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kate-kskDate: Wednesday, 2011-01-05, 10:04 PM | Message # 1
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'Off The Map' is cocky and at times gratuitous but its cast has the chops to back up the hype

It’s kind of hard to imagine where Off The Map can go after its pilot episode featured its young doctor ziplining to a rescue on her first day on the job in the jungle, as well as a whole family dying of tuberculosis, and two seasoned professionals jumping off a cliff to save a tourist with a stingray stuck in his ankle. With such elevated, somewhat fabricated, stakes like that it’s hard to get too invested in the characters when they seem so muted compared to the over the top scenery and scenarios.

The show, filming in Hawaii, resembles what we would imagine LOST would be if Jack Sheppard had decided to set up a practice instead of focusing on how to get the hell home. Medical residents transfer to this “doctors without borders” situation without even taking the time to learn the language first. And it’s Spanish, so it’s really a wonder how they managed to go all of twenty-some-odd years without at least picking up the numbers or definition of “Gringo.” They are truly fresh-faced and wild-eyed, and in the case of at least one, just looking for a tropical island adventure.

When Dr. Cole (Jason George) tells that one, Tommy (Zach Gilford), that he’s a joke, we can’t help but agree. But of course that is all in showrunner Shonda Rhimes’ plan. These young doctors must have the cockiness slapped out of them before they can do any good or ingratiate themselves to the audience.

So far the ensemble all manage to compliment each other in that way. Mamie Gummer brings a level of quirkiness with unmatched vulnerability to her role as Mina Minard, while Caroline Dhavernas does the doe-eyed ingénue fish out of water as Lily Brenner exceptionally well. Gilford has a handle on arrogant humor. But it is Jonathan Castellanos as the young clinic transpo aid Charlie who feels like the truest breath of fresh air.

Against the beautiful and lush landscape, the bloody limbs and internal hemorrhaging is that much more jarring. But what is really an assault on the eyes is the rustic approach these doctors must take because they are in a poor South American company, running a clinic only on donations. The only drugs they have are basic over the counter pain pills, and at times they must punch uncontrollable patients in the face in order to keep them still on the table. When a patient is losing too much blood, they create an IV drip from a coconut like any one of our hospitals would do a donor blood bag. It is truly remarkable what they are able to do.

And what is even more remarkable is that as the histories of each one of these new doctors comes out, we learn that each one was on their last legs in their own way in the states. They couldn’t cut it, or they didn’t want to try; either way, Ben (Martin Henderson) saw something in them that was redeemable. As much as he may need their help in the form of extra hands in the jungle, they need him so much more to live up to their true potential.

But let’s face it, with a cutie like Ben heading the clinic, they’re going to want to give this their all simply to impress and get close to him.

It is still unclear exactly why he takes a chance on these kids. Maybe he really is just philanthropic or maybe he is trying to make up for something in his own past. After all, it is very clear from this pilot episode that each one of them is haunted by a memory-- by a loss. We just have yet to learn exactly what his’ is all about.

But let’s face it, intrigue with a touch of mystery are colors he wears well!

The pilot episode is entitled “Saved by the Great White Hope”, and for many viewers that is exactly what they will see: poor villagers being given second chances at life by American transplants. But in reality these Americans, assuming they don’t lose sight of why they are there, are going to be saved by the people they meet and their individual experiences within the village. As Lily says in the series premiere: “If there was ever somewhere to start over, it’s right here.” They just have to let go and give into it.

And if Rhimes and Co can let go of the soapy melodrama that has so made its mark on her other powerhouse ABC programs, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice and give into what makes this one unique instead, that new start is already looking up.

Off The Map premieres on January 12th at 10pm on ABC.


kate-kskDate: Friday, 2011-01-07, 12:11 PM | Message # 2
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Idealistic young doctors go 'Off the Map' in new ABC series

Medical procedures aren't always by the book, especially for doctors working with limited resources in the South American jungle.

Three young medics get that education fast in "Off the Map," a seriocomic, scenic ABC series from Shonda Rhimes and fellow makers of "Grey's Anatomy" that debuts Wednesday, Jan. 12.

Actually being filmed in Hawaii, the show features Zach Gilford ("Friday Night Lights"), Caroline Dhavernas ("Wonderfalls") and Mamie Gummer -- daughter of two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep -- playing the newcomers who learn to use a coconut for a blood transfusion, among other lessons.

Personal baggage is part of what the trio brings, and they find others coping with emotional complications. Their main supervisor (Martin Henderson) has a deep, secretive connection to another doctor (Rachelle Lefevre, "Twilight"), while two more staffers (Jason George, Valerie Cruz) also are linked beyond their professional ties.

Series creator and executive producer Jenna Bans went to South America for her initial "Off the Map" research, and she reports she had "experts helping me, like doctors who have done (the volunteer program) Doctors Without Borders and different kinds of international outreach work. This is set in a fictional country, so we can pull from many different influences … a little from Peru, a little from Costa Rica. It's one big melting pot."

Executive producer Rhimes says that even with her background in medical dramas, it was important for her newest one to be set on largely unfamiliar turf.

