Judge William Lee turned his head and coughed up this review.
For some doctors, there are no boundaries.
"If there was ever somewhere to start over, it's right here."
Facts of the Case
La Clinica Cruz del Sur, located somewhere in South America, is the only medical clinic for 200 miles of jungle. Funded by donations—and one doctor's personal fortune—the clinic's resources are on par with medical technology circa 1952. The leaders are Dr. Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson, Smokin' Aces), an ex-pat from New Zealand mourning the loss of his wife; Dr. Otis Cole (Jason George, Barbershop), a former Navy doctor; and Dr. Zita Alvarez (Valerie Cruz, Cellular), a strong-willed local.
New blood arrives in the form of three keen young doctors looking for a unique professional experience. In addition to beefing up his or her resume, each new doctor is looking for a fresh start. Disgraced Mina Minard (Mamie Gummer, The Ward) misdiagnosed a child with fatal results during her stateside residency. Lily Brenner (Caroline Dhavernas, The Pacific) is recovering from the death of her fiancée;. plastic surgeon Tommy Fuller (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) wants to redeem himself as a respectable doctor.
Fans of Grey's Anatomy will recognize the style of this show and it's no coincidence since series creator Jenna Bans was a supervising and executive producer on that flagship Shonda Rhimes medical drama. Transplanting that winning formula to the South American jungle, Off the Map: The Complete Series is designed as a more exotic cousin to its Seattle-based template. However, the generally light tone keeps the situations feeling more like summer camp challenges than survivalist feats.
The doctors are isolated in the jungle, low on medicine, getting by with basic equipment and overwhelmed by patients. As Dr. Ben points out to the newbies, countless natural remedies in the environment surround them. Strange herbs and whatnot may prove to be more effective medicines than any pharmaceutical product has yet to match. That said, and as primed for adventure as the young doctors are, what they're all really pursuing is romance.
While the pairings aren't exact clones of the Grey's couples, it's not a stretch to see similarities in the characters' match-ups. Hunky Dr. Ben is clearly the McDreamy of la Clinica and he has more than one admirer to distract him from his personal troubles. Otis and Zita aren't too distant from the Preston Burke-Cristina Yang pairing. The unlikely but inevitable union between frosty Mina and talky Tommy has shades of Izzy Stevens-George O'Malley about it.
Off the Map's 13 episodes generally stick to the same routine for each 42-minute story. A gruesome medical emergency opens the show. The young doctors split up into separate plot lines. One or more doctors will react to a situation mysteriously for as-yet-unrevealed personal reasons. Someone unloads his or her pent-up emotions and personal baggage, usually just before critical surgery is about to happen. Young doctors banter about their love lives as upbeat indie-pop music swells. Before the show ends, a young doctor will get a taste of what it means to be a real doctor; a cynical veteran doctor will be reminded of his humanity.
The execution of the first act of each episode is really good for grabbing viewers' attention. The immediacy of the medical emergencies, usually depicted in gory fashion, is compelling stuff. However, the multiple storylines and the constant focus on the doctors' love lives gradually drain tension from the main story. Filmed in Hawaii, the jungle never manages to be the formidable environment that it should be. The locations are too tidy to be authentic jungle and often merely look like an overgrown corner of a tropical resort. It doesn't help that the clinic's patients are usually hysterical locals or arrogant tourists that fail to inspire sympathy. A lot rides on the likeability of the characters and, unfortunately, I wasn't won over by this collection of recycled, self-centered young types.
The technical presentation on this three-disc DVD set is passable without anything that really stands out. The image is consistently clean and colors are pleasingly strong. The camera captures a lot of background detail in the lush jungle but the SD picture can only do so much for it. The limit of the compressed video image is noticeable in wider shots while close-ups on the actors is more forgiving. A frequent photographic trick throughout the series makes the brightly lit backgrounds appear to glow softly. When an actor is in the foreground of the shot, the white glow behind them is slightly distracting. Whatever the reason for this photographic effect—it's used to greater exaggeration in the looping background video of the menu screens—it's unnecessary.
Surround audio mixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital is there but it doesn't do anything too exciting. The soundscape is mostly frontal but the upbeat music is shared in the surround channels.
"On Set at Off the Map" is an eight-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. The actors and producers provide sound bites to promo the show and they all remark on how great it is to be filming in Hawaii. The five-minute "Jungle Medicine" featurette focuses on the unorthodox resources the doctors use in their remote clinic. Eleven deleted scenes from throughout the series are included. A two-minute blooper reel rounds out the extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Off the Map's jungle setting is a unique touch and some episodes exploit the chance to feature some exotic medicine. Coconut milk as substitution during a blood transfusion, for example, or insect pincers used as stitches. The doctors' jungle ingenuity keeps the show interesting and according to one of the disc's featurettes, it's all based on real field practice.
With its blend of medical emergency, handsome young cast, tropical setting and evolving character dramas, Off the Map is an okay time waster. Ultimately, the individual stories are forgettable and we've seen more interesting versions of these characters before. Stakes for the characters become more serious in later episodes and one character makes a critical choice that would have carried consequences into the next season. ABC canceled the show, however, so those story seeds will remain unsown. Fans of medical dramas or Grey's specifically may find this series to be an interesting variation on the formula even though it will never reach the level of sophistication of its more matured inspiration.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Studios
• Deleted Scenes
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