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'Off the Map' gives viewers a 'brain vacation'

ABC's feverishly dumb new drama "Off the Map" takes fans of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" on an arduous trip to a tiny village in the tropics, "somewhere in South America." It's echh in the time of cholera.

Here, three attractive young doctors have come to work at the legendary Clinica Cruz del Sur, where the even prettier former head of surgery at UCLA (Martin Henderson as Dr. Ben Keeton, channeling Shirtless Sawyer from "Lost") has set up shop to work with the poor and suffering.

The poor and suffering have never read Us Weekly, and so the guiding principles embraced by "Off the Map" are lost on them: six-pack abs, conspicuous humanitarianism, snide remarks about who's hooking up with whom.

Yet the show has a pulse, thanks to a bone-marrow transplant from the inexplicably still-popular "Grey's." Same kind of doctors, same kind of medical dramas -- only with more bug repellent.

The ensemble cast is lead by Caroline Dhavernas ("Wonderfalls") as Lily, a young med-school dropout seeking to regain her footing and escape some tragic past, which she'll tell us about sometime, when the moonlight is right and we're staring into her eyes.

On her first day at la clinica, she meets the other newbie doctors: Tommy ("Friday Night Lights'" Zach Gilford), who partied his way through med school hoping to become a plastic surgeon, and Mina (Mamie Gummer), a details-oriented striver who nevertheless managed to fatally misdiagnose a patient in her last residency.

More keen viewers may wonder what possible appeal a slab of mid-season cheese such as "Off the Map" could hold for an actress with a pedigree like Gummer's -- her mother is Meryl Streep; she's classically trained on the stage and has worked in indie films and HBO's "John Adams."

But think it through and it makes perfect sense: How else does a 27-year-old actress get (finally) noticed these days? How else can she have any hope of being cast in romantic comedy features and stylish thrillers? I refer again to the predominance of the Us Weekly culture. Get on a show just like "Grey's Anatomy" and the world starts to get a little more sparkly, doesn't it? So what if the scripts stink? You work with it.

And work they do.

"Off the Map" glistens with a sweaty sheen of good intentions, in which the first world feels better about itself by vaccinating the third world -- though there is, of course, no hope of inoculating the downtrodden against our TV shows.

The young clinicians also rescue tourists whose arms have been mangled in mountaintop zip lines or whose ankles have been impaled on the business end of a sting ray. Tommy is sent on a jungle trek to a house call (more like a hut call) where an entire family is coughing up blood, but the father refuses to let anyone take medicine. The language barrier is, uh, un pequeqo problema, since the new doctors don't speak a word of Spanish.

"Here, it's still 1952," a doctor named Otis (Jason George) tells the newcomers. "You don't have high-tech. You don't have Big Pharma. You have your brain."

What? We have brains? Are you sure? You do know we're all "Grey's Anatomy" fans, right, and that we generally like to set our brains aside for an hour?

If brains were involved, this group of doctors would have already noticed that "somewhere in South America" looks a whole lot like Hawaii, where the show is filmed. (Any jungle backdrop will do, much the same way the village appears populated by all manner of light brown people, who have been cast as stand-ins for a mass of unprivileged "others" whom the sexy Americans have come to save.)

If brains were involved, would Dr. Keeton really hook a coconut up to a patient's I.V.? "You're going to put COCONUT in his VEINS?!" Lily asks, aghast.

Which is really just another way of yelling "GILLIGAN!!"


"Off the Map"    

10 tonight on ABC.    

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