You've heard the phrase "Physician, heal thyself." In Off the Map, the latest and most exotic medical romance to emerge from the Shonda Rhimes assembly line, you could add, "And sun yourself while you're at it."
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The greatest asset of Map is its tropical setting: a South American rain forest that's actually filmed in Hawaii. (We'll forgive the subterfuge. The show looks gorgeous, and takes some of the sting out of a brutally cold East Coast winter.) By now, you've seen the promos of the young cast leaping off a cliff side into the sparkling waters below. What you haven't seen is the show itself, saddled with such annoyingly cloying writing that you may be tempted to tell the characters to take a leap and not come back.
Map has a very appealing cast — including Meryl Streep's daughter Mamie Gummer, Wonderfalls' Caroline Dhavernas and Friday Night Lights' beloved Zach Gilford (who coincidentally is back on FNL this week, for DirecTV subscribers) as fledgling doctors seeking redemption and purpose by working at a third-world clinic — but the show traps them in a jungle of trite exposition and whiny clichés.
The gauntlet is thrown early on by the clinic's resident McYowza, the renowned Dr. Ben Keeton (New Zealand find Martin Henderson), who initially seems more celebrated for going shirtless from time to time. He greets the new arrivals with a sermon about how if they use their brains and instincts, "you'll learn more here in a week than doctors learn in a year of residency." Take that, Seattle Grace!
He goes on to tell them, "You're standing in the middle of the greatest medical resource on Earth" — home-grown organic medicine! — and "this is where medicine was born." Do us a favor, doc. Take your shirt off and shut up.
To be fair, it took a few weeks for most of the Grey's Anatomy characters to grow on me, but Off the Map achieves what I would have thought impossible, in making even Zach Gilford charmless as the most aimless and callow of the baby docs. Everyone has a back-story for why they're toiling in the jungle, none of which is very fresh.
On the plus side, the cases tend to be extreme — one thrilling procedure is performed on a zip line above a yawning ravine — even if most of the patients are infected by Grand Metaphor Syndrome (shades of Grey's). And the conditions at the clinic and surrounding villages are unnervingly primitive, which adds to the drama and the stakes of many of these emergency triage cases. But it's the painfully earnest dialogue that could really make you ill.
Off the Map premieres Wednesday, 10/9c, on ABC.