TV review: Coma

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From the August 30, 2012 edition

When the two-night mini-series “Coma” is over I don’t know how many people will be satisfied, but I suspect a lot will have tuned in. That “Coma” is produced by Hollywood directors Ridley Scott and his recently deceased brother, Tony, will inevitably draw eyes, but TV mini-series usually get really good ratings — see the History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys.” Even if they don’t have the quality of some of the best ongoing series, audiences tune in because it’s a quick and usually entertaining story that requires little investment.

“Coma” is a medical thriller based on a Robin Cook novel (and a Michael Crichton-directed movie starring Michael Douglas from 1978) in which a young medical student discovers that an unusual number of surgery patients are winding up in comas. Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) stars as Susan Wheeler, the medical student who quickly finds an ally and love interest in Dr. Mark Bellows (Steven Pasquale) as the conspiracy begins to ratchet up.

Besides two solid leads in Ambrose and Pasquale — who breaks away from the dumb, purely comedic relief role he played on “Rescue Me” — “Coma” boasts a strong ensemble cast that includes James Woods, Richard Dreyfuss, Geena Davis and Ellen Burstyn. The first night of the mini-series does a good job of introducing these characters while building the suspense towards a climax that works well as a cliffhanger.

But the second night of “Coma” is marred by inconsistency. Once the groundwork has been laid, the plot should move into fast-paced, shifty conspiracy thriller mode. Instead, it actually loses steam. Yes, the action is amplified, but at times, the story doesn’t really go anywhere. Even more confusing is that once everything starts to come together again, it just ends — abruptly.