When she’s on her medications, Dr. Catherine Black is brilliant. Off her meds, she may be even more brilliant, but she’s dangerous, at least to herself.
And that’s the tension of ABC’s newest medical procedural, “Black Box,” premiering at 10 p.m. Thursday. Black (Kelly Reilly) is a neurologist and medical director of a neurological center known as the Cube.
Black is gorgeous and involved with two dashing men. She also happens to be bipolar, which she keeps a secret at work.
Her dilemma is whether she wants to live a proscribed life, on many medications and engaged to her restaurateur boyfriend, or off them, riding the waves of inspiration that engulf her and having fierce sex with other men. When manic, she loves life on the edge, and she gets so perilously close, it’s inevitable that she will fall. Yet it’s then that she feels completely alive.
On a recent frigid day, at a sprawling New York university, which asked ABC to keep its identity secret because apparently allowing a show to film is déclassé, Reilly hurries down a ramp, her white lab coat catching air.
“She is complicated,” Reilly said of her character. “She has many different sides to her. I get to play many different women in one character. An unedited side of her comes out. There’s the medicated and the unmedicated side of her. There’s the side that is nurturing and loving and the side that wants to break everything in the room.”
It’s revealed in the pilot that Black has a teenager, Esme (Siobhan Williams). Black’s brother and sister-in-law have raised her as their own, and the girl doesn’t know who her biological mother is. Reagan Black (Laura Fraser, “Breaking Bad”) is terrified that the girl loves her aunt Catherine more than the woman she knows as Mom. Soon, she realizes Esme may be exhibiting signs of being bipolar.
At work, Black connects with patients on a deep level. Each week features real cases, and when patients are onscreen, their problems are shown from their perspectives. In one, a man has “alien hand” syndrome and doesn’t have control of his hand. He is a mild bank teller until he’s a fearless bank robber who also gropes women.
In an upcoming episode, a woman turning 50 is acting odd. She’s fighting the effects of aging by constantly exercising, but she’s behaving strangely and, it turns out, only seeing half of what’s in front of her.
Doctors cannot figure out why until Black makes the connection. The patient and Dr. Ian Bickman (Ditch Davey) know each other from volunteering at a homeless shelter. Black realizes the woman had contracted tuberculosis, which was altering her brain.
When not in front of the camera, Reilly reverts to a British accent, Davey to Australian. They have both moved to New York and researched their roles by talking with physicians.
“I didn’t know anything about neurology,” Reilly said. “I spent a lot of time speaking with neurologists. Most of the time they are not fixing things. With disorders of the brain, they don’t know very much. They have to play a waiting game. They have to do much more problem solving. They have to think in a way that is more abstract.”
Black meets with her psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hartramph, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Though Redgrave is not onscreen enough, when she is, it’s magical.
“When I heard she had agreed to do this, it justified me doing it,” Reilly said.