Every network TV season includes a best show you're not watching — last spring it was the sturdy but forgotten Prime Suspect, and this season it just might be The Mob Doctor, a Fox drama that's struggling and looks to soon be sleeping with the fishes. (No more mob jokes, I promise.) Well, OK, look, we're not talking about a great show here, but we are talking about a series that at least shows a spark of smarts and boasts solid acting and engaging storytelling. Which is a pretty rare find in this so-far incredibly lackluster new crop of shows. So it's probably worth rallying for, if only because we have to rally for some show every year, don't we?
The basic setup of The Mob Doctor is this: A talented young Chicago doctor (My Boys' Jordana Spiro) juggles work life (cute fellow doctor boyfriend played by Friday night Lights' Zach Gilford, stern and overbearing boss played by Željko Ivanek) with her home life. Seems pretty normal, except that her home life involves a mob family past that has her now working as the doctor for a crew to keep her debt-ridden brother alive. So there's a lot of has-to-be-two-places-at-once tension and colorful Chicago mafia characters, and while that may sound like an awkward mix — mysterious or touching medical case-of-the-week meets morally conflicted crime drama — the show actually strikes a pretty fine balance. Credit for that must of course go to show creators Josh Berman and Rob Wright, but also to Michael Dinner, the veteran TV producer/director who brings some of the same flair and flavor that he's brought to shows like Justified to this surprisingly textured series. The mob scenes, featuring Boardwalk Empire's great William Forsythe, actually seem pretty credible considering this is largely a Fox medical series from a guy who wrote on Bones, and it's safe to assume that Dinner had a big part in that.
The acting also helps lend the show an unexpected air of credibility. Spiro, so spunky and sardonic on My Boys, handles this heavier material well, giving her character, Grace, smart shadings of darkness that flare up when she's sneakily, and riskily, maneuvering a situation to her advantage. (Like sewing an internally bleeding mob patient back up because he just killed a little girl in a car accident and she wants him to
die be forced to go the hospital.) Wendy Makkena is a sexy, tough Ma type whom the writers give actual material to — last night she and Forsythe had a nice scene together that hummed with old secrets and buried history. The writing is occasionally clever and nuanced that way, even if it is most of the time, yes, medical melodrama. Zach Gilford hasn't been given much to do beyond being the supportive/frustrated boyfriend, but c'mon, it's Zach Gilford, just stop complaining and have a look. The view is lovely.
Again, we're not talking about Shakespeare here, we're not even talking about Prime Suspect. But there's something winning about The Mob Doctor's competent hospital intrigue and carefully drawn mob mythology. It's a surprise to find myself getting invested in this show, but something tells me that if it was given a chance to get going over a season or two, we might have something pretty exciting: The odd hybrid show that actually works, episodic and serialized in equal measure. The ratings fell again last night, though, so it looks like we might have to call it pretty soon. It's a shame to see, a glimmer of promise snuffed out. Or, y'know, whacked.