Ghosts on the brain and a love of Patrick Wilson led Phil a bit beyond fright as he reviews CBS’s too quickly cancelled A Gifted Man. It’s not likely to suit all horror fans, but it’s a solid show that only began to reach its potential. Catch it on Netflix Instant.
Since I met actors Martin Casella and Philip Friedman a few weeks ago at Chiller Theatre, I have ghosts on the brain. I’m not a big fan of ghost movies at all, but POLTERGEIST and INSIDIOUS, in which they respectively starred, are two of the stellar haunting films out there, and so I’ve been on a bit of a kick. So it should be no surprise that two things I watched the last few days were INSIDIOUS and last season’s too quickly cancelled CBS series, A Gifted Man. James Wan’s ghost tale is the best new horror film I’ve seen in years; the show, though uneven and hamstrung by TV’s standards of stretching suspension of disbelief, I enjoyed very much, based mainly on its star, Patrick Wilson.
A Gifted Man introduces brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Holt on a typical day of being a brilliant neurosurgeon. A bit of a dick, he meets his ex-wife for the first time in a decade and has a lovely evening with her. When he calls her free clinic the next day perhaps to rekindle things, he’s in for a shock: Anna Holt has been dead for a few weeks. He’s stunned when she appears to him again, and asks him to clean up the loose ends of her life; he’s to start by helping run Clinica Sanando, which she headed up to the time of her tragic death, when she ran into the street to get a bouncing ball, and got hit by a car. Being both brilliant and a bit of a dick, he reluctantly agrees out of love for Anna to take a bit of time from his practice. Once involved, he can’t get himself out as the series progresses across 16 episodes.
A Gifted Man suffers from the same problems of just about 99% of doctor shows: people are dropping like flies all around both Holt and Clinica Sanando, and he and the staff are usually able to perform complex surgery with a spork and Shop Vac in about 10 minutes. I’ve never been under the knife, but my mother had three major surgeries in my lifetime, and the shortest took 6 hours under optimum conditions. I can forgive the extremely high rate of survival of the afflicted, because the show does go out of its way to tell its audience that Michael Holt is the best in the world at what he does (again, I speak from experience, as my mom was about an hour from death but got an extra 8 years of life, because her liver doctor was the world’s best). When this extends to the other doctors in the clinic, though, it stretches the show’s credibility to the max. But I can even forgive that, because this show isn’t really about those other doctors, it’s about Holt. And Holt is played by the extremely talented Patrick Wilson, which is the only reason why I gave A Gifted Man a shot in the first place.
I have an abnormally large amount of love for Patrick Wilson. He himself is a gifted man, a talented actor who brings his all to big budget action movies such as THE WATCHMEN and smaller, creepy pieces such as HARD CANDY with equal aplomb (if you ever want to empathize with a heinous human being, watch the latter; even portraying humanity’s blackest side, he got me to feel for his character). He’s attractive and brings nuances to his roles. As Holt, he starts off arrogant and self-absorbed, but with reason, as he’s the best, and he needs an ego to be so. Through the episodes, the character softens, becoming a little more human. But thank God Wilson and the writers didn’t allow him to become totally sunshiney; Holt is a complicated character, driven to succeed by dysfunctional family issues of his youth, which clearly still affect him as an adult. He would’ve glided through life on his talents as a neurosurgeon, forgoing all real human connection, and been content to do so. But Anna’s love for him, and the subsequent connections he makes at the clinic as a result of it, bring him back to humanity, the show’s greatest gift of all.
Though not as intriguing as Holt, the supporting cast holds its own. Most interesting is Eriq La Salle as Dr. E-Mo, a psychiatrist with some issues of his own, and a different take on things from Michael’s. There’s Julie Benz as Holt’s loopy sister Christina, and her former boyfriend, mystic Anton Little Creek played by Pablo Schreiber. Margo Martindale plays Holt’s secretary Rita, who keeps him grounded and distills wisdom throughout the show. Rhys Coiro appears as the clinic’s Dr. Zeke, a rough around the edges smoker who does whatever he has to to get things done. Rachelle Lefevre portrays Dr. Kate Sykora, who Holt hired to run the clinic. She’s the potential love interest for the all-about-business Holt, and their chemistry was just beginning to develop when the show was cancelled.
Most important among the supporting cast is Jennifer Ehle as Anna. When I write reviews, I rarely include reactions from outside sources. But I find it annoying that so many people on the IMDB and Netflix commented negatively about her portrayal. They seemed angered by her smile, and how she “nags” Michael when she appears. Given the recent article in Entertainment Weekly about how fans of TV are applying this attitude to female characters across a number of series, there’s a wave of sexist trash in that line of thinking. In specific to A Gifted Man, these criticisms are so off base, they just prove how many folks missed the point: Anna’s there to help Michael live a better life. If she doesn’t prod him outside his comfort zone, he’ll never appreciate life. So convincing him to do things he normally wouldn’t is an absolute necessity. And her smile is a source of comfort, both to Michael and me. She’s trying to figure out why exactly she isn’t at rest, and doing so admirably.
A Gifted Man is a quality show that sets itself apart from all those other medical dramas with a gimmick. Had it lacked the ghostly element, I wouldn’t be writing about it. Had it cast someone other than Patrick Wilson as Dr. Michael Holt, I would never have given it a shot. I’m glad I did. I genuinely wish it would’ve gone beyond the 16 episodes, as so much of the show’s threads are left up in the air. Forget the ghosts. That lack of closure is what will really haunt my brain.