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Review: A Terrific Cast Brings 'A Gifted Man' to Life

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 22nd 2011 10:30AM
The best thing about the very good drama 'A Gifted Man' (8PM ET Friday, CBS) might be the fact that it's every bit as skeptical about ghosts as you are.

Well, maybe you're not skeptical about visitors from beyond the grave. Whether you are or not, 'A Gifted Man' should still work for you, because it treats the ghost, the person she appears to and the whole concept of working things out after death with an intelligent mixture of curiosity, confusion and compassion. There's no contempt, but neither is there any cliched, sentimental blather.

What I'm trying to say is, even though this show airs on Friday night on CBS, at no point will you be reminded of 'The Ghost Whisperer.'

Sometimes you have to wait until the end of a pilot -- or until several episodes have aired -- before you know whether a program is truly worth watching or not. But no qualifications or hedging are necessary with this drama. Fifteen minutes into 'A Gifted Man,' the performance of Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Ehle and Margo Martindale had completely won me over, and of all the pilots I've screened for fall, this is the one I most want to see more of.

Wilson, ably supported by creator Susannah Grant's nicely understated script, instantly establishes the arrogance and controlled professional competence of Dr. Michael Holt, the neurosurgeon whose boutique practice is frequented by the wealthy, the powerful and the famous. Half the reason he's unsettled by the visitor who begins appearing to him is because he has a lot of things to take care of every day. Really, who has time for schizophrenic hallucinations?

That's not what's going on, but I'm loathe to give away much of what happens in this pilot, because, under director Jonathan Demme's sure hand, the story unfolds in such a graceful and pleasurable fashion. The great Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy Sunday for her work on 'Justified,' manages to make an impression in a supporting role (one that should become more substantial in coming months, she said in a recent interview). I've never been a big Julie Benz fan, but she and Pablo Schrieber ('Lights Out') are excellent as Holt's sister and her shaman friend, respectively.

And Jennifer Ehle, 'A Gifted Man's' female lead, has a wry, understated presence that meshes perfectly with Wilson's low-key but palpable charisma. The chemistry between the actors implies a long and complex history between their characters, and I look forward to finding out about more about their pasts.

But the pilot really belongs to Wilson, who's terrific in the lead role. In his reactions to his untimely visitor, he has to run the gamut from terrified to giddy to flustered, and there's even some deadpan humor in there. He does all that flawlessly, even as he reinforces the idea that Holt needs to be in control, and both loves and hates the one aspect of his life he can't predict. Holt is a man whose looks and skills have allowed him to get away with a great deal of rudeness and selfishness over the years, but Wilson shows us the sincerity and even the charm that lurks under the doctor's crisp, driven surface.

The medical cases add some suspense to the proceedings, but they're really not the main event here. The pilot for 'A Gifted Man' follows Holt's emotional journey, and the conclusion to that journey feels earned -- and it feels like an interesting beginning.

There's still time for this concept to get messed up and codified in conventional ways, but my fingers are crossed that 'A Gifted Man' does with the medical drama what 'The Good Wife' did for the legal drama. The latter show picks and choose from genre conventions in order to tell unexpectedly rich stories about complex, flawed people and their interesting jobs. The cases supply interesting frameworks for 'Wife,' but if it weren't those particular people litigating those cases, we wouldn't care half as much.

CBS has seen fit to stick 'A Gifted Man' on Fridays, but let's hope that means lowered expectations will allow it to develop into an unconventional, character-driven drama about mortality, death and medicine too. There's certainly a lot of life in that premise, judging by the show's first episode.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Saw a gifted man tonight and boy what a flop. Some crazy lady in a room full of doctors blaming the doc for her daughter's death. "Someone's gotta pay - POW, POW". Gees what a load of crap. And I just started to enjoy the show lately. Stinks, lousy, Can't we go one show without guns or crazy people. Not even close to reality, not even close.

February 10 2012 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tory U.

Great show...something to look forward to watching on Friday nights. I love the actors, especially Jennifer Ehle. She was terrific in "Pride and Prejudice" and is as terrific in this show.

November 17 2011 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Reminds me of Eli Stone, instead of a lawyer who changes to do god, it's a doctor.

October 07 2011 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It`s great, especially technical stuff (camera). For me it`s between House, Baltar set in Rubicon.
Just loved the healer and world around sister.
I will watch it weekly and let Fringe episodes accumulate in batches (6-7 at time).
Again thanks Mo

September 24 2011 at 11:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Loved it!

September 23 2011 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Melanie Egan

Looking forward to catching this tonight!! :)

September 23 2011 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am very tempted to watch this because I love the two leads, particularly Jennifer Ehle (hello Elizabeth Bennet!), but I just find myself dragging my heels at the idea of watching a medical drama (that and the biggest draw for me is... y'know... dead). I was in the same position with The Good Wife when it started, and I'm afraid I'm guilty of being a somewhat regretful non-viewer of that as well. If you like them, I'm sure I would too, but I've been hesitant to get myself addicted to a medical and/or legal drama, even a transcendent one, as those genres have generally been more angst and agita than they're worth. I probably should learn from my Good Wife mistake though and take the plunge, especially since my tv-viewing dance card is rather empty at the moment.

September 22 2011 at 9:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mink Carlyle

Thanks, Mo. Always put a lot of stock in your reviews, and I'll definitely be checking this out now. I'm really glad to hear this is so promising because I like many of the actors.

September 22 2011 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mink Carlyle's comment
Mo Ryan

Let me know how you like it! Either leave a comment or drop me a line: Maureen.Ryan (at) teamaol.com :)

September 22 2011 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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