ABC’s new series, “Black Box,” is attempting to mash-up a handful of TV tropes we’ve seen before — medical drama plots, soap opera histrionics, a mental illness-plagued protagonist — and none of them work. “Black Box” is essentially the tale of brilliant neuroscientist Catherine Black (Kelly Reilly), who also suffers from bipolar disorder. Catherine is the leader in her field and even more gifted when she’s manic, but her disorder is ruining her life (and threatening her professional career).
She’s got a loyal, caring boyfriend in Will (David Ajala), who is unaware Catherine is bipolar. She also has a loving brother Joshua (David Chisum), who’s always been there for Catherine, even when they were children suffering under their mother’s bipolar disorder. Catherine is also a big role model to her niece Esme (Siobhan Williams), much to the chagrin of Esme’s mother (Laura Fraser).
At the neurological research center (“The Cube”), Catherine is fixing various brains with serious conditions while occasionally skipping meds and having a manic episode (which happens away from work too). She’s eventually found out by brain surgeon/a-hole womanizer, Dr. Bickman (Ditch Davey).
This whole setup is hardly original, and its execution is like lesser versions of “House,” “E.R.,” “United States of Tara” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” The medical stuff is boring. The romance between Catherine and Will is so we-can’t-we-can (and filled with infidelity) that there’s no way they’d be together — and this is after only three episodes. The stuff with Catherine, her brother and his family is possibly the most overwrought and melodramatic plotting — that’s completely predictable, to boot — aspect of the whole series.
While the storytelling is perfunctory, the performances — especially from Reilly when she’s in a manic phase — are downright ridiculous. Every actor attempts to infuse the utmost emotion into every face-palmingly stupid line and/or scene. It makes for a completely dreadful dynamic.
For a series focusing on the brain and characters that are supposed to be incredibly intelligent, “Black Box” is laughably dumb. Don’t waste your time (or brain cells) on this one.
Photo courtesy ABC