Mr. Coogan's So-Called Television Column

Patricia Arquette communicates with dead family and friends of people she meets. It’s as if the spirits follow these people around and she can see and speak to them but no one else can.

OK…I’m interested.

She also can learn intimate details about a person or see what a person has done in their life simply by talking to them or even reading a questionnaire he/she filled out.

Wow!

She has vivid dreams and sees events that happened that no one else has seen or knows about.

And this is all part of a television series? It sounds kind of like a kinder, gentler X-Files but equally intriguing!

She uses her abilities to solve crimes and help the local D.A. prosecuting cases.

Shit! Now it sounds like Law & Order from the dead! That sucks!

* * * * * *

It’s hard to imagine a television series devoted to such mystical and mysterious topics as communicating with the dead and reading minds would devolve into something predictable and procedural, but unfortunately, NBC’s new offering, Medium does just that. For those looking for something new, fresh and interesting, there might be better options out there as the networks ease into the mid-season point of the 2004-05 TV season.

Despite its fairly complicated ideas and the definite need of the audience to suspend all disbelief to understand it and enjoy it, Medium doesn’t have a complex premise. Arquette plays Allison Dubois, a wife and mother of three in her mid-30s in suburban Phoenix looking for a point to her life. She began law school and ended up taking an internship at the local district attorney’s office.

While there, she discovered that her strange psychic powers that she’s had since she was a child where she can piece together chains of events while only hearing snippets of information, speak to the dead and learn intimate details about a person simply by meeting them briefly or reading a questionnaire he/she filled out. Initially, no one believes in anything she has to say and considers her theories to be nonsense. However, in the pilot episode, her powers lead her to some revelations that help solve two major crimes, one in the Phoenix area and one in Texas as well. From there, that leads to her quitting law school and basically becoming a freelance consultant to the Phoenix D.A. office. The series is actually based on real life events and the real Alison Dubois acts as a consultant on the show. (In fact, you can read her bio on the NBC Web site.)

Of the two episodes that NBC has aired to this point, the pilot showed how formulaic a show like this can be. Allison sees a crime being committed, no one believes her “crazy” hunches until she makes a startling discovery that convinces the people she associates with that she’s right and everyone is amazed in how she was able to figure out what happened.

Episode #2, titled “Suspicions and Uncertainties,” showed a little more creativity and was more interesting as Allison (and the audience looking on) discovers she can see and learn intimate details about people’s lives simply by reading a prospective juror questionnaire. In doing so, the D.A. (played on the straight and narrow by Miguel Sandoval) hired Allison to pick a prospective jury for him on a death sentence case, basically overriding what a high priced jury consultant offered the D.A. When the jury comes back from a sentencing hearing in very little time, the D.A. hails Allison’s abilities and it opens the door for her to be more involved in other cases in the series.

The series’ second episode was also valuable because the audience learned that Allison isn’t 100 percent right in the visions she experiences and her occasional flubs may generate some interesting tension in the series later on.

However, despite Medium‘s fairly intriguing second episode, previews for Episode #3 indicate the series will morph back into the predictability exhibited in the pilot instead of building on the creativity shown in writing Episode #2. If that’s the case, the earlier comment about Law & Order from the dead won’t be far off and that’s a shame.

Arquette’s portrayal of Allison Dubois is also largely flat and borderline annoying. Despite what appears to be a real effort on her part, she often appears borderline catatonic and about as interested as the cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would be in the Super Bowl…the actual game I mean.

When she isn’t appearing disinterested, she manages to drag out the negative qualities of the character in such a remarkable way, it’s close to impossible to root for her or even have any respect for her. She frequently yells at her blindly understanding husband (played admirably by Jake Weber) or whines about not having any work to do while hubby is the primary breadwinner working as some sort of smarty pants scientist. It’s almost as if the husband is with Allison simply because she puts out occasionally and poor Weber is only there playing the part because he needs the work.

However, now that the D.A. has a need for Allison on will likely be a more “permanent basis,” as the series progresses, perhaps Allison will tone it down, be nice and actually act a little more rationally. And with that, let’s hope that Arquette doesn’t feel the need to emphasize poor Allison’s negative traits.

Overall, through two episodes of the new series, Medium doesn’t mean spiritual intermediary or psychic, it stands for its alternate definition: average or standard. The show has a chance to shine if the episode plots aren’t specifically devoted to Allison having visions and solving crimes and if Arquette wakes up from her slumber and gets more into the character she’s playing.

Then again, Medium‘s pilot averaged a startling16 million viewers. So, unless a precipitous drop-off occurs in the next couple of weeks, other network executives are going to ignore reviews like this one and develop copycat series and NBC will ignore reviews like this and focus on the ones that have nice quotes they can include in their future press kits…

Well, I appreciate my opinion anyway…

— Coogan

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