The new CBS drama series from David E. Kelley ("Picket Fences") is familiar television dipped in high gloss: A bureaucratic but medically sound hospital environment that hemorrhages hope, not heartbreak. Headstrong but gifted doctors. A no-nonsense but caring chief of staff who goes to the mat for his guys. The whole, formulaic works.
"Chicago Hope" gets by from time to time on the magnetism of its lead characters: dashing Dr. Jeffrey Geiger (Mandy Patinkin), the surgical staff's abrasively self-centered genius, and Dr. Aaron Shutt (Adam Arkin), its upstanding gentle genius. But they wear thin--in particular the arrogant, sanctimonious, demon-ridden Geiger, who ultimately becomes as much of a gross-out as the gory surgery he performs.
Sunday, the nasty but brilliant Geiger heads a surgical team that separates Siamese twins. For a real hoot, catch the wide shot of Geiger and his group in medical tunics, striding briskly toward the operating theater like World War II pilots dashing for their B-25s.
Meanwhile, Shutt, Geiger's humble but brilliant best friend, removes a massive brain tumor with the assistance of the angry but brilliant chief surgical nurse, Camille (Roxanne Hart), who also happens to be the wife who is leaving him.
Plus, the staff's pompous but brilliant aging star, Dr. Aaron Thurmond (E.G. Marshall), may have lost his skills, and the fatherly but brilliant chief of surgery, Dr. Phillip Watters (Hector Elizondo), is nice, but firm, although sensitive while still being tough as nails.
Less smart are the plots of the first two episodes, which treat your heartstrings like taffy pulls while imploring you to care which high-risk patients survive. A hint: They don't call this place "hope" for nothing. All the while Sunday, a genuine issue--whether a hospital should husband its resources for an operation that will benefit so few--is touched upon, but swiftly dispatched.
In Episode 2, airing at 10 p.m. Thursday in the show's regular time slot--opposite another new medical drama, NBC's "ER"--Geiger is especially snotty to nurse Shutt and also crosses an ethical line, irking just about everyone. But ultimately all is resolved because he's so brilliant.
Glimmers of good acting peep through this maze of melodrama. Yet "St. Elsewhere" practiced more interesting medicine, and Kelley's Emmy-laden "Picket Fences" is bolder and more likable. More significant, so is "ER."
* "Chicago Hope" premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).