I always feel sorry for UK networks who a buy an American show only for it to be cancelled in the states before they start transmitting it with Watch already having to see Alcatraz not being recommissioned now they are airing A Gifted Man which is already not coming back for a second series. Though the first episode isn’t perfect there doesn’t seem to be any indication why a programme like this would be cancelled, after all I’ve seen much worse from programmes that have run for years, however these days if people don’t instantly take to a certain show then they won’t bother with it. The Gifted Man of the title is neurosurgeon Michael Holt played by Patrick Wilson who is presented from the outset as a genius but one who is very insular and abrasive to those around him. The opening scenes see him operate on close friend Ron Venets an annoying multi-millionaire who has paid a lot of money for Michael’s services however during the operation we see that he isn’t easy to get along with barking a several colleagues who make mistakes. He’s also fairly unkind to his loyal assistant Rita and as we see he runs alone as well as eats alone however his life is about to change following an unexpected encounter with his ex-wife.
Anna Paul, played by Jennifer Ehle, and he were seemingly once happy together although he began to despair of his life working in a family clinic in Alaska so split with her before moving to New York to make his name. After he confides in his sister Christina that he’s met up with her again it later transpires that he had a supernatural encounter as Anna was killed in a car accident two weeks earlier after stupidly stepping into the road to help a child collect their football. Anna’s ghost is appearing to Michael as she wants him to help at the free clinic that she started by firstly using her password to unlock the computers before unwittingly agreeing to treat the young children of a put-upon Spanish mother. Though he’s doing this free work at the same time he still has rich and powerful clients to treat which in this episode means looking out for young tennis prodigy Lacey Sandreski who he diagnoses with an aneurysm however she doesn’t want it removed straight away as the surgery will prevent her from being the youngest female player ever to complete the grand slam. Predictably she needs the surgery and she also ends up resenting Michael for doing his job while the mother of the small children can’t stop showing her gratitude which obviously demonstrates the use of manners between the two classes.
As well as focusing on his medical work A Gifted Man also looks at Michael’s personal life in which he often has to bail out his kooky sister Christina whose son Milo is a bit of a tearaway. We first meet Milo after Michael picks him up at the police station however after this he doesn’t really get a lot to do as Christina, who is obsessed with the paranormal, becomes fascinated with Michael’s visions of Anna. Christina eventually introduces Michael to shaman Anton Little Creek who agrees to try and help rid him of Anna however in the episode’s final scene she won’t leave him as she has lots of doors that are open that she needs his help in closing which nicely sets up every episode to follow.
It’s fair to say that A Gifted Man does have a fairly ludicrous premise however Jennifer Ehle works her hardest to make Anna more than just a passing ghost. It’s a testament to creator Susannah Grant and episode one director Jonathan Demme, of Silence of the Lambs fame, that they make this seem almost believable with Anna being the one thing in Michael’s life that he can’t control. Though it doesn’t all quite fit together I felt it applied just the right amount of dramatic license in order to introduce the fact that this is the one woman who makes this horrible man a little bit better, it’s just a shame she’s dead. What makes A Gifted Man work so well though is Wilson, best known over here for his part in Watchmen, who really convinces as this money-obsessed workaholic who has chosen surgery over having any kind of life but is someone who has a softer side. He and Ehle have great chemistry so much so that you believe that they were in love once and that they could’ve possibly have got back together again if circumstances were different. Former Dexter star Julie Benz also excels as Michael’s down-on-her-luck sister a character who represents where he came from and also one who is sympathetic to his problems even if he does sometimes put her second. Also worthy of praise is Justified’s Margo Martindale who also has great chemistry with Wilson as his assistant Rita who also has her own strong personality as all of the women in his life seem to.
The respected doctor treating rich and poor alike has kind of already been done on Royal Pains but unlike that rather light-hearted series here it’s all a bit more dramatic sometimes too much though there is just enough humour to make sure that A Gifted Man isn’t too serious for its own good. I also enjoyed the background music from Aaron Sorkin regular W.G. ‘Snuffy’ Walden whose atmospheric sounds added to each individual scene rather than detracting from it. There were for me though some points were I thought just too much had been crammed into this first episode, for example Milo being arrested really wasn’t dealt with much here, and maybe at least one of the stories could’ve been put on the back-burner till episode two. I have to say though there is much to like about A Gifted Man from the performances down to the well-dealt with premise it’s just a shame that CBS didn’t seem to think the same way. If you’re a fan of medical dramas or those that deal with the supernatural I’d definitely recommend this but just don’t get too attached as unfortunately it’ll only be around for sixteen episodes.
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