"Trauma Center" is the kind of program that can make you think the whole idea of series television is dead--so dead that producers toss off straight-faced lampoons of genre specialties rather than risk taking the form seriously. It's like an acknowledgment that the audience has lost not only all faith but all hope of even the teensiest revelation.
Consider a crack trauma center team (and television is always crawling with crack teams of one kind or another) whose members have names like "Cutter" Royce, "Skate" Baylor, "Beaver" Bouvier, "Hatter" Pacelli, and the ever-popular "Nurse Hooter" ("hooter" being slang in some quarters for "breast"). Such are the furry forest creatures slicing and splicing the critically injured in the new series, which gets a special two-hour premiere tonight at 8 on Channel 7.
Suffering from a rare strain of acute catatonia nervosa, the program sends its characters scurrying about aimlessly on random missions of mercy--doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers alike equipped with skill, dedication, achingly stale snappy patter and definitively empty noodles. You wouldn't wish a medical team like this on the ayatollah, although you might wish it on producer Glen A. Larson, a man who spews out slack formula television the way the Hostess assembly line cranks out Ho-Ho's.
Everything about "Trauma" is interchangeable with nearly everything about "Trapper John, M.D.," except that the setting is a shock-trauma unit rather than an entire hospital. There's the same, smug, we're-just-kidding overtone, and the same cookie-cutter subsidiary characters scampering through high jinks while a central dynamo, in this case "Cutter" instead of "Trapper," does heroic battle against ol' man death in the operating room and against ol' man system in the office. The system is personified here by a hospital administrator who would rather buy a decorative fountain with a dowager's bequest than purchase needed high-tech medical equipment.
Borrowing from "Trapper John, M.D." is a little like asking a bag lady for cab fare to the Jockey Club. There must be better sources.
James Naughton, his hair whipped into perpetual urgency, plays the preposterously ubiquitous hero, Dorian Harewood plays Skate, muscleman Lou Ferrigno is an incredibly hulking ambulance driver (he gets to lift a fallen beam off a promgoer in the big disaster finale), and Jayne Modean is insulted with the role of the aforementioned Hooter.
Surely none of these people are pursuing acting careers in earnest (maybe they were all just on buses that broke down in Burbank), but a salty old pro, Eileen Heckart, turns up in the criminally thankless role of nursing supervisor Amy Decker. Here is a genuinely talented and versatile actress reduced to dialogue like, "We've got a bad one!" And how. As the program opens, narrator William Conrad intones that the trauma team has "one golden hour" in which to save lives, but "Trauma Center's" two hours tonight are anything but golden. They could barely pass for aluminum siding.