Have you ever wanted a fresh start?
To just chuck it all and move to some faraway place where no one knows you, in an effort to escape the difficulties of your present, somehow right the perceived wrongs in your life and learn to become an altogether different person?
Imagine if the former interns of Seattle Grace looked into their hearts, became disgusted by the frivolity with which they lived their indulgent lives and saw that their entire existences had been wrapped up in an angst-ridden pursuit of their own interests at all costs, making them reevaluate their current course and decide to do some soul searching in a place where neither luxury nor bureaucracy exist; their sole purpose being to provide help to those less fortunate under the most extreme and sometimes dangerous circumstances.
That is what I perceive to be Shonda Rhimes' vision for her new ABC series, Off The Map.I'll be honest: I expected to be filled with the same disdain and boredom for Off The Map that I feel for Rhimes' other series, Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, respectively.
I watched the first couple of seasons of Grey's Anatomy, like everyone else did, and I eventually just became repulsed by the characters' constant whining and "me me me" mentalities - not to mention the unbelievable way they turned Seattle Grace into a brothel. I mean seriously - seriously! - it's a hospital. That can't be sanitary.
I never found any of the characters on Private Practice to be particularly engaging, with the sole exception of perhaps Paul Adelstein's Coop, but he wasn't enough to keep me interested. It was just... boring. Plus, I got the distinct impression that they were going to put way too much emphasis on Addison's libido, and I'd already seen plenty of that on Grey's.
So color me surprised, and impressed, when I sat down to watch ABC screeners for Off The Map. It is a medical drama, yes, but bears virtually no resemblance to its predecessors. And, for that, I am extremely grateful.
The series centers on three young doctors, Lily, the "girl scout," Mina, the cynic, and Tommy, the fratboy, who all arrive at a small South American medical clinic and start to learn the unconventional methods with which they must practice "tropical" medicine. Each is haunted by ghosts (figuratively, no Denny here) of the lives they left behind and have their own reasons for wanting to start anew.
There is, refreshingly, not a repellent character in the bunch. In fact, I'm already captivated by each one. If I had to pick a favorite, so far, I'd have to go with Friday Night Lights' Zach Gilford as Tommy. The back story he relates of the life he's running away from is the most compelling, and he has some very well-written speeches. Mamie Gummer as Mina is a close second, because her sarcasm and constant eye-rolling at some of the situations she finds herself in bring some welcome humor.
I found the stories in the first two episodes engaging, particularly the one involving guest star Michael McKean. I'll spare the details so as not to spoil, but I think it's safe to say that was one of the most uniquely breathtaking situations I've ever seen addressed on a medical drama.
There are some bits of romance and hints at future connections which worry me slightly. I'm not saying romance doesn't have a place here, and in doses it could certainly add something to the story and character interaction. The last thing I want to see happen, though, is for the clinic to degenerate into one giant game of Lover's Roulette. Not all prime time dramas have to become flesh-flashing soap operas. I'm much more interested in the self discovery and internal struggles of these young doctors. Here's hoping Rhimes keeps the bed-hopping to an absolute minimum.
Off The Map seems like it may just be the biggest, and most pleasantly entertaining, surprise of the 2010-2011 season. I'm eagerly looking forward to tuning in on a weekly basis, and highly recommend you do the same.
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.