TV Review: Great Cast, Crew Elevate ‘A Gifted Man’ Into Fine Cheese

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CHICAGOCBS’s new Friday night drama “A Gifted Man” has the kind of cheesy plot designed to appeal to fans who miss “Highway to Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” or “The Ghost Whisperer”. But it’s produced by such amazingly talented people and features the best new show ensemble of the year, and so what would have been Velveeta in the hands of a different team becomes something much more palatable. TV Rating: 3.5/5.0
TV Rating: 3.5/5.0

The great Patrick Wilson (“Little Children,” “Watchmen”) stars as Dr. Michael Holt, a surgeon for the spoiled, rich brats of the world. In the pilot, we meet one of Holt’s most prominent clients (in a stellar cameo from Bill Irwin) and he’s a man who has abused his body with increasingly dangerous vices, knowing full well that he has the money to get it fixed. His liver is bad? He’ll buy a new one. These are the people who Holt service, the ones who have turned money into health care. He jogs a little too aggressively and hears car accidents that aren’t there — hinting at a dark past.

A Gifted Man
A Gifted Man
Photo credit: CBS

One night, Holt is out getting dinner when he runs into ex-wife Anna (the awesome Jennifer Ehle, recently seen in “Contagion”). They haven’t seen each other in years and Holt clearly still has feelings for her but their different approaches to medicine tore them apart. Anna wanted to save lives. Michael wanted to make money. He was unwilling to work in clinics or third-world countries whereas Anna saw that as the only reason to practice medicine.

A Gifted Man
A Gifted Man
Photo credit: CBS

After a lovely evening with Anna, Michael discovers something remarkable — she’s dead. Yes, “A Gifted Man” is a show about a doctor who gets a conscience in the form of his dead wife. That description alone will turn off cynical viewers who I believe could enjoy this show, but I’ll admit that the moral, arguably hippie tone of the show isn’t for everyone. I think the writing needs some serious work — the first episode features a subplot about a young tennis player forced with the decision to put her career on hold for the sake of her health and it feels underdeveloped — but the cast and crew will keep me coming back for at least a few weeks to see if the show gets more grounded and believable.

How much talent is there in “A Gifted Man”? Wilson and Ehle alone would be a good reason to watch any new show, but how about Emmy-winner Margo Martindale (“Justified”), Pablo Schreiber (“Lights Out”), Julie Benz (“Dexter”), and a ensembles of recognizable New York actors (like the great Irwin) in small roles? As if that on-camera crew isn’t talented enough, the pilot was directed by the Oscar-winning Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Rachel Getting Married”) and shot by his pal Tak Fujimoto, one of the best cinematographers out there. This doesn’t look like network TV. It has that professional sheen that you usually only get nowadays on cable and often only on HBO.

Having said that, the amazing cast and crew of “A Gifted Man” are delivering a product that relies heavily on manipulative scenarios. The pilot avoids too much heartstring-pulling (probably by virtue of having Demme’s light touch behind the camera) but it could dive into the melodrama quickly in subsequent episodes. This is a tightrope act — how do you make a show about a guy taught moral lessons by his dead wife and NOT turn it into cheese? They pulled it off for at least the premiere. Let’s see where it goes from here.

“A Gifted Man” stars Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Ehle, Margo Martindale, Pablo Schreiber, and Julie Benz. The premiere was directed by Jonathan Demme. It debuts on CBS on September 23rd, 2011 at 7pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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