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A Gifted Man – First Impressions

A Gifted Man is a CBS medical drama starring Patrick Wilson. Wilson plays Michael Holt, a driven and brilliant neurosurgeon living in a bubble until the ghost of his ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle) comes knocking. Anna is a very demanding ghost who wants him to help with a few things that will substantially alter his life. Although the pilot and the second episode are, on many points, surprisingly better than I expected, they highlighted a couple of issues that may make or break the series, depending on the type of audience that was first drawn to the show.

In the pilot, we are introduced to Michael Holt, a very successful doctor who “gets” what being the best at anything entails. One evening, as he is leaving a fancy New York restaurant, he stumbles upon his ex-wife. They end up having dinner together and discuss their distant, but still very memorable life together. A few days later, he realizes she has been dead for almost two weeks and starts researching hallucinations, thinking that is his plight. Needless to say, the ghost returns and by the end of the pilot, Michael is convinced she is indeed the real deal.

Anna's & Michael's Extraordinary Diner

The first things that struck me were how the ghost was brought about and how the cast made things easier for the viewer. If we forget the fact that Michael had dinner with a ghost without suspecting anything, Anna managed to be very convincing and the neurosurgeon, following a logic you would expect from a person with his profile, couldn’t help but accept her authenticity. Although she isn’t your typical ethereal ghost, Anna’s playfulness and her captivating voice are particularly suited to a being who, in many ways, is very much the voice of Michael’s conscience. Wilson’s rendering of the successful playboy/doctor is equally good, if not better. He has the looks and is able to make us feel the disruption of his daily routine. Finally, the fact that the two characters have known each other very intimately allows for very personal conversations in which Anna can use her knowledge of her ex-husband to convince him to do what she believes is right. All that made the viewer’s life much easier at first.

While we were getting our mind around the above relationship, something happened that, to me, has the potential to break the series. Because of the way the ghost was brought about, it was surprising to see the show wander into spirituality by validating the practices of a shaman. One might think dealing with a ghost means by definition dabbling in the spiritual, but given that she (the ghost) doesn’t seem to know why she is around and cannot control her appearances, and also given the problematic state of Michael’s life in spite of its veneer, it seemed possible (and even natural) to pursue the fantasy angle instead of the supernatural one. By that, I mean incorporate an otherworldly being to transform the life of our protagonist without necessarily dealing with the forces involved or touching on the notion of atonement in a spiritual sense, therefore avoiding the notion of sin and spiritual world order. Anna could have remained “the one thing [Michael] doesn’t understand.” Depending on the audience that was first drawn to the show, dwelling on that aspect might lead to a quick drop in the ratings.

About Michael’s life: the little of it left from his very demanding career seemed wiped away by the devastating tides created by Anna’s requests. The pace of what happens in the series on the medical front is more akin to what unfolds in a hospital emergency room instead of what occurs at one (or two) clinic(s). The fact that Neal Baer (from ER) is an executive producer on the show might explain it, but it comes with a risk. It might make Michael seem superhuman and dilute or affect our perception of the personal transformation that should take place over time. Also, no matter how good he is, he shouldn’t be able to save everyone every time!

Michael accepting Anna as the one thing he doesn't understand
Despite the sometimes breathtaking pace, it has been interesting to see the good doctor being dragged back to the “Clinica Sanando,” the place Anna used to run. After three episodes, he is still very reluctant to fully accept the responsibility. The staff at the clinic have very well seen that, although he does help unwillingly, he is not the type to just close his eyes and walk away when faced with human misery. His relationship with the place has been a succession of decisions pushed by Anna (or heartbreaking situations) and he has a constant wish to get back into his bubble and forget about the world of the uninsured and HMOs.

In the third episode, there was no trace of Anton the shaman, which to me is a good thing. Also, Anna managed to get Michael to act responsibly with one of his own patients, which is a good change.

The series has real potential given the cast and the writers’ skills, but it shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone or it might fail to retain a sizable chunk of its viewers. One way to do it would be to dial down the intensity of the medical drama aspects and focus a bit more on the personal transformation. For that transformation to feel right, we need more conflicting values. So far, the only thing keeping Michael from being the perfect man is his bubble, his established way of life in his corner of the world, which is not enough. The show would have been better off with a more flawed lead…

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