'The Mob Doctor' mimics Chicago's past, while 'Revolution' creates a new future

Fall TV premieres conjour up different versions of the same city

September 18, 2012

The Mob Doctor: Yup, you guessed it by the name alone 

"This isn’t legal" one hunky doctor says to another. "Well then it's a good thing we’re not lawyers," the next replies.

That's the kind of meaningless-yet-meaningful thing you'll hear a lot of tuning into FOX's The Mob Doctor, the first of several pilots slotted for the fall television season that were filmed here in Chicago. Mob Doctor premiered Monday night, and if episode one tells us anything about the coming season, the show plans to bring Chicagoans exactly what doesn't apply to their lives in any reasonable manner.

Dr. Grace Devlin is played by Jordana Spiro, who I'd be remiss if I didn't point out seems to love the city, despite her New York upbringing; she previously starred in TBS' sitcom My Boys, which was also set here. Right at the beginning, we get it; Devlin takes risks. There she is as a young girl, standing with a dead body on the ground in a field located in what we're told is Bridgeport, with the Willis Tower looming in the bacgkround.

What we're led to understand is that Devlin grew into a doctor at Roosevelt Medical Center (which looks something like Rush University Medical) but hasn't left her mob connected youth behind, which has led to some complicated saving of lives for low-lifes, and being pressured into accidentally-on-purpose losing the lives of others.

The stuff with the mob is interesting, if relatively unbelievable. For instance, this card, which was delivered at Devlin's place of business:

Subtle, no?

And then the heavy-handed prove-we're-in-Chicago bits: a dog named Wrigley (which makes no sense for the name of an animal presumably owned by South Siders), a bad guy named Moretti (always the name for bad guys), and a former, now risen-again mob boss Constantine Alexander, who we learn was sent to prison in 1997:

And lines like,"Grace, I realize that you’re a plucky South Side girl who became a big city doctor. but you are no better than anyone else here" delivered from an angry coworker.

Is Mob Doctor about crime and corruption in Chicago? Is it about the corruption of the medical community (a plot point about how a nurse is a mole in the hospital for the mob had me rolling my eyes)? Is it a new Grey's Anatomy (it's got Shonda Rimes-approved man meat for it and immaculate conceptions)? Is it the new ER/Chicago Hope? The Good Wife, with court cases mixed in (Detective Anthony Burton makes an appearance, this time on the wrong side of the law)?

Or is it about a Chicago that pop culture likes to think Chicago is but doesn't exist anymore, really -- a mob that runs the town in plain sight?

There's the little stuff that doesn't make sense: driving to a mansion in the suburbs takes no time, car chases quickly move from Lakeview to under the Green line El in the West Loop, "getting out of Bridgeport" is a thing. But the big stuff is this idea that the city's biggest problem is this unavoidable mob culture that you just can't escape, instead of our reality of a segregated city with huge economic disparities and a rampant gang culture.

At least the local TV news looks about right.

 
A Revolution in the way you'll see the city

Despite the fact that not a stitch was shot in Chicago, the pilot episode of NBC's Revolution does a better job with the city's legacy than Mob Doctor. I'm no J.J. Abrams uber-fan (LOST was just tiring) but flashing forward to a future where electricity doesn't exist anymore and we're in some sort of I Am Legend post-apocalypse, but with some science fiction and Wild West influenced? A place where these postcards are considered gems?

Count me in. This is a Chicago I can get behind: one that's entirely imagined, not slightly.

The remnants of O'Hare. 

 The Mob Doctor airs Monday nights on FOX at 8 pm central; Revolution is on NBC at 9 pm central.