Review: Monday Mornings 1×1 (US: TNT; UK: Fox)

Monday Mornings

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, TNT
In the UK: Acquired by Fox

David E Kelley used to be a lawyer. I don’t know exactly where he practised law and what kind but it must have been a very weird kind. Look back at his track record and you’ll see the likes of The Practice, sure, which was just about realistic, but he moved on to the likes of Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and most recently, Harry’s Law.

If you could sum up the general themes of Kelley’s shows, they’d be something like this:

  1. Women find this whole working thing a bit difficult, are a bit insecure and prefer to talk about relationships and stuff. Unless they’re old.
  2. It’s not so much the legal niceties of an argument that matter so much as what everyone feels should be the right one – and by everyone, I mean extremely liberal Democrats who all feel exactly the same way as David E Kelley.
  3. Gee, aren’t those non-black ethnic minorities amusing?
  4. Gee, aren’t those black ethnic minorities sassy?

That shtick (apart from options 3 and 4) can just about work with lawyers or crazy lawyers, but it starts to fall apart when you start to transfer the same principles to genres with which Kelley is unfamiliar. In fact, it can be extremely dreadful, as anyone who’s watched his pilot for Wonder Woman can attest.

Now Kelley has turned his attention to doctors and surgeons, using CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s book Monday Mornings as his inspiration. The name isn’t a reference to how a surgeon is likely to start shooting people on a Monday (that would be the Boomtown Rats song ‘I Hate Mondays’); it isn’t a reference to how we all hate Monday mornings and are more than likely still hung over from the weekend. In fact, it’s a reference to a practice at certain hospitals: the ‘M&M’ conference or morbidity and mortality conference, in which doctors and surgeons all get together to look over their past week’s work, see who’s died, see what mistakes have been made and then try to learn from those mistakes.

All entirely estimable, but since Kelley can only write about lawyers and somehow turns even shows that aren’t about lawyers into shows that are – cf, again, Wonder Woman – Kelley uses the M&M as a surrogate court room in which the doctors and surgeons like Ving Rhames and Jamie Bamber are the jury, lawyers, prosecutors and defendants, and Alfred Molina – still dressed like Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2 – is the judge, ready to pass verdict on the guilty. Should they have done that procedure? Should they have prescribed that medicine that might have saved little Timmy’s life? His parents are outside crying, dammit.

Does it matter? Because the Kelley guide to medicine is pretty much the same as the Kelley guide to law: ignore what’s practical, contra-indicated, clinically proven, probable and everything else, and focus instead on what feels right.

Here’s a trailer – it’s not even one-tenth as annoying as the show itself.

Doctors face life-and-death decisions each and every day as they fight against often-impossible odds to save their patients. When things don’t go as they should, it’s up to their medical colleagues to determine what went wrong and learn from those costly mistakes.

Monday Mornings follows the lives of doctors as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings. Every Monday, the doctors must gather with their peers for a confidential review of complications and errors in patient care.

Leading the staff at Chelsea General are Dr. Harding Hooten, the steely-eyed chief of surgery, and Dr. Jorge Villanueva, the hospital’s trauma chief. Their cadre of medical talent includes hotshot neurosurgeons Dr. Tyler Wison and Dr. Tina Ridgeway; the abrasive Dr. Buck Tierney; the socially challenged Dr. Sung Park; the petite-but-formidable Dr. Sydney Napur; and inquisitive resident Dr. Michelle Robidaux.

Is it any good?
It feels like having your bones scraped clean by a sugar-coated trowel of stupid. No dramatic cliche or act of fluffy-hearted stupidity goes unmined the whole episode.

It’s hard to feel find anything good to say about the show. The cast are all I could think of – they were clearly hoping for a multi-season run thanks to Kelley’s track record, because it’s certainly not the script that lured them in, and I think they’re going to be disappointed.

They don’t have much to work with in terms of characters, for starters. Everyone is a cliche in the standard Kelley mould, with dynamic men who care way too much or way too little or have God complexes; the women are in thrall to men – onscreen or offscreen – and typically over-compensate in every possible way or are ignored and undervalued; the Asian character is, of course, completely clueless and bereft of social skills; and the black female character who gets to wander by occasionally is sassy and full of spunk as All Black Women Are (© 1992 David E Kelley). If you’ve seen one David E Kelley production, you’ll have seen this one, too.

The plots are exactly what you’d expect: lots of life-saving emergencies that either end with doctors being treated like gods and with lots of rounds of applause from attending staff, or tragically with everything going wrong – cue much gnashing of teeth and an M&M, at which everyone over-emotes, pulls faces and generally is the exact opposite of a dispassionate observer.

Someone who runs 30 miles a week (or something) presents to their doctor with a sore hip – why aren’t they going to their primary care physician? No wonder insurance premiums are so high. He gives them pain killers. When they come back with a broken hip four months later, it naturally turns out they have bone cancer and die. Cue audible gasps from the M&M jury. Why didn’t he X-ray? Why didn’t he MRI?


But because someone has died – oh no! – everyone now has 20/20 hindsight and rakes the doctor concerned over the coals. It’s about as real as Harry’s Law combined criminal law and shoe shop was.

So far, so “what you’d expect from an M&M, almost”. But when something similar happens to (spoiler alert) Jamie Bamber’s character, because he’s prettier than the first guy and everyone likes him, he’s given a free pass, rather than being fired. Because that’s what feels right.

Dialogue is largely dreadful. Molina has to struggle through this line, for example, which he has to deliver to a child: “I went to medical school and no one ever told me how to tell a child that they might die.” Bamber has to put on his BSG accent again, because the golden rule of US TV is that it doesn’t matter how many Brits you have in the cast, only one of them is allowed to be British – and since Alfred Molina has the slightly unlikeable role that requires a certain degree of dignity, he gets first dibs.

It’s just another David E Kelley car crash. Don’t watch it, no matter how tempting it is, since you’ll only slow down the rest of the traffic.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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