Bunker Hill (CBS) pilot preview: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, let’s save lives!

Bunkerhill

Created and executive produced by Jason Katims (The PathParenthood, Friday Night Lights, Boston Public, Roswell). Based on a draft by by Sarah Watson (Parenthood, The Middleman). Directed by David Semel (Code Black, Dr House, Person of Interest, American Dreams). Also executive produced by Michelle Lee (The Path, About a Boy). For NBC, Universal Television, CBS Television Studios & True Jack Productions. 67 pages.

Description: The story of the unlikely alliance between James Bell, a young Silicon Valley tech titan billionaire and Walter Wallace, a veteran surgeon with a controversial past, to start together a hospital with a cutting edge, “new school” approach to medicine called Bunker Hill…

With Dermot Mulroney (Shameless US, New Girl, Enlightened, My Best Friend’s Wedding), Augustus Prew (About a Boy, Kick-Ass 2, Klondike), Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zach And Cody), Odette Annable (Dr House, Banshee, October Road), Reshma Shetty (Royal Pains), Ward Horton (One Life to Live, Annabelle), Aaron Jennings

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Nowadays, when a new medical drama is coming our way, the inevitable question is: is it more like ER or Grey’s Anatomy? Last year, at pilot stage, Code Black made me feel like it wanted to be ER but couldn’t help being more of a high-octane Grey’s Anatomy. LFE, the other medical pilot ordered at CBS at the time, was clearly a Grey’s Anatomy new generation, with a cable feel. Heartbeat at NBC was just an update of Grey’s Anatomy, with an older heroine and without the Shonda’s touch. With Bunker Hill, I have to admit it’s hard to tell. Which is a good sign. A very good one indeed. I don’t want to be presomptuous, but I feel like it has a good chance to become something if it’s picked-up. The “cutting edge” approach, which seemed weak to me when I read the pitch, is on the contrary its biggest strength. The show works a bit like a window on the future of medecine and the future of the hospital experience for both the patients and the medical staff. It’s fascinating and engaging.

The project written by Sarah Watson was first set up at CBS last year with a put pilot commitment, but it didn’t make it. The idea was revisited this year with a new take written by Jason Katims himself. I think we don’t give enough credit to this guy. Okay, he’s no Shonda Rhimes or Greg Berlanti, his shows are never huge hits but they’re always damn good. As a producer, he’s responsible for the incredible The Path at Hulu, which premieres in a few days, and he has scored pilot orders at HBO (Us.) and Showtime (Mating). Bunker Hill is his only network drama in the works at the time and I really hope CBS will give it a chance. He already failed to get a series order with his previous medical drama attempt a few years ago, County at NBC.

The pilot of Bunker Hill starts the day Walter Wallace gets fired from the Cincinnati hospital he worked for decades. A child patient died because of him. Wrong decision at the worst time. Six months later, he’s still unemployed and accept to visit a hospital far from his home and family in California, one which apparently wants him. And the whole episode consists of convincing him to stay. He’s welcomed by Angie, a geeky Asian programmer who scans his whole body in 3D (!) and the famous James Bell, a young magnetic billionaire, brilliant and totally unapologetic, that I would described as a nicer and crazier Dr House. He rocks. It’s a classic but efficient confrontation between an old-school doctor and a young brilliant mind. They make one hell of a duo.

Other characters are Zoe, an idealistic physician; Scott, the McSteamy of the hospital, an intense neurologist; Malick, an afro-american who defies our traditional idea of a doctor with his street vibe and countless tatoos; and finally Talaikha, who officially gets the award of “most complicated character name of pilot season” – she’s Doctor Channarayapatra! She may or may not have a crush on Wallace, despite the age difference. That’s all I’m saying. This diverse group made me wanna stay longer in Bunker Hill. There’s a lot to do with each one of them. They are portrayed just the right way. Just as Jason Katims knows how to. We’re given enough informations to care about them already and we feel there’s still plenty to give away in subsequent episodes. The patients and their medical cases are also taken care of properly, with sensibility. And the way they are treated, thanks to new technologies and bold thinking, is not the same as in every other medical shows. What becomes boring in Grey’s Anatomy sometimes -because they already did almost everything- is refreshed here.

The hospital itself is a character. We follow Wallace in his discovery of this incredible place, where there is for example a zen garden, where families wait for informations about their loved ones in a soothing environment; or an incubator, a real geek’s paradise with high-tech gadgets, a ping-pong table, for the doctors. In every patient’s room, there’s a “wonder wall”, a huge screen where doctors can get all the informations they need about the patient, that can turn into anything the patient want when the doctors are away, like an image of a Buddhist Temple or of the earth rising over the moon… All of this is impressive and exciting (and could be costly for the production).

Bunker Hill looks like the new medical drama we were all waiting for and networks are looking for a long time : it feels fresh, distinctive from what we are used to in the genre; warmhearted, optimistic; incarnate. I really hope CBS will give it a chance, whatever they decide to do with Code Black, which is on the fence for renewal at the time. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, CBS!

One comment

  1. tash says:

    When I first saw CBS, I stopped reading your preview and then I realized Jason Katims was involved. I’m obsessed with the guy. As you say, “he’s no Shonda Rhimes or Greg Berlanti” and that’s exactly what I expect him not to be. He’s just telling stories and if people are not willing to give it a try, it’s their loss.
    I will definitely watch the pilot if it gets ordered to series.

    Thank you for your article 😉

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