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Fall TV preview: Female doctors lead promising new shows

THE MINDY PROJECT: Mindy (Mindy Kaling R) skilled OB/GYN meets her boyfriend Tom (Bill Hader L) new comedy THE MINDY

THE MINDY PROJECT: Mindy (Mindy Kaling, R), a skilled OB/GYN meets her boyfriend Tom (Bill Hader, L) in the new comedy THE MINDY PROJECT premiering Tuesday, Sept. 25 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Beth Dubber/FOX. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Beth Dubber

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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:08AM



Paging all female physicians: Report to the television studio, stat.

This fall TV season is full of lady docs, who star in four of the broadcast networks’ freshman series.

Cable kicks off the trend on Labor Day with the start of A&E’s two-part miniseries “Coma.” Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) headlines as a medical student suspicious of a rash of unexplained comas in Ridley and Tony Scott’s suspenseful-but-sometimes-cheesy reboot of the 1978 medical thriller.

Shows built around the dramatic, emotional and occasionally comedic world of medicine long have been a television staple, but this season boasts an unprecedented number of leading ladies in scrubs. In the advanced degree department, M.D.s trounce J.D.s this fall. Only one of the season’s nearly two dozen new shows is about a woman lawyer: CBS’ “Made in Jersey.” And if there’s any justice in this world, it will get sentenced to death before Thanksgiving.

The lady doc shows, on the other hand, range from pretty good to really good. They’re also a reminder of how much things have changed on the small screen — not to mention in society — since the male-dominated days of “St. Elsewhere,” let alone Marcus Welby.

Pioneers like Sherry Stringfield on “ER,” Ellen Pompeo on “Grey’s Anatomy” and the girl-power crew on Lifetime’s “Strong Medicine” helped pave the way for the current crop of leading lady docs. (An unfortunate side effect has been the CW’s schmaltzy “Hart of Dixie,” last fall’s sole new show about a female doctor. A year later, it continues to linger on the TV schedule like a bad cold.)

It’s no wonder this season is shaping up to be especially estrogen-friendly, given that the bulk of last fall’s biggest hits — “Revenge,” “Once Upon a Time,” “New Girl,” “2 Broke Girls” — featured female leads. In what’s surely not a coincidence, women also watch more TV than men — 16 hours a month more, according to Nielsen. If they’re going to identify with characters of the same sex, they could do worse than smart, capable, accomplished doctors.

Meet fall TV’s new M.D.’s:

‘The Mindy Project’
★★★

Symptoms: The uber-talented Mindy Kaling (“The Office”) stars as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, who was raised on a steady diet of rom-coms only to grow up and have a love life that’s D.O.A. This is a woman who’s been banned from the Empire State Building because she’s loitered there one too many times looking for love. What starts out as a promising meet-cute with Bill Hader (“SNL”) ends up as Bridget Jones-gone-bad. This Fox sitcom illustrates why Katherine Heigl films should come with a surgeon general’s warning. “The characters’ expectations of how things should work out and how they actually work out in real life is so much of where the comedy comes from in this series,” said Kaling, who wears a host of other hats in this project: creator, writer, producer.

Case notes: Kaling plays an obstetrician-gynecologist, like her mom. “It was just a job that I had done a lot of research on, kind of accidentally, throughout my life,” she said. The strong ensemble cast includes former Chicagoan Ike Barinholtz (“Eastbound & Down,” “MADtv”) as a male nurse with a big heart and a not-so-big brain. Barinholtz originally was hired as a writer on the show. “About a week in, [Kaling] was like, ‘I wrote this part for you,’ ” he said. “It was really kind of dreamy. She’s my Tina Fey. I love her.”

Diagnosis: If laughter is the best medicine, Kaling is one helluva healer. This ranks among the best new comedies of the season.

Catch it: Sept. 25 on WFLD-Channel 32

‘The Mob Doctor’
★★1/2

Symptoms: Dr. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro, “My Boys”) leads a double life, moonlighting for the Mafia in this Chicago-set drama. A talented, tough-as-nails surgeon from the South Side, Grace grew up in a dysfunctional home in Bridgeport. When her brother gets into trouble with mobsters, she saves his life by agreeing to make house calls and do other medical favors for the Outfit. “I would describe her as a reluctant antihero,” Spiro said. “She’s going to make some very morally conflicted choices, but at the moment, it’s to save her family. The question will become: Where is that line and when am I crossing it? She keeps dipping her toe in deeper.”

