Pilot Review: Code Black

Based on Dr. McGarry’s  critically acclaimed documentary, Code Black is a medical drama about Angeles Memorial Hospital which has 300 code blacks a year.  As the show’s title cards tell us, a code black is an influx of patients so great there aren’t enough resources to treat them.

Nurse Jesse Salinger (Luis Guzman), opens the show with an endearing scene establishing his role as Mama to the new residents. Guzman plays against type successfully; he isn’t a villain or the tough guy as that is largely Dr. Leanne Rorish’ (Marcia Gay Harden) persona. As daddy, she and Salinger double-team the residents to ensure they don’t kill any guests (patients). Their rapport is sweet when they play their version of the dozens with smiles and hugs.

The residents include an overachiever, a confidence-lacking nerd, a recovered drug addict and an age outlier. Like the residents, Dr. Rorish’ back story hasn’t been completely revealed, but Dr. Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey) is likely involved.  There is tension between the two that is far beyond professional concerns.

The show’s cast is solid and diverse with A list veterans and up-and-coming  actors.  Their dialogue is sharp though a little cliché. When Rorish tells Hudson, “You are the doctor they want, I am the doctor they need” she succinctly captures their relationship and the tension the show will address this season. Similarly, when Salinger talk-sings Hero to a resident he highlights the world the doctors live in and the one residents will be brought into. When Rorish tells a patient’s young daughter, “You want it straight or you want a lie.” we understand that she cares deeply and wants to help even when her actions and words appear to be harsh.

Code Black is a slow burner. Two episodes in and the show still has not quite introduced its full self. While most shows cram its full identity into its pilot, creator/show runner Michael Seitzman’s confidence is apparent and warranted in this smart, fast-paced medical drama. Like Osso Buco, braised low and slow until the veal is fall-off-the-bone tender, this show has the potential to meld into a delectable dish.

This dark medical drama is a surprise addition to CBS’ catalog of saccharine treats made for middle-America’s palate. Code Black authentically captures the mood and chaos of a busy urban emergency room. The code black scenes are beautifully shot, emphasizing the medical procedures not the doctors; these scenes are poetry in motion; it isn’t about perfection; it’s about capturing the chaotic moment.  Its shooting style, documentary, further distinguishes it from its forerunners, ER and Grey’s Anatomy. There is an obvious attempt to avoid soap opera melodrama, however it does fall short of the innovation and depth of The Knick or the glamour and sex of Nip Tuck.

This show maybe challenging for viewers who have become accustomed to shows that ask nothing of them. Code Black wants you to pay attention, but the real question is, can they keep-up this frenetic pace with engaging story arcs?

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