"Saving Hope," with Erica Durance, satisfies as short-term entertainment

Posted: June 08, 2012

A rare amalgam of the medical and the supernatural, NBC’s Saving Hope starts out with a bang.

That’s a teaser, because I’m not going to give away the show’s bombshell first act. Except to say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bride and groom take a taxi to their own wedding.

When the sirens have quieted, we are left with the following premise: Dr. Charlie Harris (Michael Shanks), the charismatic and curiously muscular chief of surgery at Toronto’s Hope Zion Hospital, is laying unresponsive in a coma.

Along with the rest of the staff, his devoted fiancé, Dr. Alex Reid (Erica Durance, Lois Lane on Smallville), a phenomenal surgeon herself, is doing everything she can to bring him back.

Here’s the twist. Charlie remains pretty active to us, the viewers. That’s because his vivid spirit still wanders the hospital corridors, ever dressed in a tuxedo with the bow tie undone, looking like a Rat Pack refugee.

He provides voice-over commentary on his (former?) colleagues’ decisions, as in "See? Doctors like tests. It’s the unknown that scares them."

Charlie also serves a more important role. He is the reluctant valet to the newly departed, the only ones who can see and speak with him. Or, as he explains to one unfortunate boy, "So here’s how this works. When people — patients — die here at Hope Zion, they stick around for a while." (I’m guessing it’s the food that makes them linger. I hear they make a mean lime Jello.)

Meanwhile, back in the all too frail realm of the flesh and blood, we follow the hectic and heroic lives of hot surgeons like Dr. Joel Goran (Daniel Gillies). All manner of cases are dealt with, from the comically trivial to the gruesomely graphic. (A disproportionate number of patients are children.)

Put away the scalpel, and there are stories of poignancy and lust.

If you’re getting a heavy Grey’s Anatomy vibe off this description, well, Saving Hope patterned a great deal of its DNA on Shonda Rhimes’ hit. In fact, if you can’t watch this without thinking of Grey’s epic Izzie-Denny romance, that’s a sign that your brain is firing normally.

One thing that makes Hope Zion different from Seattle Grace — and all other hospitals — is that you really have to watch what you say to patients. If you stir up any kind of emotion in them, they immediately go into cardiac arrest (even the ones in comas). So keep all comments neutral. Otherwise, you’ll be screaming, "Code Blue!" 10 times a shift.

NBC is anticipating that this Canadian medical drama will get some traction during the summer, in the way that CBS’s Canadian cop series Flashpoint did. And NBC may be right. Saving Hope is certainly well acted, particularly by Durance. The emotional elements are a little overbaked, the spiritual aspects decidedly undercooked.

But as short-term entertainment, this could fit the bill quite nicely.

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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