Universal // 2009 // 535 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // June 2nd, 2010
Just another day at the office.
USA Network adds to its impressive stable of original programming with Royal Pains, a medical dramedy set in the Hamptons. Although the 12 episodes of Season One feel more like a consultation than a complete examination, they do a solid job of establishing the characters, setting, and conflict at the heart of this stylish show.
New York City ER doc Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein, The Hustler) has it all. The job, the life, the fiancée. But when a rich hospital donor dies on his watch, he loses everything. At rock bottom and with no job prospects on the horizon, his brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo, Joey) drags Hank out to the Hamptons for a Memorial Day weekend of fun in the sun. Their first night out, Hank saves the life of a partygoer, impressing her exceedingly wealthy host. The man offers Hank a place in his guest house, and refers the reluctant doctor to his neighbors. Although Hank resists the idea of becoming a "concierge doctor" to the rich, he relents and begins a new life in the Hamptons with his enthusiastic brother and physician assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty, Steam) by his side. Suddenly, his world is filled with trust-fund hemophiliacs, mysterious billionaires, and plastic surgery addicts. Hank also meets a pretty, down-to-earth hospital administrator named Jill (Jill Flint, The Good Wife) whose dedication to helping the Hampton's poorer residents inspires him to use the cash from his high-paying clients to heal those who can't afford it.
My wife and I have become huge fans of the USA Network and its "characters welcome"-tagged original series. We watched through all eight seasons of Monk, eagerly await the return of Psych, and have high hopes for the second season of White Collar. It's gotten to the point where I'd give pretty much anything USA decided to put on the air a try. When we missed out on Royal Pains original TV run, I was excited to be able to catch up on DVD.
Now that I've had a chance to watch the first season, I'm sure we will watch the second, though I doubt we'll make it appointment TV. Royal Pains has a lot going for it. It has a great cast, beautiful scenery, and solid, funny writing. But it isn't quite as compelling as the rest of the USA line-up -- at least not this first season.
Pains isn't a procedural in the same way as Monk or Psych, and that's fine. At least it would be if the show didn't structure most of its episodes around Hank having to solve some minor medical mystery. Compared to FOX's cranky, cane-wielding doctor series, the symptoms and scenarios on Royal Pains are pretty lightweight and Hank is too much of a good guy to break the rules. Think of him as Dr. Beach House.
The problem with the medical mysteries on Royal Pains is that they aren't nearly as interesting as the character-focused material. They're also pretty formulaic. A lot of people collapse, and, despite the fully-stocked mobile lab his assistant drives around, Hank does a lot of MacGyver-esque cobbling together of things around him to treat his patients. It makes for dramatic scenes of impromptu surgery, but it requires some heavy suspension of disbelief. In one episode, he uses a jeweler's loop, paper towel tube, glass plate, and flashlight to make a microscope. In another, he uses a webcam to talk Divya and Evan through stabilizing a man's collapsed rib cage with fishing tackle.
In many ways, the 65-minute pilot is more interesting than any single episode that follows because it has a variety of characters, ailments, and storylines. When Royal Pains focuses on the interaction between the characters, it really comes together. Mark Feuerstein's Hank is the show's solid center, trying to keep his lovably opportunistic brother, Evan from going too far in his machinations to turn HankMed into a massive enterprise. Helping Hank in that regard is the confident Divya, who is almost as good at putting Evan in his place as she is keeping her medical career from her strict parents. The biggest story this season belongs, not surprisingly, to the on-again-off-again romance between Hank and Jill. Most of the drama comes from the tension between their personal and professional lives, and, later in the season, from the return of her estranged not-quite-ex husband (played by Nip/Tuck's Bruno Campos). Surrounding the main characters is a rotating cast of wealthy Hamptonians (or is that Hamptonites?). As Hank's secretive benefactor, Boris, Campbell Scott (Damages) exudes the kind of coolness that only comes with paying people in bars of solid gold. The revelation of his real motivation for keeping Hank around adds some much-needed mystery to the end of the season. Other regulars include Tucker (Ezra Miller, Californication) and Libby (Meredith Hagner, As the World Turns), a pair of teens Hank befriends; Andrew McCarthy as Tucker's neglectful father; and Christine Ebersole as Ms. "New Parts" Newberg, who Hank first meets when a boob job gone wrong leaves her with a "flat tire."
Royal Pains may be a little shallow in the story department, but it almost doesn't matter because the show is so darn nice to look at. Filmed on location in the Hamptons, Hank and company jump from mansion to beach back to mansion, intercut with aerial shots of some of the most expensive real estate in the U.S. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is crisp and rich, and the indie pop soundtrack screams summer. Pains is breezy in the best possible way.
Fans of the series will be happy to know that Royal Pains: Season One piles on the bonus features. There are introductions for every episode recorded by creator Andrew Lenchewski, along with Mark Feuerstein and writer-producer Michael Rauch (a warning to new viewers: watch the intros after the episodes if you don't want them spoiled). Many of the episodes also have deleted scenes that flesh out story points. There are also a handful of commentaries recorded by the cast and crew -- a few of the episodes, like the pilot and season finale, have multiple commentaries. Rounding out the set are a gag reel, a half hour of Paulo Costanzo's video blogs, and "Dr. Irv Danesh, the Real Doctor of Royal Pains" -- a profile of the real-life doctor who consults on the series. There's also the full Psych episode "High Top Fade Out," from the upcoming fourth season set.
I wish I could give Royal Pains the same unconditional recommendation I'd give USA's other original series, but this show is lightweight even for the kind of character-based shows the network is known for. The medical mysteries aren't terribly compelling, and the season-long story arc is ho-hum. That said, I recommend Royal Pains: Season One on the strength of its cast, its style, and its promising final few episodes -- which raise just enough questions to bring me back for season two. Like its luxurious locations, Pains is the perfect setting for summer fun. Just don't expect to think much about it once you return from vacation.
Not guilty. Now hand me that drink with the umbrella in it...STAT!
Review content copyright © 2010 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 535 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Introductions
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site