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Anybody who watches medical dramas these days is no doubt accustomed to storylines getting over-the-top and non-realistic, as later seasons of shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy look almost nothing like their relatively calm beginnings. Enter USA’s Complicatons, a hospital-based series that turns the drama up to 11 from the start and doesn’t appear to let up at all in the first half of its debut season. Depending on what you’re looking for, this can either be a crazily intense ride or an exercise in suspending stereotype-driven disbelief.
Complications stars the enjoyable everyman Jason O’Mara (of Vegas and Life on Mars fame) as John Ellison, an ER doctor going through an emotional rough patch in the year following the death of his young daughter. He finds a new lease on life in the strangest of places by saving Antoine, a young boy who was the target of a drive-by shooting, while also managing to take out one of the shooters in the process. But his goodwill comes with a price, as the boy’s imprisoned father Easy Tyler tasks John with keeping his son both alive and safe, no matter what.
As you can imagine from the show’s title – which gets namedropped in the first episode – John’s life becomes extremely tangled and…complicated. His lifesaving actions are not viewed by everyone as just or honorable, particularly the gangmates of the guy John killed, and he soon finds his hospital and family life suffering because of it. To make matters worse, Easy gets some of his underlings to keep an eye on John and help him with whatever obstacles get in his way. Sadly, these early episodes don’t do much for character development for these guys, and they just come off as stock gang members, although Chris Chalk’s Darius is one of the show’s only amusing characters in a sadistic kind of way.
Over at the hospital, John has an accomplice in a nurse named Gretchen, played by Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr. If her tattoos and smoking habit weren’t enough to clue audiences in that she’s got a dangerous attitude, her abysmal decision-making skills would do it, as Gretchen seems incapable of playing by anyone’s rules. Instead of Jack Bauer, though, she’s more like a malfunctioning Jack in the Box, impulsively popping up without much regard to anyone’s well-being. She literally flips a patient’s boyfriend off inside the hospital. You go, girl!
It’d be one thing if Complications had a razor sharp focus in laying its dramatic situations out, but this shit is all over the place. The show was created by Matt Nix, who brought us the always-compelling Burn Notice, a show that got just as ridiculous plotwise but never took itself that seriously. Here, the story doesn’t really offer much by way of levity, though it’s actually easy to laugh at the increasingly bewildering scenarios plaguing John and Gretchen’s lives both in and out of the hospital. (Almost every patient either of them deals with leads to some kind of trouble.) Also, the first episode delivers an interestingly complex look at the inciting events by messing with time and using a psychiatrist visit as a framing device, but that approach is completely dropped by the second episode and the story is laid out completely linearly.
While nowhere near as enjoyable as USA’s other new series Mr. Robot, Complications can never be called boring, and its strange concoction of adrenaline-fueled violence and plot-chewing certainly make it stand out in a TV landscape where hospital dramas are a dime a dozen. I happened to enjoy it, but I offer no judgment for those who can’t get behind the hyper-dramatic madness.
Take some high blood pressure medication and check out Complications when it premieres on USA on Thursday, June 18, at 9 p.m. ET.