Can women really have it all? That’s the question NBC’s latest foray into the world of high-stakes doctor dramas attempts to answer with the debut of “Heartbeat,” starring Melissa George as one of the world’s few female cardiothoracic surgeons, Dr. Alex Panttiere.
Unfortunately, by the end of the first hour, viewers may find themselves looking for a pulse rather than committing to future installments, let alone pondering the state of female medical practitioners in the industry and their work-home life balance.
The series, which was originally supposed to debut as part of the fall slate but was bumped to midseason following news of George’s real-life pregnancy, premiered Tuesday night with several major missteps.
The show is derived from the memoir by Dr. Kathy Magliato, but other than the occasional dialogue reminding viewers of the uphill battle women may or may not face in the industry, there seem to be a fair number of successful women in this particular workplace, including Panttiere’s boss (Shelley Conn), whom the surgeon takes pride in tormenting by bending the rules at every turn.
Asian nurse Gi Sung (Maya Erskine) faces even larger problems thanks to a racist co-worker who insists on calling her “Ping Pang Pong” as though it’s the show’s running gag, and we’re simply supposed to shrug it off as lightening the mood because she’s also in on the joke.
Also problematic is the larger focus of the pilot on Panttiere’s love life, which includes her boyfriend Dr. Pierce (Dave Annable), her former lover/mentor who is now back at the hospital, Dr. Jessie (Don Hany), and her gay ex-husband Max (Joshua Leonard).
The love triangle and complicated relationship with her ex are perhaps meant to give more character depth to the surgeon, but at the end of the day they only serve to highlight how unfocused and immature her personal life is, while she continues shattering that proverbial glass ceiling in her professional one. Throw in a couple of kids in what seems like a sheer afterthought, and you’ve suddenly got the “great at her job, terrible at home” trope that’s become all too typical with these types of series.
Making matters worse, whether Panttiere actually is good at her job also folds into the debate by the end of the pilot, when it becomes clear that she’ll do anything in order to save her patients. As a sexier version of Dr. House, who breaks the rules and throws away logic in order to save lives, Panttiere also rocks pretty frocks and bats her eyelashes at the male businessmen helping to fund the research hospital. It’s all chalked up to her newfound role as the chief innovations officer, which, simply put, means she’s in charge of bringing new technology to the hospital.
By the end of the first hour, it’s painfully obvious that George is severely underused here, although she makes due with the shoddy dialogue and surreal situations presented to her in the script. “Heartbeat” is another forgettable medical drama that may draw in some viewers desperate for a fresh “Grey’s Anatomy” or “ER,” but will only leave audiences feeling sorry for doctors and their love lives, and scared to ever enter a hospital like this.