Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) is a surgical resident at a prestigious Chicago hospital. However, as the title of her TV series, The Mob Doctor, plainly announces, she does some work for the mafia on the side. Her servitude to organized crime is due to a deal with violent mob boss Paul Moretti (Michael Rappaport) to get her brother (Jesse Lee Soffer) out of a gambling debt. Unfortunately, while Grace is an able doctor, she’s a less successful negotiator; her agreement with Moretti is completely open-ended, leaving her on 24-hour call both to him and to the hospital.
The Mob Doctor could have just as easily been called The Good Doctor, given the debt it owes to The Good Wife, specifically, its revamping of the serial procedural. At its core, The Good Wife is a standard lawyer show with a weekly case or two that is wrapped up at the end of the episode. But the show has been lauded because of the initial premise of a political wife forced to rethink her life due to her husband’s public scandal, that is, the focus on the woman. What has sustained the show over three seasons are the rich characterizations of Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and her colleagues that have emerged during the various crises and cases they take on, whether as a team and as adversaries.
Similarly, The Mob Doctor resembles the conventional medical procedure. In the pilot episode, airing 17 September, Grace is confronted with three patients, each with a storyline to be resolved by the end of the episode. As in other medical shows, from ER and House to Grey’s Anatomy and Crossing Jordan, the patients are occasions for displays of the doctors’ ingenuity, cases to be solved more than characters. As such, they’re pretty predictable, in part because we’ve seen just about every indignity and horror that screenwriters can dream up for the human body. The Mob Doctor doesn’t press the novelty angle as much as say, House, which seems a wise decision on the writers’ part. Instead, each patient poses a moral dilemma that highlights Grace’s own ongoing predicament. None of these presents an easy solution.
Even if the array of cases seems formulaic, The Mob Doctor is not only another procedural. Like The Good Wife, it features strong relationships among diverse characters. Grace is trapped between the hospital and the mafia, and her family is stuck there with her. Having grown up on the South Side, she is more familiar and even comfortable around the criminals she knows than the doctors where she works. During the premiere episode, Grace shares a warm exchange with Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe), a former mob boss recently released from prison, who knows her family and is somewhat of a father figure to her.
The complexity of this relationship is not replicated in any Grace has with her medical associates. At the hospital, she’s hiding something, of course, and so she remains removed, even from her boyfriend, fellow doctor Brett Robinson (Zach Gilford). She does have a formidable mentor in Chief of Surgery Stafford White (Zeljko Ivanek), who may be the only person on the show with the gravitas to battle Alexander for Grace’s soul. (We can only hope that eventually Forsythe and Ivanek will face off on screen; the two actors have done some of the best work on TV in recent years as truly terrifying supporting characters on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Big Love.)
As she tries to accommodate—or mollify—both mentors, Grace makes choices that affect everyone around her. These include not only the life-and-death decisions typical of the hospital show, but also ethical calls regarding loyalties and betrayals. Even though the show is careful to stress that Grace’s situation is not her fault, she embodies an intriguing moral ambiguity, suggesting that it might not have taken too much of a nudge for her to have chosen the mafia route from the start, rather than going into legitimate medicine.
While Grace must seek to do right, The Mob Doctor is most compelling when she has to sort out what that is, and also when she has to justify what she does wrong. By the end of the pilot, after one especially satisfying twist in the narrative, we’re left with the idea that a series of nets are tightening around Grace. The police have taken notice of her. The mafia has pulled her in closer. Her coworkers at the hospital are building up a list of grievances and suspicions. All of this suggests that the serial will continue to be served by the procedural, and not the other way around.