Since Dr. House hung up his cane and stethoscope, the TV landscape has been looking for the next genius doctor who also happens to have “issues.” House, played brilliantly by Hugh Laurie, walked with a cane, was addicted to Vicodin, and drove his fellow doctors crazy because of his outsized ego. Now we have Dr. Catherine Black (Kelly Reilly), a neurologist who is an expert on the brain, dubbed the “black box” because it contains all the mysteries behind how humans function. (Like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, the show draws its name from a medical reference which also happens to be the name of the main character.)
Like House, Catherine Black is smart, yet behind her high functioning exterior is a woman on the verge. Bipolar, like her mother, Catherine experiences wild mood swings. In her manic stage, she becomes a sexual addict, sleeping with the first man she meets, oftentimes never finding out his name. She abuses drugs, lies to her boyfriend, and mourns the loss of her daughter, being raised by her brother and his wife. Phew! And that’s just in the first episode.
The show follows a predictable House-like pattern. We meet a patient whose symptoms are confusing and don’t lead to an easy diagnosis. In the first episode, Carrie, a young woman who babysits for a rambunctious child during the day and attends school at night, collapses in a supermarket. She tells the doctors she saw her head exploding. (We’re treated to the special effect, her headless body tumbling to the ground as brain matter splatters all over the frozen food counter.) Catherine suspects cocaine abuse, but even that diagnosis can’t explain everything happening to Carrie.
Meanwhile, Dr. Raynaud (Edward Herrmann), a skilled surgeon who is diagnosed with a brain tumor, continues to operate even though he’s impaired. His patient dies and now he’s facing death, too. Catherine, who regards Raynaud as a mentor, takes over his care and encourages him to reach out to his estranged son before he dies.
Raynaud’s declaration that he doesn’t want to die alone causes Catherine to reach out to her daughter, Esme, even though her sister-in-law, citing a past incident, warns her to stay away. Esme, a pianist, is being considered for a scholarship to a prestigious arts academy and although Catherine wants to attend, she agrees not to. Her brother, however, calls Catherine on his cellphone so she can hear Esme play during her audition. Walking home, Catherine holds up the phone and dances to the music.
Kelly Reilly, whose hometown is Surrey, England, has an impressive list of credentials for film, stage, and TV, on both sides of the pond. While many viewers will recognize her face, they might not be as familiar with her work. Black Box will certainly raise her visibility with the American audience. She’s very convincing as Catherine, no matter the character’s state of mind.
Another reason to watch? Vanessa Redgrave plays Catherine’s shrink and any time we get to watch this icon at work, we’re grateful. The supporting cast also shows great potential: Ditch Davey, as the handsome yet lecherous Dr. Ian Bickman; David Ajala, as Catherine’s boyfriend, Will; Ali Wong, as medical technician, Linda Lark (resembling Pauley Perrette’s Abby on NCIS).
With House gone and Grey’s Anatomy aging out, Black Box could be just what the doctor ordered.
Black Box can be seen at 10 p.m. Thursday on ABC.