Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is A Gifted Man Really Good for Health Care Reform?

I really wanted to like A Gifted Man, because I like much of the cast quite a lot, but I finally got around to watching the pilot last night, and - no. The more I think about it, the more I hate it. And it wasn't the dumb premise or boring, unlikeable characters or use of my medical show pet peeve in the first scene that got me, actually. It was the portrait the show drew of what's wrong with health care in this country and how to fix it.

Alyssa Rosenberg argues that many people really don't know how bad the health care situation is for the poor, and that drawing attention to that is good. And yes! Of course! I agree with that, so far as it goes. But I fear that the kind of attention drawn by this pilot is more harmful than helpful.

In the pilot, the main character* - a hotshot neurosurgeon named Michael - is told by the ghost of his ex (I know, I know, just go with it) to go give her computer password to the people at the inner city clinic where she worked, and when he gets there, the clinic is a complete mess. He overhears a mother describing her child's seizure, intervenes when the clinic employee says to go to the ER, and then begrudgingly takes care of the child for free at his own fancy hospital, squeezing him in between his millionaire best friend and a tennis star. There are some good elements here: The fact that the clinic needs resources to properly take care of its patients is obvious, and the show nicely brings up that obstacles to good care are more complex than they seem when the mother asks what bus they should take to get to the fancy hospital.

But I'm afraid that gets lost in the overall narrative arc, which tells us that the clinic is dysfunctional and poorly run and its employees are incompetent - and that what they need is for a rich, all-knowing doctor to swoop in and save them. (Even if he ends up running the clinic, rather than just helping a few patients, the gist is the same: The solution is a benevolent savior for this one situation rather than system-wide change.) This is no liberal argument for health care reform. It's Ron Paul's argument that programs like Medicaid should be eliminated and replaced with private charity and individual doctors taking pro bono cases.

You know what could actually be interesting and useful for the health care reform cause? A drama about a hard-working doctor at an inner city clinic who struggles to take good care of as many poor children as possible, and is simultaneously pulled into state politics because they're rewriting the Medicaid laws and someone has to actually stand up for the poor.** This population allows for medical cases of the week that are not that far from standard CBS procedural fare, and this premise could combine it with domestic/political intrigue a la The Good Wife. Huh. That's actually not a bad idea. That I would watch. "Ghost shames clueless rich guy into saving poor people from themselves?" No thanks.

* He's so boring that I had no idea what his name was and had to look it up. His name seems to be Michael. Distinctive! And I know some people find Patrick Wilson attractive, but to me he came across as a bland, third-rate Josh Charles.

** For those playing along at home - yes, I just described my mother.

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