As of next week, "ER" and "Chicago Hope," the season's two new medical dramas, will face each other Thursday nights at 10. But both shows get previews before then -- "ER" on NBC Monday night and, tomorrow night at 8 on Channel 9, "Chicago Hope" from CBS.
"Hope" is very slick and very shiny, full of impassioned confrontations and noble utterances, all dreamed up by "Picket Fences" creator David E. Kelley. It also has a gimmick. Where "NYPD Blue" broke new ground in blunt language and partial nudity last season, "Hope" features more explicitly gory operating room footage than one usually sees on TV medical dramas.
Surgery, it seems, is not pretty.
But mostly, "Chicago Hope" is -- handsome and polished and stubbornly superficial. Kelley appears to be as interested in hospital politics as in hospital melodrama, so we are going to be getting lots of office combat between Mandy Patinkin, as a headstrong hotshot super-surgeon, and the hospital's board of directors, who in the premiere refuse him permission to separate Siamese twins. He does it anyway.
In the second episode, next Thursday, the board objects to his experimenting with his artificial heart on the body of a recently deceased patient, so Patinkin has another tanty and stomps out. This is bound to get tiresome. And one suspects Kelley is using the hospital as a metaphor for television, with the doctors noble warriors, just like writers and producers, and administrators the stubborn bureaucrats a la network and production company executives.
Another conflict, between Patinkin and E.G. Marshall as an elderly surgeon who doesn't want to retire, shows more promise, especially when, in the second episode, it gets more complex than just youth against age. Marshall is a commanding component of a generally outstanding cast that also includes likable Adam Arkin as a surgeon with marital troubles and Roxanne Hart as the source of them -- his doctor wife.
Hector Elizondo struts around in his usual imperial fashion as the chief of surgery, and Margaret Colin guest-stars on the premiere as a visiting doctor from another hospital -- perhaps the hospital in "ER," which is also set in the Windy City but doesn't work quite so hard at making it windier.