- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2000


The opening scene in "Gideon's Crossing" comes right at us.
The businessman will die soon of inoperable kidney cancer. He wants an experimental treatment that is likelier to kill him than save him.
That doesn't matter, nor does the doctor's reluctance.
A man of few words, the venture capitalist tells the doctor how he realized he was sick. He felt something "pull" while on the golf course, where he was planning to butter up some Japanese businessmen by throwing a game. He refers to them with an ethnic slur.
"You offended?" he asks.
"I may be a little offended by golf," replies the doctor, who is black.
The close-ups, the staccato sentences, the surface politeness as subtext aggression, a sudden crudity, the con turning into gamesmanship all add up to a familiar style — that of David Mamet.
This precredit sequence is the most powerful scene in the pilot for this new show from ABC. It also gives a hint of what the makers of the hospital drama are capable of and gives us a reason to be cautiously optimistic about it, although the rest of the episode tails off a little.
The pilot airs Tuesday with no commercial interruptions. A viewer is grateful, but it's also tough to see what this lack of commercial breaks really adds to the program.
"Gideon's Crossing" stars Andre Braugher from NBC's defunct "Homicide" as Dr. Ben Gideon, the chief of experimental medicine at a teaching hospital in Boston. (Executive producer Paul Attanasio was also the creator of "Homicide.") The doctor oversees a staff of residents and interns, and their various actions set into motion three or four plot lines per episode.
For example, besides Dr. Gideon and the surly businessman, the pilot involves efforts to treat an asthmatic boy, a teen-ager with no discernible ailments and an elderly matron's dog. Nothing comes easily.
ABC canceled a similar drama, "Wonderland," which was set in a psychiatric hospital and its emergency unit in New York City, after just two episodes earlier this year. But "Wonderland" laid on a hypercaffeinated style that, while often exhilarating, can make for difficult viewing.
"Gideon's Crossing" does a fine job of portraying the atmosphere of a training hospital. Some patients are suspicious of mere "doctors-in-training," and the lengthy hours cause the young medical staff to collapse into smoking breaks on the floor of a morgue. In one scene, Dr. Gideon shows a slide of the businessman's kidney cancer, and one student calls it "beautiful."
Several of the actors are first-rate. About Mr. Braugher, nothing needs to be said to viewers of "Homicide" or the films "Glory" and "Get on the Bus." He doesn't have easy gravitas; he is easy gravitas. Bruce McGill appears only in the pilot, but he has real venom in his eyes as the misanthropic businessman Kirk.
The younger doctors tend to blend together a bit, but Russell Hornsby's chief intern stands out. He has to be tough to ride the interns, and he does so without seeming to try. He performs his "I have work to do; why are you bothering me?" walk and speech patterns without stretching into caricature.
Many scenes in the pilot are not believable, such as a doctor using bed space secretly to treat a dog. Two twists in that same subplot are even less believable. One involves the doctor doting on the dog in the background and not realizing something rather dramatic is happening in the foreground; the other involves a reunion of sorts.
One late scene between Dr. Gideon and the chief psychiatrist trowels on the aura of the secular self-help confessional. In the final scene, Dr. Gideon also lectures to his students, and conveniently, the content of the lecture is supposed to reflect back on what the episode had been about. It could become a signature closing or opening as the morning roll call or Capt. Furillo and Joyce Davenport in bed were for "Hill Street Blues."
If so, better writers need apply because the pilot goes off the rails here, reaching into some laughable territory. It's difficult to take seriously a teaching doctor who lectures in phrases such as, "Serious illness gives life meaning. It's a day of reckoning… . [Treating it is] the crossing at which we intersect with people. It's a little like love, the intense intimacy of it."
When he concludes that "a doctor is always in control except when he's not," you know that the scriptwriters are out of control.
"Gideon's Crossing" has two essential ingredients for a good show — a strong cast and an interesting premise. The pilot's script just prevents them from quite coming together.

{*}{*}1/2

WHAT: "Gideon's Crossing"

WHERE: WJLA (Channel 7) and WMAR (Channel 2)

WHEN: Premiere, 10 p.m. Tuesday; 10 p.m. Wednesdays, starting Oct. 18

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