Case notes: The fictional Roosevelt Medical Center resides at the sprawling Chicago Studio City on the West Side. Some of the hospital scenes are shot in the old wing at Rush Medical Center and McCormick Place, too. The Fox series also features William Forsythe (“Boardwalk Empire”) as a Chicago mob boss, a role he played some 20 years ago when he did a turn as Al Capone on the TV show “The Untouchables.”

Diagnosis: Someone needs to take a scalpel to the script and cut out the melodrama. The show should focus less on catty hospital politics and more on the inherently compelling conflict of a person who has good reason to do bad things, a la “Breaking Bad.” Unless that happens, odds of survival aren’t great.

Catch it: Sept. 17 on WFLD-Channel 32

‘Emily Owens, M.D.’
★★1/2

Symptoms: Mamie Gummer (“Off the Map”) is the titular character in this rom-dram procedural set at a Denver medical center. A whip-smart intern with a geeky past and a voracious need for antiperspirant, Emily is eager to blossom into the cool, confident man-magnet she always knew she could be. Problem is, the hospital is basically high school 2.0. “You’ve got your jocks, a k a orthopedic surgeons,” one staffer explains. “Mean girls go into plastics. Stoners, anesthesia.” Since this is the CW, all of Emily’s co-workers are pin-up worthy, including her med school crush (Naperville-Orland Park native Justin Hartley, “Smallville”). Think of the show as a G-rated version of the twentysomething angst embodied in HBO’s “Girls.”

Case notes: This marks Gummer’s second time playing doctor; she also donned a stethoscope in ABC’s short-lived “Off the Map.” That character was cynical and sarcastic, while “Emily is hopeful and optimistic … and wears her heart on her sleeve,” said Gummer, a Northwestern grad and daughter of Meryl Streep (no pressure).

Diagnosis: Gummer’s vulnerability is endearing. The show isn’t revolutionary, but it is sweet and relatable — not to mention 100 times better than the network’s other lady doc series, “Hart of Dixie.” Let’s hope it lasts, because you can bet Mama Streep is in the waiting room, ready to make her obligatory guest appearance.

Catch it: Oct. 16 on WGN-Channel 9

‘Elementary’
★★★

Symptoms: This modern-day twist on Victorian England’s super sleuth is set in New York City, with Jonny Lee Miller (“Dexter”) as a tatted-up Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu (“Southland”) as Dr. Joan Watson. That’s right: Joan. (You can almost feel the collective rage emanating from Baker Street purists.) Watson has been hired to look after Holmes, a brilliant consulting detective battling substance-abuse issues. “She was a surgeon and lost her license, which gives her sort of a dark past,” Liu said. “She’s just as unstable [as Sherlock] but just not as obvious because she’s trying to distract her own problems with his problems.”

Case notes: Over the course of a bazillion iterations of Sherlock Holmes, the original Dr. John Watson has evolved into more than just Sherlock’s partner-in-crime-solving; he often provides a fair bit of comic relief. “I don’t think that’s the direction we’re going in,” Liu said, explaining that her Watson is shaping up to be less of a sidekick than previous variations. “But ask me in six episodes. If I have a foot in a bucket, then we’ll have a discussion.” She also said that making the character a woman adds some welcome discomfort to the Holmes-Watson dynamic. “In the stories themselves, you’ll see that Sherlock Holmes has a bit of an awkward relationship with the other gender,” she said. “Bringing that into play is a constant reminder of that awkwardness.”

Diagnosis: Offering up another version of Sherlock in the wake of the PBS-BBC version starring Benedict Cumberbatch is kind of like following your dinner at Alinea with Oreos for dessert. While the latest interpretation doesn’t live up to the British import, it’s still more entertaining than your typical CBS procedural. And I like the twist of turning Watson into a female — an Asian-American female to boot.

Catch it: Sept. 27 on WBBM-Channel 2



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