'Monday Mornings' review: New David E. Kelley series is smart

Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge Villanueva, left, and Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge Villanueva, left, and executive producer Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the set of "Monday Mornings." Photo Credit: AP

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REVIEW

THE SHOW "Monday Mornings"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 10 on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based in a fictional hospital in Portland, Ore., this medical drama follows a group of surgeons as they thread their way through tricky ethical dilemmas, difficult patients and a brutal Monday morning "morbidity and mortality" conference convened by the hospital's extremely tough chief of surgery, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina).

The doctors include compassionate-but-full-of-himself Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber); tough guy chief of surgery Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames); neurosurgeon Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan); Dr. John Lieberman (Jonathan Silverman, Finnigan's real-life husband); Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin), Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao), and bedside-manner-challenged Sung Park (Keong Sim). This is David E. Kelley's ("Ally McBeal," "The Practice") first series for cable; based on the novel of the same name by CNN's Sanjay Gupta.

MY SAY "Monday Mornings" is Kelleyesque in all the best and admittedly worst -- melodramatic, manipulative, shocking -- ways. But it's also intelligent, particularly well-written and acted, and above all interested in matters other than what's directly mounted on the screen before your eyes, most notably ethics, human nature and human fallibility.

With "Monday Mornings," the best easily outweighs the worst, and (just like that) TNT suddenly has a compelling new series. Kelley seems to be on comfortable terrain here, reunited with his supremely capable wingman, Bill D'Elia -- these two go all the way back to "Chicago Hope" -- and working a subject matter that suits his intellect and dramatic instincts.

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There aren't a lot of laughs here, which is surprising because Kelley can be one of television's most wickedly funny writers. But the excellent actors easily pick up that slack, especially Sim as the brusque, clipped no-nonsense surgeon who uses English much as a chef uses a mallet to tenderize meat. Bamber (Lee Adama from "Battlestar Galactica") is excellent here, too (and whose bright idea was it to cast "Sesame Street's" Irwin, who can apparently do just about anything?).

BOTTOM LINE Good to see Kelley back doing what he has done so well before -- smart, compelling, provocative dramatic TV. "Monday Mornings" should be a winner for TNT.

GRADE A-

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