Marcia Gay Harden, center, stars in CBS' new medical drama...

Marcia Gay Harden, center, stars in CBS' new medical drama "Code Black," premiering Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 10 p.m. Credit: CBS / Neil Jacobs

THE SERIES "Code Black"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 10 on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the nation's busiest, most brutal ER, residency director Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) takes charge of four new first-year residents -- Christa Lorenson (Bonnie Somerville), Malaya Pineda (Melanie Kannokada), Mario Salvetti (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Angus Leighton (Harry M. Ford). But her impulsive style worries her colleagues, Dr. Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey) and Dr. Rollie Guthrie (William Allen Young), as much as the newbies under her wing. It's based on Ryan McGarry's 2013 documentary of the same name about Los Angeles County / USC Medical Center.

MY SAY "Code Black" is a pretty good show and a pretty recognizable one too. The ER network drama . . . as old as the cathode ray tube.

In fact, "good" and "recognizable" don't have to be mutually exclusive, and often aren't. But as the seasoned TV viewers among us well know, they often are, especially with a hospital drama, where there are just too many cliches to trip over, too many familiar tropes to navigate. We've seen it all, over and over.

But we haven't seen exactly this. And from a technical perspective, there's much to admire. The direction (by David Semel) is sharp and brisk. The story is reasonably uncluttered, in spite of the standard narrative threads that can entangle a hospital drama just as easily as enliven it.

The cast is solid, especially the always excellent Harden and Jaffrey (so memorable in last season's "Homeland"). We may have seen characters in scrubs like Rorish and Hudson before (her brusque shoot-from-the-hip style masks personal loss . . . He's a hotshot surgeon who secretly cares for his troubled colleague . . . ), but Harden and Jaffrey add real touches of humanity to what would otherwise be paint-by-the-number portraits. As a result, they're potentially interesting and immediately engaging.

"Code Black" can't (unfortunately) resist the melodrama. No hospital ER drama can. It's encoded into the genre's DNA, which demands that life must follow death, and that an upbeat note must conclude a series of downbeat ones. At least "Code Black" promises something more compelling down the well-traveled road.

BOTTOM LINE Not for the squeamish, but a well-done new medical drama.


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