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Marina Antunes [Cathode Ray Mission 08.22.12] scifi thriller



With the speed at which technology changes, one would assume that a medical thriller written in 1977 would be dated but leave it to Robin Cook to write a story that not only holds up in creepiness but that also works in today's landscape of advanced medical technology. Cook never struck me as a visionary but considering the continued success of "Coma," it's clear that the physician and writer is not only a great storyteller but also a forward thinker. The material has already been adapted (a very good film version starring Michael Douglas and Genevieve Bujold was directed by Michael Crichton a year after the book's release) and now thirty five years later it's the basis of a highly anticipated miniseries.

Updated from the novel by John J. McLaughlin (one of the co-writers of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan), "Coma" stars Lauren Ambrose as Susan Wheeler, a young med student completing her first surgical rotation at a hospital her grandfather helped found. The caring your woman, a bit too friendly for her co-workers and superiors, gets caught up in a web of mystery when two patients in as many days don't wake from their minor surgeries. Concerned that something strange is going on, Wheeler employs the help of her boss Dr. Bellows to help her uncover the mystery. As details begin to surface, arrows point towards the Jefferson Institute, a high-tech facility where coma patients are cared for.


The first hour of "Coma" leaves a lot to be desired. The opening of the series plays out like a mediocre medical drama complete with hospital politics, doomed/complicated personal relationships and character introductions that are crammed in for the sake of introducing all of the players up front. It moves at a snails pace and Ambrose, who was fantastic in "Six Feet Under," is completely lost amidst this story. Her wide eyed naivite begins as an annoying distraction but as the story progresses into hour two, she seems to find her groove, as does the show. Where the first hour is crammed with characters and exposition, slowing the pace to near dead stop, the second hour is a full out thriller.

As Wheeler's investigation of the comas intensifies and she begins to make connections, "Coma" gets interesting. There are a couple of great sequences, Michael Weston's chase of Ambrose through an empty medical building is particularly chilling, as is Ellen Burstyn as Mrs. Emerson, the gatekeeper of the Jefferson Institute. She, along with a number of other individuals, become key players in the second hour of the series and it's clear that they'll play an even larger role in the final two hours.

Though the first hour of "Coma" leaves a lot to be desired, the second hour is a completely different beast and one that more than makes up for the show's rocky start. The major cliff-hanger at the end of the second hour guarantees I'll be tuning in to see how the story unfolds and what other mysteries lie hidden because one thing is certain: this goes a lot deeper than a bunch of power hungry doctors with God complexes letting their research run amuck. Having a huge roster of great actors, including Geena Davis, James Woods and Richard Dreyfuss certainly helps.

"Coma" premieres on A & E on September 3rd with the first two episodes (clocking in at just under three hours this will be a four hour affair after commercials) and concludes on September 4th.

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