Royal pains and extra extras

Royal Pains deputed on USA last week.  The new episode is tonight at 10:00.  

It’s a morality tale about a young doctor pushed from the great heights of his post at a Manhattan hospital.  His sin: moral judgment.  He let a rich man die to save a poor one.  Now with debts increasing, his fiancee decamped, and depression beckoning, his only real option is to become a concierge doctor in the Hamptons. 

People in the Hamptons have so much status, they don’t defer to doctors.  And they have so much money, they don’t much bother with morals.  What they really need a doctor who will work to hire, and then look the other way.  Without his once God-like armor, Hank is vulnerable to corruption.  What will happen to our hero?

There are no soft spots in this casting.  Hank played by Mark Feurerstein is very good.  He’s maturing into the kind of actor who’s learned how do more with less.  His younger brother, played by Paulo Costanzo, is perhaps even better.  In the manner of all younger brothers, his strategy is to do more with more.  And some of the bit players are dazzling.  (See especially Ezra Miller as Tucker and Meredith Hagner as Libby) 

The dialogue is lively.  That supporting player, Tucker, explains a traffic accident that has just occurred:

“That tree came out of no where.”

His girlfriend: “Actually, it came out of the ground.”

Tucker: “Yes, but did it have the right of way.”

And the dialogue can be moving.  When Tucker goes into arrest of some kind, Libby pleads with our hero:

“You have to save him.  He’s Tucker.” 

On the page, this looks like rich kid entitlement.  But on the screen, it tells us that in these parts Tucker is mythic…or that in Libby’s life he is.

But the thing that really charmed me was the way the scene is dressed with extras.  Hollywood has made an art of peopled a scene with people that supply context without distracting us from the action or the actors.  In a manner of speaking, extras are sketched in.  Defining details are withheld.  Particularities are forbidden.  Extras are flushed through any given scene to give us the sense that this scene is set “downtown” or in an “office building.”  Extras are generic people and nothing more. 

But Royal Pains appears to dial up the specificity.  These extras are extra-extras, not just genre but kind of actual.  They are so distinctive that several times I stopped looking at the action and the actors and starting looking at the bit players. 

Under the pressure from the indie scene and a general trend in our culture, Hollywood has been shifting from formula to something more actual for some time now.  But it has done it, except in the case of the indie cinema, by relatively invisible degrees.  We follow suit, resetting our tolerances in kind, barely aware that a change of some interest and substance is taking place.

Royal Pains may tell us that a further reprogramming is under way.  If you happen to see Royal Pains tonight, please let me know if you think something is going on. 

6 thoughts on “Royal pains and extra extras

  1. Tom Brzezina

    I saw the debut last week, too. And, like you, I was charmed. What struck me is that it didn’t feel like a TV show. It felt like a movie. I thought this may have been because it was a debut, with character exposition, etc. So I watched it again on DVR and decided it was more than that. There was a certain movieness about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the dialed-up ‘specificity’. Or maybe that’s just part of it. Anyway, I’m looking forward to tonight’s episode to see if it hits me the same way. Based on last week’s episode, though, I agree with you. There definitely is something going on.

  2. Susan

    I saw it, I liked it, and I know what you mean about the extras – at the motel were they are staying, it’s all fat white turistas with dimpled butts. At the party they were all sleek, predatory super models…

  3. Scott Ellington

    Having seen only the pilot, I paused to research coincidence in the surnames of two of this show’s executive producers. Just, you know, in case there was an in-joke regarding nepotism, inbreeding, bloodlines, hemophilia or cyberchondira. Frank, Frank and Kwatinetz Google like there’s no tomorrow…in career-paths that help to explain (what look to me like) phenomenal production values; two cameras, boom and crane shots, fresh transitions, propusive montage, lavish exterior locations, and tons of eye-catching extras.
    I hadn’t realized that Campbell Scott did ANY television. Now I know that it’s a very old family tradition, like irreducible integrity.
    The pilot seeds fields of wonderful unresolved utterly-American conflict (that Gatsby only touched upon) awaiting the diametrically opposed brothers Lawson. I have very high hopes that this television show is truly About Something more than the gradual decline and corruption of a towering mensch into a lame-ass concierge physician.

  4. Amy Alkon

    Grant, I wouldn’t read a word of a review of a TV show but I read every word of yours. I’ve been meaning to watch this show — seen the previews — and I’m very interested to observe what you say about the extras. About time.

  5. krash745

    the worst show on TV by far, if the writing and premise didn’t suck the acting surely blows this show. No one on Long, Island New York would allow some hack doctor to treat them, they would go to a REAL hospital. Royal Pains is a pathetic failure from a network that otherwise produces good to decent shows, lets get back to Burn Notice, Monk, and I’m looking forward to White Collar, hopefully you won’t make another pathetic attempt like you did with Royal Pains.

  6. Cynthia V. Hannibal

    We love this show, especially my husband. I would like to give my hard working husband (two jobs),never complaining, worked with youth for twenty-eight years, a surprise he will never forget. How can we/he be extras on this show?

    Our vacation time is November. We would plan accordingly. Weeks 1-3 is free to plan an appearance.
    If something can be done we would appreciate it.

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