Spring 2014 Review: Black Box

30 Apr

Kerry Reilly and her Black Box

Spoiler alert: The titular black box refers to the human brain.

Sorry if I just blew your mind there (or your black box, so to speak), but I wanted to let you know what you’re up against. The show states this explicitly about three quarters of the way through, but if you can’t figure it out within about fifteen minutes, you’re in serious trouble.

Black Box fits nicely into the category of shows where the main character is an absolute genius at his or her job but has debilitating problems equal to their genius bringing down their personal lives. (I could, and perhaps should, make a comprehensive list of these shows one day, but importantly, House is the modern example which inspired a legion of followers). Kelly Reilly plays protagonist Catherine Black (Yes, the show Black Box  and her name is Black – the meaning is double, and I’m ashamed to say it took me reading her name maybe 10 times before I figured that one ount) is a brilliant and famous neurologist. She also has a deeply serious and secret case of bipolar disorder which has caused and continues to cause serious issues in her life. She’s able to keep her life functional when she takes her meds; unfortunately she also has penchant for not taking those very meds and throwing them out instead in her irresistible drive towards the fruits of a manic high (please excuse me if any of this sounds pejorative – any judgment is against the show, and not at all the condition).

The show is told through the plot device of a talk with her shrink, played by Vanessa Redgrave, who really, honestly, has got to be able to find better work than this with her resume. Catherine recounts the events of the pilot to the shrink, and Redgrave responds occasionally with questions and commentary. Redgrave knows about Catherine’s condition, as does her beloved brother, less beloved sister-in-law, and super beloved niece, who ends up to actually be her daughter, who she gave up to her brother because she didn’t believe she was fit to be a parent with her bipolar disorder.

No one associated with her job knows about her condition and it’s apparently integral that they never find out. She reveals her condition to her boyfriend during the pilot, terrified he’ll leave her when he finds out but he appears to be at least initially supportive.

There’s some fake-ambitious vaguely hallucinogenic manic sequences in her flashback, which seem like they’re aiming to be sophisticated but come of ass confusing, faux arty, and not particularly helpful, interesting, or revelatory.

There’s a case-of-the-week aspect. There are two cases actually in the first episode. Catherine spars with workplace rivals over the problems, and comes up with solutions, or the lack of solutions when helpful; one elderly patient has a rare condition when she talks with a non-existant small person – drugs can treat it, but if it makes her, already deteriorating mentally irreversibly, feel better, why treat it.

I’m not sure if this show thinks it’s asking deeper questions about mental conditions and the brain; I lean towards believing it doesn’t actually think that, while trying to vaguely acknowledge that those questions exist (which only makes me hunger for a show which deals with those questions in a much more interesting and compelling way.) This, is, a poor, poor, man’s third tier House, no more and no less.

I thought there was a chance Black Box would be truly terrible, and instead it was just really derivative and seriously sub-par. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but calling a compliment is generous. Still, it’s just lousy and not truly putrid. I was a little bit confused at the end of the first episode about the events of the show, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case probably meant the plot was simply poorly told. There was an original idea for a character a show tackling mental health in a serious way, but the idea was a superficial one, put over all the tropes of typical procedurals.

Additionally, quick props to apparently having some of their science correct. I watched the pilot with someone who knew what they were talking about on the show, and identified what the case-of-the-week subjects had before the show identified them.

Will I watch it again? No. Honestly, the title is the best part of the show, and I surprisingly mean this because it’s a pretty good title more than I mean because it’s not a very good show, although it isn’t. Black Box really could have been the title of a better show.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: