Off The Map Review: New Setting, Familiar Territory

By Kelly West 2011-01-10 16:29:53 discussion comments
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What do you get when you take a medical drama like Grey’s Anatomy, strip down the hospital to a small hut-like building with limited supplies and technology, staff it with good-looking, young, adventurous doctors and set it in a South American jungle? ABC’s answer: Off the Map.

Created by Jenna Bans (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) and exec-produced by Betsy Beers (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) and Grey’s and Private Practice creator Shonda Rhimes, Off the Map is yet another medical drama about doctors with buckets of ambition and potential and plenty of personal (mixed messily with professional) baggage.

Off the Map introduces us to the little medical clinic in South America through the eyes of three young doctors, each of whom left behind their own set of problems and are hoping for a clean slate in the jungle. Drs. Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas), Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer) and Tommy Fuller (Friday Night Lights’ Zach Gilford) are set up to work alongside the legendary (and dreamy) Ben Keaton (Martin Henderson) and his small staff of doctors. Among them is Dr. Ryan Clark, played by Twilight’s Rachelle Lefevre.

The new doctors’ first cases give us a fair introduction to the kind of medical treatment being practiced at the clinic. Tommy is tasked with convincing a distrustful father to accept medical treatment for himself and his children. Lily gets the adventurous assignment of tending to a tourist who’s badly injured while zip-lining. And Mina is bored back at the clinic, diagnosing common ailments for walk-in patients. While all three are handling their responsibilities, we come to learn that each of them carries the weight of problems they left behind and have yet to really deal with or overcome.

Given the limited resources and staff at the clinic, treating patients isn’t as simple as doing some X-rays, an MRI and blood-work and prescribing a remedy or prepping an O.R.. The doctors rely a lot on natural remedies and some unorthodox but effective methods of treatment. In the pilot episode, this includes a laughable coconut transfusion that may very well be a real form of treatment but comes off as very Gilligan’s Island nonetheless.

It’s difficult not to draw comparisons between Off the Map and Grey’s Anatomy and considering the executive producers are the same, I don’t think it’s unfair to do so. From a character standpoint, the young-pretty-doctors-with-problems theme wont seem new to fans of Grey’s and Private Practice but the story and the characters are fresh and set in a lush jungle surrounding as opposed to cold, shiny medical equipment. Those who have grown or are growing tired with the characters on Grey’s and Private Practice will find a new set of doctors to cheer for and probably watch cliff-dive into a spiral of personal and professional drama.

Grey’s Anatomy has often shined brightest when using the unique medical scenarios as a catalyst to fuel personal drama and character conflicts. Off the Map has a lot of opportunity to do that here with the jungle setting providing some new and creative medical challenges, however it also has plenty of opportunity to becoming gimmicky if the writers rely too heavily on that to gain interest.

If I had one major criticism, I’d say that Off the Map’s pilot episode packs a little too much in as far as character introductions go but I expect that to level off somewhat once the series gets going. Nonetheless, by the end of the first hour, you should have a pretty good idea of what Lily, Mina and Tommy are all about and a few tidbits about Ben and the other people they’re working for and with to want to know more.

Off the Map offers a beautiful setting, potentially interesting characters and a notably excellent score to set the pace but the most intriguing aspect of the pilot episode is the opportunity for redemption for the three young doctors starting out at the clinic. Should the series stay the course, make the most of the setting and the stories introduced in the first episode, ABC could be looking at another must-watch medical drama series.

Off the Map premieres Wednesday, January 12, 10:00-11:00 p.m., ET on ABC.
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