It’s important that you understand from the beginning, that I hate medical dramas. The last medical television show that I watch, and remember enjoying, was Trapper John M.D. and I was only 10 years old and had no idea what good television was at the time. Even E.R. never did it for me, despite my minor man-crush on George Clooney. Keeping all of this in mind, when I received a screener for the pilot episode of the new USA Network medical drama Royal Pains, starring Mark Feuerstein , I was less than enthusiastic to give the show a chance. In fact, the only reasons that I watched it at all was because it was on USA, the only network in recent years to successfully brand themselves, and the fact that the show was going to be paired with one of my favorites, Burn Notice. By the end of the two hour pilot I was converted one hundred percent. Despite all the hype, this is the best medical drama I can remember seeing on television…ever; mainly because it’s not a medical drama. It’s a character drama that just happens to be about a doctor.
Royal Pains is about 30ish year old emergency room doctor, Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), who is at the top of his game. He’s engaged to a beautiful woman and one of the most brilliant doctors at his hospital. But when Hank decides to put the life of a neighborhood kid above a 68 year old billionaire hospital donor, Hank is abruptly fired from his Brooklyn hospital and black-listed so that he can’t work in New York again. His fiance leaves him and he spends some time wallowing in his own self pitty before his younger brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) convinces him to take a weekend trip to the Hamptons with him. Before Hank knows it he’s in high demand as the Hampton’s newest and most talked about “concierge doctor” (a personal doctor to the rich), a career path that Hank has no interest in following. His brother Evan and physician’s assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty) attempt to pull him in the right direction, for their own motives as well as Hank’s well-being, but it is a local hospital administrator Jill that ends up with the most influence over Hank.
USA Network excels at television dramas that are not only character driven, but bend the mold of most conventional network dramas. This network has been successful at giving well written series with multi-dimensional characters that still manage to not only be funny but also hip and fun to watch. Royal Pains fits into this mold as well, if not better than every other series on USA currently.
The acting from Mark Feuerstein is top notch, and he manages to play the morally and ethically straight Hank to perfection, without ever making us feel as though Hank is a goodie-two-shoes or thinks he’s better than anyone else. In the medical scenes you’ve never scene anyone as cool under pressure as Hank Lawson (except maybe Michael Westin) and his Macguyver-like medical skills add one of the more fun elements to the show. In one scene he can be heard saying, “Okay, I need a bottle of vodka, a very sharp, pointed knife, a bic pen, a sandwich baggy and some duct tape.” This is said before he does an emergency procedure on the living room floor of a billionaire’s house. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hank’s brother Evan is a C.P.A. who lives life to its fullest and acts on instinct without thinking, which is basically the complete opposite of Hank. The chemistry between Paulo Costanzo and Mark Feuerstein is fantastic and you don’t doubt for a second that these two men are brothers who grew up with a very different view from the same childhood experiences. I also enjoy Paulo’s very improve-type style (I’m not saying he’s making up the script as he goes, but he sure does a great job at making it feel that way, which is good in this case).
Royal Pains is a good modern series about today’s healthcare system because it does a good job at addressing the stereotypes of the rich as well as the poor who need treatment. Hank’s predicament has an obvious irony to it, being that his perfect life was ruined because he chose to save a young kid and let a wealthy older man die in the process, and now he’s in the Hampton’s saving the lives of the very same rich people that destroyed him. But Hank starts to learn quickly that not only are the rich a bit misunderstood on occasion, but that he might also be able to filter his success in helping the wealthy into a way to also help the poor with a healthcare system that is faltering them.
The supporting cast is fabulous as well, and even features the always fabulous Campbell Scott as the mysterious Boris, a German Billionaire that serves as a sort of Robin Masters to Hank’s Magnum PI (if you’re too young to get that reference, just wait and watch the pilot). Also worthy of mentioning are the great visual elements of the show and the cinematography and music. If you’ve ever seen Burn Notice, you’ll have a sense of familiarity to the way in which Royal Pains transitions between shots and gives you lots of great exterior shots of the Hampton’s which are accompanied by some great music both old an new including Rooney and even the Ting Tings.
Royal Pains premieres next Thursday, June 2 immediately following the season 3 kick-off of Burn Notice. Pains will begin at 10/9 c. Be sure to tune in, or at the very least set your DVRs to record the show, because you don’t want to miss this one. It has the potential to remind us that good television doesn’t have to end when the summer arrives. Thanks to the USA Network, Burn Notice, and now Royal Pains, you can get all your tv needs in the summer, and even on the same night!