Monday Mornings

In Television on March 25, 2013 at 1:22 pm


Monday mornings are the low point of the week for many people.  Unless you love what you do, it is the beginning of the grind.  Surgeons generally love what they do, but that doesn’t mean that they look forward to Monday mornings, especially the ones who work at Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, OR.  Granted, the surgeons in this case are actors that work in a fictional hospital, but when you get immersed in the storylines, you tend to forget that these are not real doctors.  Based on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s novel with the same title, Monday Mornings is a unique David E. Kelley drama that features compelling, albeit graphic, surgical procedures.  However, the real intrigue happens within the walls of Room 311.

Every doctor and surgeon at Chelsea General is a Type-A personality with an abundance of confidence in their skills, but when Monday mornings roll around, each one sits in the auditorium of Room 311 on pins and needles as they wait to see who is going to have to justify their actions in front of their peers.  The weekly grilling sessions are conducted by the judgmental, often times ornery Chief of Staff, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina).

In spite Dr. Hooten’s looming wrath, the doctors and surgeons of Chelsea General never let the threat of being called “in front of the class” in Room 311 prevent them from doing what they feel is the best course of action within the confines of the hospital or otherwise.

In a recent episode, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao), stopped at a café on her way into the hospital.  Standing in line behind a young couple with an adorable, giggling infant, Dr. Napur questioned them about their seemingly happy 10-week old baby.  Within moments, she realized that there was something wrong with the baby, because actual laughter doesn’t usually occur until a baby is at least four months old.  Imagine the horror of thinking that you have the happiest baby in the world one moment, and the next moment, she is being prepped for a dangerous procedure to remove a rare brain tumor that was only diagnosed because of a serendipitous moment in a café.

Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber), a top neurosurgeon with an empathetic side that is atypical for the profession, is abruptly awakened in the middle of the night by an emergency page, which is a fairly common occurrence.  But the situations on Monday Mornings are usually anything but common.  In this case, the page was coming from a medic in Afghanistan trying to save his best friend’s life after an IED explosion.  Dr. Wilson, who does independent contracting with the military, speaks to the medic via video conference to gather information about the patient, and then proceeds to do a virtual examination by controlling the camera on a high-tech robot from half way across the world.

From his home in Oregon, Dr. Wilson and his girlfriend, fellow neurosurgeon, Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), guide the medic through a craniotomy.  As implausible as it seems, the operation is a success, and the soldier’s life is saved.

Meanwhile, back at Chelsea General, a 32-year old man in peak physical condition collapses in a hotel room while on a rock climbing trip with his husband.  The man’s husband and his sister rush with him to the emergency room where he is treated by trauma chief, Dr. Jorge “El Gato” Villanueva (Ving Rhames).  Dr. Villanueva (aka “the big cat”) calls for a consult from Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim), a brilliant neurosurgeon with a terrible bedside manner which is exacerbated by his lack of command of the English language.  As the two doctors look at the brain scan, Dr. Park determines that there is no hope for the man due to a catastrophic bleed, and says to Dr. Villanueva…“he dead, gone.”  The two doctors are the only ones who are not intimidated by the prospect of defending their actions in front of their peers because they are steadfast that their courses of action are always correct.  Dr. Villanueva’s confidence is bolstered by his imposing physique, while Dr. Park is unfazed by criticism, no matter how harsh.

In this episode, the duo must deal with a difficult situation.  The husband of the 32-year old man doesn’t want to use extreme measures to preserve a life that, in a best case scenario, will result in a permanent vegetative state.  The sister, on the other hand, wants to do anything possible to save the only family that she has left.  The siblings had been estranged from their parents after they disowned the son when he told them that he was gay.

Dr. Park, the painful realist, tells the husband and sister that surgery is a futile option.  Dr. Villanueva, the eternal optimist, regretfully agrees.  Ultimately, the doctors’ opinions are disregarded as the matter is settled by the legal department, who determines that the sister has the right to make the decision because gay marriage is not legally recognized in Oregon.  A disturbing, calculated choice is made by the legal department and Dr. Hooten as they determine that the potential for a wrongful death lawsuit by the sister could be more damaging than a potential pain and suffering lawsuit by the husband.  The hospital lawyer tells the reluctant Dr. Park that it is a win-win situation if the likely outcome happens, and the patient dies during surgery.

In the middle of the surgery, after opening the patient’s head, Dr. Park walked out in frustration over being forced to do a procedure that he deemed unethical, a decision that put him on the hot seat in Room 311.  When questioned by Dr. Hooten, Dr. Park replied…“Surgery futile…not ethical do…just prevention lawsuit…patient gone…sister wrong…if do, patient probably die…not do…not ethical…not apologize.”

Dr. Hooten responded (in his customary sarcastic tone)“Well that was very well put Dr. Park.  Strunk & White could not have more eloquently made your case.”

Monday Mornings, airing Monday nights on TNT, is a brilliant show that seems to be flying under the radar.  The storylines are thought-provoking and suspenseful.  Molina and Rhames are the most interesting characters to grace the medical drama landscape since Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie).  The weekly sneak peek into Room 311 is both compelling and uncomfortable as it gives viewers the chance to look behind the curtain to discover secrets that are not meant for public consumption, while experiencing the dread of being scolded in front of your friends by a parent or a teacher.

David E. Kelley and Dr. Sanjay Gupta have finally given people a reason to look forward to “Monday Mornings.”  Hopefully, the show will garner enough ratings to keep it on the air for several years to come.

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