Action trumps character in NBC’s ‘Trauma’

You don’t need to be an Obama tour groupie to know we’re a country preoccupied with health care. Even if you’re a scripted-only TV addict, afloat in a DVR-fueled bubble, you can’t miss it. This season, the already long list of medical shows that includes “House,’’ “Grey’s Anatomy,’’ “Nurse Jackie,’’ “Private Practice,’’ and “HawthoRNe’’ will take on three new dramas: NBC’s “Mercy,’’ CBS’s forthcoming “Three Rivers,’’ and NBC’s “Trauma.’’

TRAUMA Starring: Anastasia Griffith,

Derek Luke, Cliff Curtis

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 9-10

These MDTV series provide us with a range of emotional specifics related to the health care debate, with story lines involving hospital politics, insurance shortcomings, and patients’ experiences. They illustrate how chronic illness (read: tomorrow’s preexisting conditions) can sneak up on even the healthiest of people, and, particularly in the case of “Trauma,’’ they show how medical disaster can ruin your life in one fell swoop. “Trauma,’’ which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 7, follows a group of EMTs coptering over San Francisco and charging up and down the hilly streets to save the victims of car crashes, stray bullets, and, in tonight’s first scenes, electrocution.

One thing I’ll say in favor of “Trauma’’: It explodes helicopters and oil trucks (“That tank is gonna blow!’’) like nobody’s business. This is action-packed television that, in the course of an hour, delivers a few accidents that rival those found on the big screen. “ER’’ occasionally used to give us a hint of the calamities that occurred outside the hospital; ‘Trauma’’ gives us a nonstop blow-by-blow. Overseen by the producing team behind “Friday Night Lights,’’ the show is as frenzied and hysterical as “FNL’’ is character-driven.

Oh - about that whole character thing. “Trauma’’ may impress with its pyrotechnics, especially if you’re watching it on HDTV, but the personal dramas may not be original and engaging enough to keep you watching for more than an episode or two. The familiar team of EMTs are all traumatized by an accident that killed a number of their colleagues, and each one grieves in his or her own way. There’s the adulterer, Cameron (Derek Luke), finding escape from pain in the arms of other women; there’s the tough medic, Nancy (Anastasia Griffith) who’s afraid to let people in after her boyfriend died. And there’s Reuben (Cliff Curtis), who miraculously survived the accident and now feels immortal and guilty.

This is all boilerplate melodrama, and I can’t imagine the writers twisting it into any new shapes. For a show that’s about life’s unexpected crises, “Trauma’’ is way too predictable.


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