It's hard to imagine how any show can put a comedic spin on the topic of euthanasia, or assisted suicide.
Yet Mary Kills People Season 1 Episode 1, "Bloody Mary," manages to put a darkly humorous filter on this potential downer of a subject.
Not that they take a flippant approach at all. Dr. Mary Harris is a true believer in the compassionate nature of her side business.
It is a service and a privilege she undertakes for her patients.
We're afraid because we don't know what to expect.... but just because there's uncertainty doesn't mean that there's anything to fear
There's no rushing the process for Mary no matter what how often wham-bam-thank-you-doc Des might nudge her to pick up the pace.
Her patients need to be ready and willing to take that final drink. I really like the fact they use a glass of champagne to administer the drug. Feels more like a celebration of life than a rush towards death.
That being said, it's not a fast-paced premiere.
This is despite the adrenaline rush of the opening scene where Caroline Dhavernas's (Hannibal) Dr. Mary Harris and partner, Des (Richard Short) have to jump off a balcony to avoid being found assisting the death – with both a cocktail and a pillow – of retired football star Troy Dixon (Arrow's Adrian Holmes).
Mary: Y'know, sometimes I don't know if you're a compassionate doctor or a serial killer
Des:... says the woman who just smothered a man with a pillow
The premiere does a good job illustrating the many facets of Dr. Harris' life, not just her role as an angel of mercy to the dying.
A divorced doctor working in a high-stress hospital environment raising two daughters and supporting an ex-husband financially, she juggles her various relationships with increasing signs of burn out.
Interestingly, it's the mundane aspects of life that lend the show its moments of levity – ordering Mexican fast food from a thoroughly bored drive-thru attendant; catching your daughters trying to raise the ghost of Bloody Mary in your bathroom; finding out about and meeting your ex-husband's new girlfriend at your daughter's dance recital.
Mary: Life can get really messed up sometimes and every now and then, it'll just have its way with you.
Jess: What do we do?
Mary: We get strong.
And the road of good intentions is never a smooth one, of course. What the premiere excels at is setting all the wheels in motion for potential tensions in the different areas of Mary's life.
When she discovers that the supply of sodium pentobarbital (aka "pento") that they use to assist suicides has been watered down, she sends Des to get a pure supply.
This introduces the philosopher-drug dealer, Grady, who just oozes warning signs of being a dangerous character to cross.
When her teenage daughter's girlfriend, Naomi, finds and drinks a bottle of the tampered-with pento (establishing that Naomi is not the brightest bulb in the box), Mary's conscience twinges.
But when she doubles down and lies about it to Naomi's mother, Louise, a career lawyer AND her ex's new squeeze, we just know that it's going to come back and bite her in the proverbial butt.
There's Troy Dixon's widow who finds the flyer in the pocket of one of Troy's jackets while still grieving her husband's death. Annie, the nurse, is another link in the network of hospital staff who are complicit in connecting patients with Mary.
And it's not just humans caught up in Mary's web of lies. Poor Casper the cat has to be exiled to Des' place to substantiate the story that he's dying of cancer and has to be put down with the pento that Jess and Naomi found.
The most fascinating element in this initial taste of the series is Joel, played by TV's Beauty and the Beast's Jay Ryan, introduced as a cancer patient with a terminal prognosis looking for Mary and Des to help end his life before "shit gets real."
When we first see him, he is rehearsing the words, "I'm going to die," into his bathroom mirror before calling the number on the consultants' flyer he was given by Annie, the nurse. It feels like a man forced to come to terms with a galling reality.
Like we should all follow the same patterns of grief. It's not like that. Pain is subjective. Suffering is subjective.
As it turns out, it really is a rehearsal. As part of a sting operation to nab Mary and Des, Joel's job is to convince them to help him die.
Unfortunately, his sudden sexual encounter with Mary (on his breakfast bar, no less) compromises the investigation.
No one's armor is spotless in the cast of characters we meet in "Bloody Mary." Joel and his investigative partner are no strangers to grey-zone shenanigans. Jess is hiding secrets from her mom. Naomi's a tangled mess of behaviors.
Des is a recovering addict still involved with dealers and users. And Mary's obviously got a lot on her mind.
Mary: I've been thinking. I really need to quit.
Des: Killing people?
Mary: No. Smoking.
Des: Oh, no, you're right, you should. It's a filthy habit.
Mary: We can't stop helping people.
Des: No, of course. You're like Joan of Arc, on a divine mission.
Mary: She got burned alive.
Des: In a blaze of glory.
Mary: Guess we all gotta go some way.
My first impressions are that Mary Kills People is an ambitious attempt at humanizing a fairly controversial topic with a large cast of players, all of whom have a direct effect on Mary and her mission.
What do you think will be the biggest wrench in her life? Will it be professional or personal? Legal or moral?
Can Mary's beliefs sustain her as the ethical and criminal repercussions become more real?
I believe we should be in control of our life and our death. That's liberty. And dying is not a crime.
Did you miss the premiere on Lifetime?
Be sure to watch Mary Kills People online to review all the possible sticky situations our trying-to-do-good doctor may find herself in before long.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.