Network television sucks. Let’s just get that out of the way, shall we? Since Buffy and Mulder have been shuffled off the air, the most horrific thing to come out of standard network TV has been Donald Trump’s comb-over. For your average night of network TV, it’s usually a choice between hot coeds eating blended worms, some stuffed tuxedo choosing a bride from among ten nameless bimbos, or talentless musicians and critics mocking even less talented regular folks who sing karaoke on national TV. It’s a sad state of affairs.
When I read about NBC’s decision to air Medium, an hour-long drama revolving around a wife and mother of three who uses her psychic abilities to solve crimes, my interest was piqued. After all, as long as it’s not Paris and Nicole slopping pigs, it can’t be all bad. Right away, this show has a few things going for it. It has two genre vets in the leads, Patricia (Elm Street: Dream Warriors) Arquette and Jake (Dawn of the Dead remake) Weber. It’s based on a real woman who has indeed used her abilities to aid detectives in solving cases. Because of the nature of her abilities, the dead play a frequent role in her dreams and sometimes in her all-too-real waking hours.
All that had me a bit excited about the show, but then I caught one tidbit that brought my rising expectations to a screeching halt: It was created by Glenn Gordon Caron. Yes, I know, you have no idea who that is. Caron is best known for creating a little show called Moonlighting, a romantic comedy featuring private detectives who engage in witty banter while trying not to fall in love (and in bed) with each other. It’s best known for launching the career of Bruce Willis, back when he still had hair. Making the leap from cute romantic comedy to a ghost-seeing psychic solving brutal murders doesn’t seem like a natural step, so I became deeply concerned. As it turns out, my concerns were well founded…but not for the reasons I initially thought.
Let’s back up just a little. Allison Dubois (Arquette) has three daughters, a hard-working husband named Joe (Weber), and a part-time job with the Phoenix, Arizona, District Attorney’s office. As an intern at the D.A.’s office seeking a law degree, her talents became apparent when she helped solve a missing person case in Texas. Having doubts about pursuing her law career, she’s offered a “consultant” position by the D.A. to use her skills, when possible, to shed light on investigations as they cross his desk. It’s a clean setup for the series, but the problems come when juggling the story of the Dubois family with the story of Allison and her investigations.
Five episodes in, things have been very choppy and uneven. The pilot episode was a great deal of fun with quirky characters, conversations with ghosts, a horrific crime, and a tidy solution. Since then, things haven’t been as reliably enjoyable.
Episode 3 is a perfect example of the problem here. The investigation in this episode is simply ludicrous. It just doesn’t make a lick of sense. In the beginning of the episode Allison has a dream of being Little Red Riding Hood in an airport, and she’s being chased by a wolf. Once she wakes up, she goes to work and learns of a new crime. A woman’s fiancé is murdered in front of her. She barely escapes and gives a completely bogus description of the killer. Allison detects this because she’s in the room and conveniently sees every single aspect of the crime play out like a movie in her head. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if every OTHER episode hadn’t gone to great lengths to point out that her powers just don’t work that way; she gets visions and feelings, nothing definite. For this one, sure enough, it’s an incredibly detailed Technicolor playback that gives her just about every aspect of the crime she’d need to know, not at all abstract or requiring interpretation. It’s cheap, basically.
She begins pursuing the woman, trying to get her to be honest about the killer’s description. The woman refuses because she’s scared. Toward the end of the episode she suddenly contacts Allison and agrees to meet with her – at the airport. Why? Well, she’s booked a flight out of the country, so NOW she feels safe enough to discuss the case. Yes, I know this makes no sense. She doesn’t feel safe under police protection but does feel safe in a public airport? It gets worse. She fingers the killer with an accurate description as an undercover cop but then gets up to leave and puts on…wait for it…a BRIGHT RED CLOAK. Allison asks the name of the killer. You know his name if you have an education over the 1st grade level: Wolf. He shows up, there’s a chase, and it’s all wrapped up in a nice tidy package just like in Allison’s dream.
Sounds bad, right? Well, it was actually one of the better episodes of the show. The reason for that is the problem I was worried about when I heard Caron was behind the show. The investigation portion I described only covers about a third of the episode. The rest is a very involving and well-written tale surrounding Allison’s middle daughter, six-year-old Bridgette. She’s having trouble making friends at school because she has a best friend that she plays with exclusively. Only one problem: The friend isn’t there. But he isn’t imaginary; he’s dead. Yes, Bridgette is starting to display the same gifts as her mother but isn’t old enough to understand them.
This brings a lot of tension into the Dubois household regarding how to handle this information. Joe does pretty well at handling and even encouraging Allison’s gifts, but now that Bridgette is showing the same abilities, he’s more than a little concerned about her social future. Allison sees the gifts as just that, gifts that should be used, but she’s also concerned about the life her daughter has ahead of her. The resolution is handled in a very touching, believable way.
Therein lies the problem with Medium. Caron has proven himself very adept at creating characters with quirks and crafting relationships between them in interesting and engaging ways. This creates a problem for Medium because every episode has two faces: the job and the family. The family stuff is universally fantastic. Joe and Allison are a completely believable couple, played by great actors. Their dialogue is witty without being too cute, and the way their family works and stays together is a refreshing change from the constant melodrama in other “family” shows. Even the actresses playing the kids do an excellent job and never quite fall into that “I’m ten but I talk like a 30-year-old” method that so many poorly written roles do.
The “job” stuff…it’s a mixed bag. The pilot episode I previously discussed and another, revolving around husbands who murder their wives and then commit suicide, were well done, if a little formulaic. (Case comes up, Allison finds a clue in a dream or vision, D.A. doubts her and reluctantly agrees to pursue, Allison solves the case.) The “wolf” episode and the most recent one, involving the murder of a detective where Allison is forced to testify in court and possibly reveal her abilities, were complete hack jobs. Not a single step of the crime aspect of these scripts was believable for even an instant. Allison’s abilities weren’t explored in any interesting ways but rather used as convenient plot devices to shove the investigation along whenever it got bogged down in its own ridiculous contrivances.
All that being said, I’m actually recommending Medium. Why? Well, first of all, this is a new show, and there’s always a chance that the scripts will get tighter as the writers learn the world they’re writing for and begin to sharpen their skills on more than the family stuff. The show’s already been picked up for a full 22-episode season, so they’ll have that time to work out the problems. Second, that family stuff is GOOD. I’m beginning to wish they’d drop the crime aspect altogether and just give us a show about this family and how they deal with the fact that mom knows way more than she should about, well, just about everything. It’s funny and endearing, with plenty of room for future stories and growth as time moves on.
For now, watch Medium not for the crime-solving aspect of the show, even if that may be the more “horrific” side of it. Watch it to see a very well done family “dramedy” with a supernatural twist. Besides, other than Lost, what else is worth watching on network TV?
(Grammnet Productions / Paramount Network Television)
Created by Glenn Gordon Caron
Starring Patricia Arquette, Jake Weber, Miguel Sandoval
3 out of 5