NEW YORK (CNS) — Those of us who were glued to our couches during NBC’s Thursday night lineup starting in the mid-1990s will never forget the two beloved shows that anchored it: “ER” and “Friends.”
These Emmy-winning classics — the former a drama, the latter a comedy — employed different formats. Yet both conveyed how friendships can sustain and sometimes challenge us in our everyday lives. It seems the network is trying to retool that formula with “The Night Shift” and “Undateable.”
Neither of these series is at all suitable for children. But those adult viewers willing to put up with the sometimes off-base values that are taken for granted in both — as well as a good deal of dodgy dialogue — will at least find an affirmation of human connectedness undergirding this duo of newcomers.
“The Night Shift,” which premieres on NBC Tuesday, May 27, 10-11 p.m. EDT, is about the impossibly good-looking staff of a Texas hospital. The program tries to emulate the velocity of “ER,” but never quite matches what its predecessor could do in its sleep: that desperate, delicate dance between doctor and patient, life and death.
The strongest moments of this series are, rather, the quieter ones where the personalities of the cast can resonate with the audience.
Eoin Macken and Jill Flint lead the pack as Drs. TC Callahan and Jordan Alexander, whose romantic history and styles of practicing medicine lead to recurring clashes. There’s palpable chemistry between the two, which proves an essential ingredient when the show teeters on bland.
Haunted by his work as a medic in Afghanistan, TC is brilliant but cannot follow rules; Jordan walks a tightrope between hospital politics and ethical patient care.
Although some moments border on the absurd — one shows us TC performing a tracheotomy while upside down — there’s much to admire about the series, thanks to the energetic cast. Of the supporting players, Ken Leung and Jeananne Goossen shine brightest as dedicated hospital staffers, both of whom oscillate nicely between comedy and chaos.
Sensitive viewers might recoil at some of the more realistic medical procedures. But a safe haven for the squeamish is provided by scenes of team-building and friendship among the staff. Whether these physicians are midway through a consult or a cocktail, the camaraderie is deeply felt. It’s impossible not to be charmed by these characters, and they are the show’s true heartbeat.
For something breezier, mature viewers can tune in to the new sitcom “Undateable,” about five bachelors navigating the choppy waters of the dating scene. It premieres with back-to-back episodes Thursday, May 29, 9-10 p.m. EDT on NBC.
Danny (Chris D’Elia) is a commitment-shy lothario who takes in bar-owner Justin (Brent Morin) as a roommate. Soon Justin and three of his equally hapless friends fall under Danny’s romantic tutelage; he christens them “The Undateables.” The teacher-student relationships are established, and the results are often cringe-worthy but nonetheless enjoyable.
The comedic force of the show should be credited to D’Elia and Morin’s embodiment of their characters. Danny exudes confidence, while Justin is awkward and unsure. Like a modern-day Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, they are at once annoyed by their dissimilarities, yet invigorated by them. This makes for moments of real discovery for both characters.
As for the other actors, comic Ron Funches as Shelly, one of Justin’s perpetually single friends, can steal a scene with a passing line. He’s a formidable talent.
Predictably, “Undateable” treats premarital sex frivolously; it also features a gay character whose search for companionship is portrayed uncritically and without the discernment provided by scriptural morality. Yet, while Danny’s rotation of one-night stands is certainly off-putting, the character is a work in progress — one who seems open to bettering his life.
Just as “Friends” gave us a glimpse into the lives of six flawed and funny New Yorkers who banded together to form an urban family, “Undateable” — though not as polished — scores because it shows how friendship can be insulation from an often chilly world.
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Heffron is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service. He writes about television and pop culture for St. Anthony Messenger magazine and Franciscan Media.
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