Josh Berman and Rob Wright, creators of Fox’s new medical drama The Mob Doctor, are no strangers to writing strong female characters that resonate with audiences. Berman cut his teeth on Bones, Wright on Crossing Jordan, and both work on Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva. That sort of success is something they hope to repeat with The Mob Doctor, starring the plucky Jordana Spiro as Grace Devlin.
There’s nothing particularly bad about Spiro’s performance as Grace: a strong-willed and successful surgical resident at Chicago’s Roosevelt Medical Center. As the title suggests, she must balance her up-and-coming career with paying off her debt to mob boss Paul Moretti (Michael Rappaport). That means when she isn’t at the hospital saving little boys who’ve been shot, she’s in the backwashes of the city patching up Moretti’s underlings. The fault, then, is not so much in the premise, but the fact that it’s all been done before. And done better.
The narrations at the beginning, as well as most of the hospital scenes, could come out of any early episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Grace is just as blond, but not quite as jaded as Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and they both enjoy a good roll in the hospital break room between shifts. Grace has better computer toys to play with, but lacks Meredith’s snarky best friend. Neither one is good at keeping a clinical distance from their patients and while Meredith had an overbearing, cold, mother, Grace’s mom Daniella (Wendy Makkena) is weak and lives in denial of her family’s obvious issues.
The big elephant in the Devlin family living room is little brother Nate’s (Jesse Lee Soffer) gambling ; a debt Grace finds herself trying to pay to Moretti. This is where the show should get good and diverge from the norm – after all, cable networks have been making money off of mob shows since The Sopranos, so eventually broadcast TV was going to try and cash in too. And here, they do indeed try.
What doesn’t quite add up however, is that the leverage from a gambling debt could be great enough for a mob boss to order Grace to kill one of her patients. Also, aside from a few threats, a stalker, and some creepy balloons, this Southside mob doesn’t inspire much fear. Other fearsome onscreen mobsters are rolling in their graves at the weak mob angle and cliche dialogue in Mob Doctor. Clearly, the language can’t be as rough as a cable show, but surely the writers could dish out better insults than “trash pail informant” and “piece of crap.”
Still, the show does its best to ramp up the tension. Grace’s patient who needs cutting-edge surgery is a witness for the prosecution in a trial that could tumble Moretti’s kingdom for good. If she refuses to comply, she and her brother are as good as dead. Meanwhile the hospital drama front includes a petty supervisor who causes the death of one of her patients; a surgical rival more concerned with her own career than the truth; and a fourteen year-old girl from Grace’s neighborhood who comes in pregnant. Not to mention the cute boyfriend Dr. Brett Robinson (Zach Gilford) meeting Grace’s interfering mother.
In the end Grace manages to alienate herself from everyone she works with – cute boyfriend included – but at least she honors the Hippocratic Oath and keeps the prosecution’s witness alive. None too pleased, Moretti tears through the city after Grace in his Audi, looking to make good on his promise to kill her for crossing him. Several obligatory shots of Chicago’s famed L-train are thrown in for good measure.
Grace, though, has one final ace up her sleeve; her friendship with one of Chicago’s retired mob bosses, Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe). When the chase is brought to his front yard, Constantine wastes no time coming out of retirement and taking out Moretti. He then gives Grace a choice: leave Chicago or work for him the same way she worked for Moretti. Unable to fathom leaving her job or her family, she chooses the latter, and with one final voiceover and flashback the show’s course is set.
In the spring of 2011, Fox debuted a new show that had a strong female lead. She was a cop, not a doctor, but each week she had to wade through the morass of interdepartmental politics, not to mention city gangs and the mob. She too chose to take the moral high ground, though not just when it suited her. Voiceovers were used throughout that show to lend added depth to characters. Chicago was a character in the narrative and not merely a background. They even had a fresh-faced Friday Night Lights alum to draw in viewers too.
The Chicago Code lasted only 13 episodes. Wonder how long Fox will let The Mob Doctor stay and play?
The Mob Doctor airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox