Share this article

print logo

NEW MEDICAL DRAMAS DESERVE GOOD DIAGNOSIS

It's pop quiz time for Pamela Anderson: OK Pam, you're in full-page magazine ads promoting your new sitcom "Stacked" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 29) in which, yes, you work in a bookstore.

You're pictured in striped jersey, Daisy Duke shorts and sitting on a pile of books that includes the following titles: 1) "The Age of Innocence"; 2) "The Call of the Wild"; 3) "Persuasion"; 4) "The Misanthrope"; 5) "Leaves of Grass"; 6) "The Turn of the Screw"; 7) "Beyond Good and Evil"; 8) "Huckleberry Finn"; 9) "The Scarlet Letter"; and 10) "Little Women."

So, Pam, now that you're not a bookstore employee but play one on TV, who wrote them? (Answers at column's end.)

On a TV sitcom, anyone can play anything. Pam Anderson can work in a bookstore, Sarah Jessica Parker can write a newspaper sex column, Brad Garrett can be a cop and John Stamos can be a high-power publicist (even if that one -- for which see ABC's "Jake in Progress" -- may well be one of the signs of the Apocalypse). The day when Andy Dick stars in some sitcom or other as a former NFL wide receiver can't be too far away.

Not entirely so in the world of TV drama. Some vague tangential claim on casting plausibility is still made. If you're going to have presidential contenders on "The West Wing," they have to be as charismatic as Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda. If you can somehow manage to believe all the glammed-up lab rats on "CSI" shows, you still need cops who look like Anthony LaPaglia ("Without a Trace"), John Finn and Thom Barry ("Cold Case"), which means that producer Jerry Bruckheimer hasn't completely taken leave of his senses.

"Grey's Anatomy," the latest young doctor number in the great TV tradition of "The Interns" and "Dr. Kildare," did the usual blond glam number for its star (Ellen Pompeo) and one other of its newest crop of surgical residents (Katherine Heigl as a former model turned surgeon-in-waiting). But just to prove that they didn't completely move the show to fairyland lock, stock and barrel, they cast Sandra Oh -- the frolicsome and vengeful motorcyclist in "Sideways" -- as the most ambitious and the smartest of the young surgeons.

Never mind how much it may court modern racial stereotyping to make the Asian (Oh is of Korean heritage, raised in Canada) the brainiest and most nakedly ambitious of the bunch. She still makes the show seem plausible for, say, a fugitive minute or so at a time.

Not that "Grey's Anatomy" is bad television, mind you. Far from it. It's surprisingly engaging. The medical show -- one of the tentpoles of TV drama since the days of Richard Boone playing Conrad Steiner in "Medic" -- has made a major league network comeback. TV is no longer just a vast convocation of cops, criminalists and lawyers. What with "House" now in the status of an "appointment show" in some of the TV-smarter houses and "Grey's Anatomy" scoring so high so quickly in the likability sweepstakes, the medical show is in good shape again even if "ER" is now approaching broadcast senility (as TV shows go, you understand).

The mystery here is why any adult would want to watch a TV show in which young doctors constantly misdiagnose patients and are always poised on the brink of making grievous mistakes. That this is popular with those of us at the age when reliance on medical professionalism escalates sharply is, if you think about it, almost incomprehensible.

Except, of course, that they all seem like nice kids, even if they are horribly overworked. And everything always does come out all right at the end.

Which wouldn't necessarily be the case if Pamela Anderson were the one answering your questions behind the counter at Border's or Barnes and Noble.

(Answers for Pam, if she's reading this: 1) Edith Wharton; 2) Jack London; 3) Jane Austen; 4) Moliere; 5) Walt Whitman; 6) Henry James; 7) Friederich Nietzsche; 8) Mark Twain; 9) Nathanael Hawthorne, and 10) Louisa May Alcott).

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com