off the map review 'Off the Map' review: Doctors without borders or much of a clue

Shonda Rhimes, the hardest working woman in prime time medical soaps, makes her biggest leap yet from the comfort of “Grey’s Anatomy” with the premiere of ABC’s “Off the Map.”

Created by “Grey’s” scribe Jenna Bans, the series follows a group of new recruits trying to find themselves at a South American medical station. The location is remote — but apparently not so remote that there aren’t enough people to constantly be in need of emergency care and populate a bar, strangely attired with modern conveniences.

Stacking it up against its peers — which we’re sort of obliged to do — “OTM” doesn’t immediately grab us the way “Grey’s” or “Private Practice” did — though the latter did suffer an admittedly rocky start. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that there seems to be a bit of an identity crisis happening here.

They’re pitching a personal and presumably sexy-type character drama, but the primary trio — played by Caroline Dhavernas (“Wonderfalls”), Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”) and Mamie Gummer (“John Adams”) — are so closed off about their lives back home, we end the pilot knowing little about them.

On the flip side, there are the medical storylines, which focus a great deal on lack of communication when treating people in a foreign land. These do nothing to help the characters. For the most part, they come across so stereotypically ignorant Americans, unwilling to listen to the people they’re treating. (Gilford’s character, despite having finished medical school, needs to be told what a “gringo” is.)

Even after their inevitable “a-ha” moments, they still speak in loud, labored English when explaining diagnoses. Their development will have to be gradual, as the rules of serial television dictate, but it did afford one stand-out scene in the pilot:

After ignoring an elderly woman complaining of poor breathing throughout the episode, Mina (Gummer) discovers she is actually just asthmatic. She holds an inhaler up to her mouth and shows her how to use it. The woman follows her lead and, for the first time in her life, takes a full, clear breath. It’s sweet and satisfying and shows promise for how “OTM” might be able to find its footing.

Another case for the show is the actors. Dhavernas has long been an underused powerhouse in need of a starring vehicle, Gilford — though a bit of a jerk thus far — helped create of the best TV characters of the past decade in “Friday Night Lights” Matt Saracen and Gummer, as we already mentioned, is more than capable.

The rest of the players don’t have good will in their corner. Famously ejected “Twilight” alum Rachelle Lefevre only appears for a moment, and Martin Henderson barely registers, despite plenty of screen time and filling the “McDreamy” spot. American-born Valerie Cruz — who’s always been great in roles on “Dexter,” “True Blood” and “Nip/Tuck” — unfortunately falls flat, playing local doctor Zitajalehrena Alvarez like one of the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” doing a Sofia Vergara impersonation. 

But if you’re at all keen on “Off the Map,” this shouldn’t, and likely will not, dissuade you. Pilots are rarely as magical as we hope them to be, and all of the over-thinking that accompanies a mid-season delay can be more of a burden than a boon. This could be the case here.

Our best prescription would be to watch one or two episodes, and let us know if you aren’t feeling any better.

Posted by:Mikey O'Connell