Three Rivers: Scratching The Surface Of Personal Drama

by | October 2, 2009 at 7:01 AM | TV News

Three Rivers (CBS)

Three Rivers (CBS)

Premiering on CBS Sunday at 9 p.m., ‘Three Rivers’ becomes the latest hospital drama to throw its chart into the post-‘ER’ ring.

Starring ‘Moonlight’s’ Alex O’Loughlin and journeywoman Alfre Woodard, and focused on a Pittsburgh hospital that specializes in organ transplants, the series pilot hardly falls short on ambition, as it sprawls across state lines while delving into lofty global topics.

The net effect, however, is more than a little over-the-top.

We start off in Cleveland, where a construction foreman of Middle Eastern decent, Mahmood (actor Bernad White) respectfully teaches a young former U.S. Marine the finer points of welding metal without blowing things up, then promptly falls through a breach and winds up brain dead.

Then, shifting over to Pittsburgh, we meet Kuol (Owiso Odera), an African native and refugee-camp survivor who has somehow crossed an ocean to meet Dr. Andy Yablonski (O’Laughlin) because, well, he needs a new heart and Yablonski is the best in the world at transplanting those.

In between those transnational storylines, we kind of get to know Yablonski and his similarly youthful, workaholic team of transplant surgeons, members of which are all invariably fit, belying their copious doughnut consumption. Woodard, bouncing around quite a bit these days after her matronly turn on ‘Desperate Housewives,’ plays the team’s matronly administrative leader.

Watch a sneak peek of the pilot episode below:

In episode one, we start to scratch the surface on the intrinsic personal drama. Team member Miranda (‘The L Word’s’ Katherine Moennig), for example, reveals some of her daddy issues – her father being one of the hospitals founders, and a former colleague of Woodard’s Sophia character.

Having Miranda preciously ask Sophia, at one point, if her late father ever talked about her seems par for the hospital-drama course – but it also comes across as a bit overwrought, given all the bigger drama we’re forced to deal with.

And some of that drama is way too big for this hourlong’s britches.

Back in Cleveland, Mahmood isn’t even off his respirator when junior staffer Ryan (Christopher Hanke) comes flying in to try to convince his grieving family that their dying loved one’s heart is sorely needed back in Pittsburgh by a pregnant woman.

Not only are we delving into complex, Terri Schiavo-esque issues of life and death, it turns out that Mahmood’s family has some misgivings about bestowing the gift of life to a Westerner, given their post-9/11 persecution.

All of this dissonance, however, mysteriously vanishes when Ryan and Mahmood’s daughter Ada (Janina Gavanka) share an oddly flirtatious moment that renders the whole, lofty plot exercise flimsy at best.

Of course, this is just the pilot, and it’s not unusual for the writing staff to throw in the whole kitchen sink in order to sell the series.

O’Loughlin is charismatic and compelling in that Patrick Dempsey sort of way, and Woodard’s experience and gravitas certainly helps carry a show.

Looking ahead, it’s possible to imagine this whole enterprise settling down a bit and playing like a slightly dumbed down, yet entirely watchable ‘Grey’s.’

In any event, given the competitive, life-or-death struggle to keep hospital dramas on the air this year, ‘Three Rivers’ chances for survival through its first season probably depends on the answer to that question doctors always ask worried loved ones: Is it a fighter?