“The Mob Doctor”: “ER” meets “The Sopranos” meets “Dr. Faustus”

“The Mob Doctor” diagnosis: Cheesy, pulpy drama

Mob Doctor

From its opening — where a mob goon with a screwdriver impaled in his head needs an emergency removal — to its over-the-top acting of the pilot episode’s “guest star” Michael Rappaport, and everything in between, FOX’s new series The Mob Doctor, which premieres Sept. 17 at 9pm ET/PT and airs Mondays, is an odd pastiche of mob movie-meets medical drama-meets thriller, with some offbeat humor thrown in.

“It’s going to be fun to see how far we can push her,” says co-creator and co-executive producer Rob Wright. Wright is referring to the series’ main character, but he may as well be referring to the series itself, as the creators seem to have enjoyed pushing the envelope for escalating and outrageous plot twists, at least in the pilot episode, which at times resembles a pulp fiction-type novel.

That main character is Dr. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro, formerly of the TBS comedy My Boys), who — as her name implies — is torn between an angel and devil on her shoulder with her work. Grace is a top resident at a Chicago hospital, but to pay off her brother’s gambling debt, she makes a deal to work “off the book” as a physician for the mafia men she once despised. The drama comes not only with Grace getting sudden calls from these guys to, say, pull screwdrivers out of heads in dank back rooms, but also from her need to keep her double life a secret from those she cares about, including her colleagues at the hospital, which include her boyfriend, a fellow doctor.

From the pilot, a good part of the drama will also apparently come from Grace’s internal conflict as her debt to morally dubious characters increases, and she faces challenges to her Hippocratic Oath. Grace potentially joins the ranks of an increasing number of antiheroes on television, such as Walter White of Breaking Bad, and Wright and fellow creator Josh Berman (Drop Dead DivaBones) found that aspect of the character and story interesting.

“Inasmuch as you can shade characters that, you know, yes, have a moral compass but are put in morally gray situations and sometimes have to bend and push things, I think that’s fascinating and I think it makes for great drama and I think it’s what people want to see,” says Wright.

“We’ve really mapped out the whole first season,” adds Berman, “and there is an event in Grace’s personal life that will push her over that line, and she will do an action that she would not have done in the pilot. And we’re excited to watch her character grow and watch what we assume her morality would be change over the course of a season.”

Berman also sees a parallel to Drop Dead Diva in the whole “living two lives” theme.

“What I loved on Drop Dead Diva,” he says, “is in a sense, it’s two women living one life. And I thought, ‘Well, what if we reversed it and it’s one woman living two lives? ‘And once we hit on that and then, you know, neither of us had written the medical genre before. I’d spent ten years between CSI and Bones doing forensics and then a legal show. And the irony of that is my father’s a doctor, my mother’s a nurse, and the siblings and their spouses on both sides are all physicians. But it was nothing really to compel me to do a medical show. I felt like it had been covered on television. And then when Rob actually hit on this kind of genre  and it wasn’t until much, later that we found the book [Il Dottore, on which the series is loosely inspired] and everything crystallized. That there was a way in, that I hadn’t seen, until Rob started discussing it.”

“I mean,” continues Wright, “the thing that’s really interesting about it is it’s both kind of highfalutin’, highbrow and regular people too. You can say that it’s a reimagining of Dr. Faustus, you know, somebody who sold her soul to the devil. But it’s also ER meets The Sopranos, so it’s on two levels. It kind of works really great and it lets us put a character who’s being pulled in two directions in a way that we really haven’t seen before.”

The Mob Doctor airs Mondays at 9pm ET/PT on FOX beginning Sept. 17.

Photo: 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Patrick Ecclesine/FOX