Yes, Shonda Rhimes’s new ABC drama Off the Map, is essentially Grey’s Anatomy in the jungle. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Sometimes, romantic melodrama set against the life and death stakes of a hospital can be just what you need when curling up with a pint of ice cream. Unfortunately, Off the Map isn’t even up to par for the comparison.
Set in a vague village in South America, medicine takes on a whole new identity. More off-the-cuff than procedural, the doctors that have been working there are doing the best they can with limited resources to keep their community healthy. It’s not easy, and isn’t for the faint of heart. Enter a new team of eager doctors looking to forget their pasts and make a difference in the world.
Lily (Wonderfall’s Caroline Dhavernas) is a go-getter, already nicknamed the Girl Scout for her preparedness for her new adventure. And it pays off when on her first day she gets to accompany the hot, older doctor, Ben (Martin Henderson), rescuing an injured tourist stuck on a zip line above a deep canyon. Of course, Lily comes with her own baggage, apparently still mourning the loss of her fiancé, which forced her to take time off from her residency. Although, as she helps her patient say goodbye to his recently deceased wife, she also finds some closer of her own and is ready to start anew.
Tommy (Friday Night Lights’s Zach Gilford) is a cocky plastic surgeon who is more concerned with the beaches than humanitarianism. Pissing off his bosses on the first day, he’s sent on a house call to visit a woman who has been in treatment for tuberculosis. When he arrives, he finds the woman dead, and her husband and two children deathly ill with the disease. The father refuses treatment, for himself and his children, and Tommy must face his own pride in order to convince the man to save his family.
Mina (Meryl Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer) is stuck working in the clinic while her co-workers get to go off and explore the jungle. Frustrated to not be using her specialty in infectious diseases, she almost misses diagnosing a woman with asthma by telling her she just has a cold. Still haunted by a moment when she misdiagnosed a child with the flu instead of meningitis, which resulted in losing her residency, she seems better suited for a less competitive environment when a doctor can truly touch someone’s life.
All of this should be the makings of entertaining television, especially set against beautiful scenery (filmed in Hawaii), with equally attractive actors. But the lackluster writing brings down the drama. With back stories that feel shoe-horned into the action, and far too conveniently match up with the patients they are treating, there’s not a lot of depth to the characters. The jungle medicine feels ridiculous at times (they take a break from surgery to retrieve coconuts to use the milk as a replacement for a blood transfusion), making what should be life and death tension instead laughable. And while the main characters are likeable in their own way, overall the show is not compelling enough to fold into your weekly viewing schedules.