"I want the show to stand on its own two feet," she says, "because it's very different from 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Private Practice.' Just because the worlds of all these shows are medical, that doesn't mean they're in any way similar. I say this is sort of 'Indiana Jones with scalpels.' "

Co-star Gummer notes there's true camaraderie among the "Off the Map" actors, especially being together so far from home. "There certainly are parallels" between the performers and their characters, she confirms, "arriving and trying to navigate this uncharted territory. It's easier for us as actors to come into this world and constantly try to get our bearings."

Though she's new to the immediate atmosphere in her "Off the Map" role as Mina Minard, Gummer did research of her own before starting the show.

"I read a book called 'Inside the Outbreaks' (by Mark Pendergrast), about epidemiologists who trot all over the globe," she says. "It was fascinating stuff, and it helped me get into the mindset where Mina is so driven in her approach to the work. At least outwardly, it's what she wants to believe is driving her."

The "Off the Map" pilot episode was done in Puerto Rico, but filming then was relocated to take advantage of a production infrastructure that has supported ABC's now-ended "Lost" and, of course, the current CBS reboot of "Hawaii Five-0." Bans says, "The great thing about Hawaii is that it can double, and has doubled, for so many different locations for so many years. It's been perfect for us. We've been able to find everything there."

Rhimes credits veteran casting director Linda Lowy with helping to gather several series veterans and a screen legend's offspring, but she adds, "Jenna had a very specific idea of what she was looking for. That always helps, when you know your characters as well as Jenna does, so it was oddly simple to bring everybody together."


kate-kskDate: Sunday, 2011-01-09, 7:44 PM | Message # 3
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Tuned In: New Doctor drama "Off the Map" is flatlining

Depending on how good an arm you have, watching ABC's "Off the Map" could require medical attention: It's a head smacker. You know, a show so preposterous that it inspires the watcher to smack his or her forehead with the palm of the hand.

Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice") and created by Jenna Bans (a "Grey's" writer), "Off the Map" follows a trio of young doctors who arrive at a clinic "somewhere in South America" (played by Hawaii and locations that may look familiar to "Lost" fans).
"Off the Map"
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday, ABC.

Starring: Jason George, Zach Gilford.

These young docs proceed to behave like stereotypically idiotic, privileged Americans -- and sappy characters on a TV melodrama.

Wednesday's premiere opens and closes with scenes of doctors diving off cliffs into the ocean, which provides a fantastic, tropical visual but may also leave rational-minded viewers to wonder, are these doctors complete morons? Have they never had a kid in the ER who dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool?

Each of the young docs comes with a pre-fab back story that explains what brought them to this place. Brunette Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas, mostly MIA since the short-lived 2004 Fox series "Wonderfalls") grieves the death of her fiance; Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter who had a memorable guest appearance on "The Good Wife") misdiagnosed a child patient when she was exhausted and the kid died; frat boy Tommy Fuller (Zach Gilford, "Friday Night Lights") disappointed his family by becoming a plastic surgeon.

These three pups are matched by three elders: Local doctor Zitajalehrena Alvarez (Valerie Cruz), Dr. Otis Cole (Jason George) and aloof clinic founder Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson, looking a lot like Sawyer from "Lost"), who also serves the role of designated hunk.

"You realize we're objectifying one of the greatest humanitarians of our time," Lily says as she watches Keeton doff his shirt.

"Just checking out his credentials," Mina says, virtually wiping drool from her lower lip.

Tommy arrives at the clinic expressing a desire to get his "swim on," but Dr. Cole throws him for a loop by sending him out with the clinic's interpreter -- Charlie (Jonathan Castellanos), a child -- to treat a possible tuberculosis patient. When Tommy complains about the hike, Charlie replies, "This is the reason Americans are fat and lazy: They only drive." (OK, so the natives can be just as cliched as the Americans.)

Continuity is not the show's strong suit. In one scene, Lily goes down a zip wire to get to a tourist who got his arm mangled while soaring though the tree canopy. Viewers see her cutting the guy loose and then next thing you know they're on the ground. How exactly did they get down?

The show's absolute worst moment is saved for near the end of the premiere. Lily, having bonded with the zip wire patient who returned to the country where he honeymooned to dump his recently deceased wife's ashes, demands that rather than immediately move the man to safety when an infection sets in -- with a helicopter standing by -- they take time to help the man fulfill his wish to spread his wife's ashes on a lake that glows from the phosphorous microscopic organisms that live in it. The next scene is of Lily, Dr. Keeton and the patient, still on a stretcher, rowing through the lake in a canoe. It's intended to be a heartwarming moment, but it's difficult to have your heart warmed when your intelligence is being insulted at the same time. Seriously, would any real doctor take time in an emergency for such sappy nonsense?

It's a shame that the writing makes "Off the Map" so unwatchable. The show benefits from a strong cast -- particularly the three young docs -- but even they cannot offset the show's fatal flaw: It's brain-dead and clearly expects viewers to be, too.

Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

First published on January 9, 2011 at 12:00 am

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