Hey TV.com, Should I Watch ABC's Mental Illness Medical Drama Black Box?
Back in the old days, the late midseason used to be the TV networks' garbage dump. Most of the shows that didn't make the fall roster were relegated to post-December debuts as a way of mopping up any leftover scheduling messes, and thus not really expected to do anything more than fill a time slot while networks regrouped and prepped for the next season. That's changed a bit in recent years, as early midseason debuts have given us some fantastic shows (like Awake and Hannibal, to name two), and the midseason dump-off has been pushed back to April and May. That brings us to Black Box, a late-April fill-in for ABC. You don't have to watch it, but I did, and I'm going to tell you why you probably shouldn't bother in the latest edition of So THIS Is Why ABC Held this Show Until Now.
Black Box, so this is a show about finding missing planes? How topical!
ABC wishes! The show title is actually a reference to the mysterious oatmeal in your noggin known as the brain, because even when scientists know what goes in and out of it, they don't always understand what happens inside. Black Box follows Dr. Catherine Black, who is a—you guessed it—BRILLIANT neuroscientist with a—you guessed it—debilitating flaw: She's bipolar. Like, one-way ticket to Crazytown bipolar. When she's on her meds, she's saving and improving the lives of those suffering from brain disorders. When she's off her meds, she's acting like she's on goofballs by dancing, hallucinating, having rough sex, and generally being a nuisance. Catherine has a good-guy boyfriend, and she works with a hotshot neurosurgeon who will provide all the romantic misadventures the show might need. She also has brother and a psychotherapist who know her medical secret.
Whose brain is responsible for the show, and who stars in it?
Black Box comes from the mind Amy Holden Jones, director of Slumber Party Massacre and writer of Mystic Pizza and The Getaway. It's her first major work since she penned 1997's The Relic. Redheaded Brit Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes) gobbles up her role as Catherine opposite Ditch Davey (Spartacus: War of the Damned) and David Ajala (Law & Order: UK), who play the two male leads. Vanessa Redgrave sits behind a desk as Catherine's therapist, and for all you The Wire nerds out there, J.D. Williams (Bodie!) works at Catherine's hospital.
When does Black Box get unboxed?
Black Box premieres Thursday, April 24 at 10pm on ABC. It fills the spot formerly occupied by Scandal, which just ended its third season.
Who will want to open up Black Box?
This is an ABC show through and through, meaning it's geared toward female audiences and features a female lead and some racy sexy hugs, yet is also prone to flights of fancy. If you liked House but wished it had more mental hallucinations and carefree, back-against-the-wall sex, then Black Box is your jam.
What works well about Black Box?
The show raises very interesting questions about suppressing mental illnesses with medication, whether or not that's always the best option, and what a "normal" brain is. There's also a debate over the advantages and disadvantages of genius, and a discussion of how intellectual superiority can be tied to mental illness. Reilly is a hottie, if that matters to you. And I'll give ABC a little credit for going off the deep end with this one.
What's brain dead about Black Box?
Unfortunately, the show asks its very important questions in pretty stupid ways. When Catherine isn't taking her meds, she's prone to moments of pure idiocy, nullifying her argument in favor of ditching the pills. In the pilot's most laughable moments—and there are plenty—she'll shuck and jive and dance like she's a cat in heat on ecstasy. Then she'll pick up a random guy and wildly hump him or wander the streets and berate people for not being a world-renowned doctor. Not exactly making your case, sister! The self-contained medical stories seem awfully light, and neither of the two cases in the pilot is solved in an interesting way, undermining Catherine's supposed brilliance. Yeah, I would've taken the tumor out, too, smartypants.
Black Box also offers up one of television's most incredibly out-of-place characters in Dr. Bickman (Davey), a brain jockey with the attitude, sexual appetite, and adrenaline-junkie tendancies of a fighter pilot who spouts such winning dialogue as, "Not with me on deck, I've got incredible stats. If I say no problem, there will be no problem." But worst of all is the show's pervasive jazz soundtrack, which really pollutes the background noise. Jazz is the music of the mentally ill, I guess? Thanks, Homeland.
So, should I watch it?
Good lord, no. This is one of the worst pilots I've seen in a while, and it competes with Betrayal for Stinker of the Season. Having said that, Black Box's awfulness almost makes it watchable, if that's your thing. (I watched the entire season of Betrayal but refuse to watch Mad Men. Maybe I'm the mentally ill one?)
Let's take a look at a trailer!
Black Box premieres Thursday, April 24 at 10pm on ABC.
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