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NBC's out-of-body Saving Hope may have a ghost of a chance

Bedside manners in out-of-body Saving Hope. NBC photo
Premiering: Thursday, June 7th at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Michael Shanks, Erica Durance, Daniel Gillies, Julia Taylor Ross
Produced by: Ilana Frank, David Wellington

One minute you're on the way to your wedding. Then bang-o, your fiance suffers a serious head wound and lapses into a coma just minutes after you've been making out in a broadsided taxi cab.

NBC's new summertime medical drama, the made-in-Canada Saving Hope, takes this premise and runs fairly well with it. Although out-of-body experiences are getting to be pretty damned commonplace these days. Even Mad Men was on acid for an episode this season. And CBS' recently canceled A Gifted Man focused on an ego-driven doctor trying to interact with his concience-brandishing deceased wife.

This time the walking (near-)dead is divorced chief of surgery Charlie Harris (Michael Shanks), whose new bride was supposed to be chief surgical resident Alex Reid (Erica Durance). Instead he's left to wander the halls of Hope Zion Hospital in formal dress with bow tie askew.

"There's no real test for this," he muses. "I am having an out-of-body experience in a tuxedo. Wake up, you dumb bastard."

He's speaking to his comatose self while Alex wanders around in a daze when she's not counseling patients in a sometimes syrupy manner. Still, there are some solidly affecting scenes in Thursday's premiere episode. Next week's hour, subtitled "Contact," also has its moments. But one of them isn't the tired hospital drama standby of a dying woman whose religion prohibits her from having a blood transfusion or taking drugs.

Saving Hope's third wheel is Dr. Joel Goran (Daniel Gillies), a jaunty ladies' man who used to date Alex. The character is cocksure while also being likable. And he has a very nicely acted exchange with Alex near the close of Episode 1. It ends with her telling him, "You're a lot of things, Joel. But you're not nice."

Well, he's not that bad either. And his self-confident 'tude is often preferable to the preachments of ghostly Charlie, who sounds a bit in tone like Dr. Gregory House but isn't much of a match in the dialogue department. That's not the actor's fault, though. And some of what he says does manage to resonate.

The series hopes to pull viewers along with both individual patient cases and the week-to-week prospects of flat-on-his-back Charlie, who shows a fleeting sign of life next Thursday. The best case so far is an American war hero who's uncommonly eager to have his tumor-impaired right arm amputated rather than try to save it with alternative forms of treatment. His story is resolved during Thursday's opening episode.

The Big Four broadcast networks mostly resort to hot weather regimens of ill-considered or sick-in-the-head reality series. Saving Hope may be a nice curative in that respect. Its characters are comparatively compelling even when they're falling a little short.

So perhaps hovering Charlie's watchwords to his fiancee will also serve to keep viewers on the hook. She can't hear him, but you can. "Don't you give up on me," he tells her. "I'm still here."

GRADE: B-minus