In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network
As recession has struck, so US TV's attitude to the rich has changed. Where once there was admiration and envy - Sex and the City - so admiration has faded and been replaced by amusement - Gossip Girl and Dirty Sexy Money - before eventually reaching disdain - Privileged and now Royal Pains.
The envy's still there though.
While still wishing it had their money, Royal Pains is nevertheless quite a fun show that despite its essential dislike of the rich has heart to make up for this unworthy emotion.
Set in the Hamptons, New York state's retreat for the ultra-wealthy, it sees disgraced ER doctor Mark Feuerstein accidentally wander into a new job as a 'concierge doctor' - a live-in, on-call doctor who looks after the rich and famous when they have those little problems the rich and famous suffer from: drug overdoses, car crashes - and deflated breast implants.
USA Network is proud to introduce the Hamptons' newest doctor-on-demand, Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), in Royal Pains.
Hank is a rising star in the New York City medical community, until he loses everything fighting for the life of a patient. With his career stalled and his personal life in shambles, Hank is in need of a new beginning. That's where his younger brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) steps in. Fed up with Hank's personal pity-party, he convinces Hank to join him on a last-minute trip to the Hamptons for Memorial Day weekend. When the brothers crash a party at the home of a Hamptons billionaire and a guest falls critically ill, Hank saves the day. His dramatic medical rescue draws attention from the crowd, and soon Hank's phone starts ringing off the hook with patients demanding house calls.
Inadvertently, Hank has become the hot new "concierge doctor" in town.
Though Hank is initially reluctant to embrace this new career, with encouragement from Evan and an ambitious young woman who volunteers to be his physician assistant he decides to stay in town for the summer. Once again solving medical crises and helping those in need, Hank is back to doing what he does best. And now he's reinvented himself as the Hamptons' hottest new doctor-in-demand.
Also starring Reshma Shetty and Jill Flint with Christine Ebersole and Campbell Scott.
Is it any good?
For a good 20 minutes or so, it's a bit hard to see where the show's going. At first it looks like a regular run-of-the-mill medical drama with a principled doctor who can rustle up first aid from everyday household objects and refuses to put politics over patient need. He has a nice life, and a great relationship with his fiancée.
Then he gets fired, and he spends 30 days mired in depression and self-pity because he's been barred from working in just about every hospital in New York. Then disappointingly and predictably, he breaks up with his fiancée.
Oh. Where's it going now?
Then his brother Paulo Costanzo (the nerdy one on Joey who got replaced on the Rules of Engagement pilot) turns up and it becomes a comedy as he and depressed brother go on a weekend vacation to the West Hamptons (aka the Worst Hamptons) and try to gatecrash a party pretending to be Prussian princes or something.
Oh. Where's it going now?
Once we're at the party, all becomes clear, and it's at this point that the show starts to take off. Dr Hank saves someone's life when the 'concierge doctor' misdiagnoses and suddenly, every rich person in the area wants him to be their concierge doctor and seems to have his phone number already.
Dr Hank then spends the rest of the pilot going from rich person to rich person, learning a little about their weird and usually unhappy lives and what they expect to get for their money.
Annoyingly, he seems to fail to understand long before the viewer does that he's destined to set up practice in the Hamptoms, even when thousands of dollars are being thrust in his face. It's not really until an aspiring assistant doctor Divya Katdare (Reshma Shetty) turns up with a boot-load of concierge doctor medical equipment and he meets the local hospital administrator (Jill Flint) that he realises what everyone else realised long ago.
To a certain extent, this whole show follows a USA Network formula: a character, with a wacky sidekick in a location unusual for mainstream US TV, wanders from situation to situation. But this feels far more charming, far less orchestrated, far more natural than many of the other USA shows.
While Costanzo's character is hideously over the top although at least not total typecasting for him, Feuerstein comes across as a reasonable enough person, a bit like Joel in Northern Exposure but with a warmer environment and a richer clientele to deal with. His growing relationship with the warm and intelligent Flint feels like a real growing relationship, rather than the forced romances of most shows, too. Together, they're the normal-people axis the show's cooky/rich people revolve around, and they're a good point of identification for the audience.
Shetty's something of a cipher and a stereotype, as are most of the rich people we meet, but they already look like they'll grow on us. The show also doesn't hate the rich people so much you want to see their comeuppance. While there are some you want to slap, they all have a certain degree of decency about them, so the potentially bland Feuerstein and co still should see some interesting plots in future episodes.
Nothing revolutionary, not laugh a minute, but with a real feel for both New York and the Hamptons, some beautiful scenery and some rich people to gawk at, so definitely one to stick with for now.
- June 20, 2009: Third-episode verdict: Royal Pains
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