producers who came to hear the pitches for the class optioned the idea on the spot. The Tribune wrote about it a while ago.

http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/feb/19/business/chi-thu-notebook…

Anonymous's picture

Based on

It was based on his experience as a transplant coordinator at U of C before he worked at the Daily Southtown. Anyway the producers who came to hear the pitches for the class optioned the idea on the spot. The Tribune wrote about it a while ago.form company.

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