September 27, 2009

TV: Mercy (NBC, Wed 8)

Imagine that you took Showtime's Nurse Jackie, replaced all of the actors with less talented ones, drained the show of all its humor, stretched the episodes from 30 to 60 minutes, and played up the soap-opera elements. If you did that, you'd have Mercy.

The tough-hearted nurse at the center of Mercy is Ronnie (Taylor Schilling), an Iraq veteran who's torn between her lunk of a husband (Diego Klattenhoff), and the charming Dr. Sands (James Tupper), with whom she had an affair while in Iraq. There's an arrogant doctor (James LeGros) who ignores the nurses' advice, killing patients in the process. Ronnie has a sharp-tongued best friend (Jamie Lee Kirchner) who seems more interested in money than in anything else. There's even a naive new nurse (Michelle Trachtenberg) in Hello Kitty scrubs, and they've barely even bothered to change her name; on Nurse Jackie, she's Zoey, and here, she's Chloe.

Throw in a handful of gay male nurses (but as background characters, only, please) and an abrasive older woman in charge of the nursing staff (Margo Martindale, the only case in which the casting improves on Nurse Jackie), and you've got the worst case of cloning since the epidemic of House copies a few years back.

All of which would, of course, be forgivable if the show were any good, but it's not. The medical stories are tepid, and the characters aren't interesting enough to make the soap opera emotionally involving. Mercy isn't an aggressively bad show in the way that the already-cancelled The Beautiful Life was; it's just painfully mediocre and entirely unnecessary.

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