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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

TNT’s ‘Heartland’ not quite the fix for a ‘House’ jones

If you find yourself suffering from House withdrawal over the summer, you might want to check out Heartland, TNT’s new series premiering Monday, June 18 at 10pm Eastern. I’m sure that’s what TNT is hoping for, at least, to catch a little bit of that “I need a medical drama, stat!” audience. And at first glance — I had a chance to preview the pilot and the first regular episode — there certainly seems to be enough soap-opera angst to go around the antiseptic corridors of St. Jude’s Transplant Center in Pittsburgh for quite a while.
Of course, if you’re jonesing for a Hugh Laurie fix, you’re out of luck here. Nobody doesn’t like Treat Williams (Hollywood Ending), but his Dr. Nathaniel Grant, transplant surgeon, is a bit tiresome. Oh, he’s aggressive and takes risks, dammit!, for his patients when necessary, much to the chagrin of the other, less made-for-TV-melodrama transplant specialists he butts heads with at the hospital. (But is he dumb enough — or wise enough — to take a chance on the guy who’s already blasted both his original liver and a transplanted one with booze? Will Dr. Grant give this man yet another organ? Stay tuned!) And he regularly blows off his girlfriend, Nurse Jessica Kivala (Firefly fan alert: she’s played by the babelicious Morena Baccarin, aka Inara, registered companion), who just wants to hang out and watch a DVD and stuff at night — you know, like normal people do — but he’s just too damn dedicated to his patients to ever leave the hospital, basically. Sanctimonious prig much, Dr. Grant? Oh yes, but not in that fun way of Dr. House’s.

Grant is hardly even mean to his ex-wife, Kate Armstrong, whom he sees every damn day: she’s the organ-donor coordinator at the hospital. Poor Kari Matchett (you’ve seen her on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, if you’re one of the four people watching that) — she’s stuck with a character whom, I suspect, she’s going to get tired of real quick, if the audience doesn’t first: she has to do a lot of soothing of grief-stricken relatives while simultaneously trying to get them to sign the forms that will allow the organs of their dead beloved to be harvested. Ironic, isn’t it, that much of the drama of this show is going to come from the fact that most people don’t have organ-donor cards. If only people were more socially responsible, there would be less cultural space for TV series like this one.

Oh, now I’m being mean and unfair. Heartland — from David Hollander, who created the series The Guardian for CBS — will make for a perfectly pleasant diverting hour of television once a week. Not for me, but for someone. Probably.

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