Judge Erich Asperschlager wishes you were here.
Our review of Royal Pains: Season One, published June 2nd, 2010, is also available.
Just what the Hamptons ordered.
USA Network has made its recent bones on breezy comedy dramas like Psych, Monk, and White Collar. In 2009, the network launched Royal Pains, the breeziest of the lot. While the rest of USA's shows can be loosely categorized as police procedurals, Pains is about medicine instead of murder. Its first season established the characters, tone, and fancy-pants Hamptons setting. The episodes may have been built around medical mysteries, but the fun came from the interactions between the characters.
Royal Pains tries its sophomore best to shake things up in Season Two—adding new characters, subplots, and pairings that ratcheted up the drama while diluting the chemistry that worked in Season One. The show has always struck a delicate balance between lighthearted medical drama and soap opera. This season tips the balance toward the soapy, giving way too much time to ill-fated romance and complicated relationships. Its fans will find plenty of surface thrills in the luxury locales, wacky ailments, and witty banter, but I've got a feeling my DVR will be on vacation when Royal Pains comes back this summer.
Facts of the Case
Royal Pains: Season Two spreads 18 episodes over four discs:
I shouldn't be too harsh on Royal Pains. It's not a bad show. It's beautifully shot with likable characters. There's a reason my wife still insists that we watch it. It's very easy to watch—the TV equivalent of summer reading.
The best thing about Royal Pains: Season Two continues to be its cast. Mark Feuerstein's Hank takes a more dour turn this season, but he's still a charismatic leading man. As his brother, Evan, Paulo Costanzo delivers the show's biggest laughs without ever becoming a joke. In Season One, Reshma Shetty's Divya established herself as the voice of reason—the sensible foil to Evan's dangerous enthusiasm. In Season Two, she's given a tougher, more nuanced role, having to balance her professional life with the stresses of an arranged marriage and a secret crush. Jill Flint's Jill, meanwhile, is reduced to supporting player. The will-they-won't-they tension between her and Hank is largely missing; that role is taken over by Anastasia Griffith as Dr. Emily Peck, a hard-nosed rival who worms her way into Hank's business and his bed. Campbell Scott made a big impression in the first season as Hank's mega-rich benefactor, Boris. His continues that trend in Season Two, even if his character isn't as mysterious it he used to be.
This season is packed with guest stars; including Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Tom Cavanagh, WWE wrestler The Big Show, Jim Gaffigan, and singer John Legend. One famous face towers above the rest. The Season One finale introduced Henry Winkler as the Lawson brothers' estranged con artist father, Eddie. Season Two takes full advantage of the casting coup, giving Winkler an arc that touches pretty much everyone on the show. Even if his character is the reason Hank goes all frumpy this season, the legendary Winkler is the best thing on the show whenever he's onscreen.
The other reason Winkler's Eddie stands out this season, is that the other arcs aren't all that interesting. Not to begrudge the deepening of Divya's character, but the melodrama surrounding her arranged nuptials gets old well before the season finale. Hers isn't the only tortured romance. Beyond Hank and Emily's baffling relationship, this season finds Evan in the role of fake boyfriend to a rich heiress he ends up falling for, while Boris has to make literal life and death decisions about his Cuban girlfriend. The outbreak of new relationships are interesting mostly to show just how well the show worked before it doubled the cast.
For as much as the show's creators tout the accurate medical input provided to them by real-life consultant Dr. Irving Danesh, Royal Pains goes out of its way to give HankMed clientele outlandish illnesses. I've never been crazy about the medical mystery aspect of Pains, or the MacGyver-inspired ways our good doctor treats his patients. The life-and-death moments were at odds with the show's lighthearted tone last season, and are again in Season Two. Doesn't anyone in the Hamptons ever just catch a cold?
Annoyances aside, Royal Pains continues to be one of the prettiest shows on USA, and this set lives up to the rich standards of Season One. Even on DVD, the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is a beaut—a vivid and detailed rendering of some of the nicest houses and beaches none of us will ever visit. The same is true of the stylish costuming. It's almost worth enduring the soap opera storylines just to feel like you're on a fancy summer vacation. The 5.1 surround mix is clear and well-balanced, on par with most TV releases.
The list of bonus features seems more impressive than what's actually here: a handful of deleted scenes, three episode-specific commentaries, a gag reel, cast Q&As, and a couple of short featurettes. It's more than some TV box sets, but fans will be left wanting.
There is a place for Royal Pains in USA Network's "characters welcome" stable, but those hoping for another clever procedural will be disappointed. Then again, if you're tired of murder mysteries and just want to get away from it all, Pains is good for what ails you. Me, I'm feeling just fine without it.
This patient isn't responding to treatment. Guilty!
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