The Washington Post

‘Do No Harm,’ and do no watching

Steven Pasquale’s strong effort playing a good doctor by day, hedonist by night can’t save the lame script in “Do No Harm.” (Matthias Clamer/NBC)
TV critic

Do what now?

NBC’s astonishingly dumb new Thursday night drama, “Do No Harm,” is about a Philadelphia neurosurgeon (“Rescue Me’s” Steven Pasquale) who must rush home by 8:25 each evening to dope himself into oblivion, lest his sociopathic split personality wreak criminal havoc for the next 12 hours. Lucky guy: He never has to watch what NBC is showing at 10 o’clock.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation. View Archive

When 8:25 a.m. rolls around, the doctor wakes up and worries what his alter ego might have done. (Didn’t waste his time watching TV, I’ll tell you that.)

After five years of keeping his inner demon at bay, the drug becomes less effective. Thus, Dr. Jason Cole (sounds a little like “Dr. Jekyll” if you say it fast enough), who spends his days brilliantly saving desperate patients from aneurysms and tumorous growths in “E.R.”-ish story arcs, must now spend his nights as Ian Price, a temperamental hedonist who deals drugs, steals cars and sexually assaults women.

Jason has lived with this absurd condition (completely made up by TV writers, who borrowed it from Robert Louis Stevenson) all his life. Somehow, he managed to get through medical school and become a highly respected brain surgeon on no sleep at all. Everyone at the hospital where Jason works believes he suffers from a form of diabetes that means he can never work nights or be on call after 8:25. A friendly researcher (Lin-Manuel Miranda) provides Jason with extra-strong tranquilizers to keep Ian unconscious all night, while a nerdy assistant (Samm Levine) tidies up from Ian’s wild nights by canceling credit cards and such.

Despite Jason’s efforts, Ian is nevertheless out ’n’ about, seeking revenge on Jason for drugging him for five years. Ian chooses only the most ridiculously trite troubles to cause, such as ripping off drug kingpins and nearly raping the co-worker (Alana De La Garza) whom Jason has a crush on.

Jason spends a lot of his waking hours trying to explain his condition to people who don’t believe him, while the show uses up all its energy on a concept that almost instantly wears out. Pasquale gives the Jason/Ian role his best shot, but he is dragged down by the bad writing and ridiculous transition from good guy to bad guy. And poor Phylicia Rashad shows up as the head of neurosurgery, playing the part with all the enthusiasm of someone called to jury duty. Viewers will feel about the same.

Do No Harm

(one hour) premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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