In almost every profession where a night shift exists, there's no denying that later isn't necessarily greater for employees. I’ve worked overnight shifts for years in different places, and I know full well that the general calmness is offset by problems that seem more extreme than normal. This is arguably most common in the medical profession, and NBC is looking to exploit that dusk-till-dawn drama with The Night Shift, the latest series from creators Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs (90210). So grab your favorite stimulant and let’s burst through these ER doors, shall we?
It was fitting to watch The Night Shift’s pilot here on Memorial Day, given the military vibe threaded throughout. Lead character T.C. Callahan (Merlin’s Eoin Macken) spent several tours in the Middle East, and is now bringing his intense expertise to the staff at San Antonio Memorial. His fly-by-night attitude is immediately butted up against by the new big boss man Michael Ragosa (Freddy Rodriguez), who seems to worry more about budgets and rules than saving people’s lives. T.C.’s ex-girlfriend Jordan Alexander (Jill Flint) has taken over as the head of the night shift, where she rules with a friendly fist. Other characters include the enjoyably bubbly Topher (Ken Leung), the secret-keeping Drew (Brendan Fehr) and the two interns Krista (Jeananne Goossen) and Paul (Robert Bailey Jr.). All in all, this is a pretty interesting group of people at face value.
But an hour-long drama doesn’t just allow for face value, and The Night Shift’s pilot suffers from a wandering script that adheres to archetypes over fleshed out characters. As the risk-gobbling T.C., Macken is an overbearing combination of nonchalant machismo and been-there heroism. One of the episode’s main thrusts involves a woman with a possible tumor whose treatment is refused by Ragosa because she’s uninsured, and T.C. decides to punctuate his disapproval by punching Ragosa, his boss, in the face. But are there any real repercussions of such juvenile behavior? Of course not, because T.C. is such a good doctor.
How good is he? Good enough to perform roadside surgery through a vehicle’s sunroof. Now, I realize that this is a hospital drama and that hyperbolic emergencies will presumably be its bread and butter, but I could have used a few less high-octane patient rescues and some more time getting to know these characters on a more personal basis. The Night Shift is only set to last for eight episodes, which may not be enough time to leave a mark if it’s just an unending stream of car accidents and people yelling at one another.
For instance, there’s a guy waiting to be seen by a doctor for his injured face. When he’s told that there are others who have been waiting longer, and that the ER is understaffed, he freaks out and punches a security guard, only to be taken down by Drew. As far as I can tell, the sequence is mostly there to point out that Drew is a badass, but this could have been showcased in a much less clumsy scenario.
My biggest problem with The Night Shift is that it feels like the fourth episode, rather than the pilot. Usually I applaud narratives that eschew origin stories to plunge the audience into the action, but this just feels like a hodgepodge of scenes thrown together for the hell of it, with essentially useless “this is what time it is now” superimposed captions popping up before the commercial breaks.
This isn’t to say I thought the entire episode was terrible, or that it doesn’t have room to grow. I rather enjoyed the way Topher sets up a Legend of Zelda-ish sequence of favors in order to get something done. And I think Ragosa, with his shielded background, and the jubilant Jordan are inherently interesting characters. But this isn’t just a series about three people and a wacky plan. It’s a hospital drama with a lot of unearned intensity and emotional beats, though thankfully one that is never as glib or patronizing as later seasons of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. The optimist would say a lacking pilot means a series has that much room to grow into something great, but with only eight episodes in its first season, The Night Shift will need a little fertilizer to make that growth happen in a flash.
The Night Shift premieres on NBC this Tuesday, May 27.