Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

'Black Box' is better left unopened

Kelly Reilly (left) and Siobhan Williams in a scene from ABC´s new series "Black Box," in which Reilly stars as neurologist Catherine Black, who suffers from bipolar disorder.
Kelly Reilly (left) and Siobhan Williams in a scene from ABC's new series "Black Box," in which Reilly stars as neurologist Catherine Black, who suffers from bipolar disorder.

Physician, get a grip! That's the only reasonable reaction to ABC's mind-boggling new series Black Box (10 p.m. Thursday, 6ABC).

It's about a brilliant, empathic, intuitive, high-powered, glamorous, sexy neurologist, Catherine Black. They call her, quite often, in fact, "the Marco Polo of the brain."

She's also garishly bipolar. Which wouldn't be a problem if she didn't elect to go off her meds a couple of times an episode.

Kelly Reilly, who stars as Black - she played the addict in Denzel Washington's Flight - is a mesmerizing actress, but she's completely out of her element here. Of course, it's difficult to think of anyone carrying off this ludicrously overblown role. A young Gena Rowlands would have dismissed it as too outré. Angelina Jolie would have scoffed at its excesses.

On the one hand, you have a woman focused and disciplined enough to go through the rigors of post-grad schooling and training and driven enough to head a prestigious medical institute at an early age.

Except every few days, she turns into a crazed nymphomaniac and dances in her negligée on hotel balconies high above the street, only to wake up in restraints in an ER.

And while this is going on, and medical and personal crises are erupting constantly, Black still has abundant time to ruminate and reflect on the way she's "wired."

Her psychiatrist is played by Vanessa Redgrave, which is sort of like throwing John Houseman into a WWE cage match.

Ditch Davey plays the arrogant, priapic brain surgeon with the magic hands. Terry Kinney is Black's mentor Ali Wong, her high-tech expert who practices bass guitar with an amplifier in her office at all hours. David Ajala plays Black's boyfriend, a chef who has to admit he sorta likes her when she's in one of her uncontrollable manic phases.

There are a couple of distinctions that could keep you tuned in to Black Box. If you like looking at brain scans, you just hit the mother lode. This series is to neuroimaging what Flipper was to fins.

It's also jam-packed with elaborately kooky syndromes, like the one where you become convinced that your loved ones have been replaced by strangers. There's also a patient whose inseparable best friend is apparently a Keebler elf, a jolly sprite that only she and we viewers can see.

Black's condition is no joke - except when it is. The series is severely manic-depressive itself and emotionally manipulative in both modes.

The point is that Black would commit suicide were she not personally responsible for saving a couple of lives an hour.

Whenever the hysteria slows for a minute, the show throws in a flashback, perhaps to Catherine's tormented, suicidal mother or to her own experience of being pregnant and abandoned. How did this woman find time to graduate from medical school early?

So what? you may say. House had some similar trappings and it ran for eight seasons. Well, there was usually some sort of method beneath Dr. House's madness. And Hugh Laurie kept the show moored in the realm of credibility. Black Box is completely untethered.

 


TV REVIEW

Black Box

10 p.m. Thursday on 6ABC


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4552

@daveondemand_tv

 

David Hiltbrand Inquirer TV Critic
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