While Chicago Hope is an entertaining show, it was probably just as important as a training ground for those who’ve gone on to big things in the world of TV. It’s famed as the first show David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) created and ran, but it was also the first producing gig for Tim Kring (Heroes), Ian Bieberman (Cold Case, Crossing Jordan), Rob Corn (The District, Grey’s Anatomy) and various others, many who’ve continued to work with Kelley over the years. Nor is it a coincidence that both Mandy Patinkin and Thomas Gibson ended up in Criminal Minds, and Mark Harmon and Rocky Carroll went on to NCIS.
Season 3 continues the drama at Chicago Hope hospital, starting off with Dr. Hancock (Vondie Curtis Hall) having been shot, Dr. Nyland (Gibson) and Dr. Austin (Christine Lahti) both suspended and the hospital’s owner, Tommy Wilmette (Ron Silver), threatening to shut the entire place down. As you can probably guess, there’s plenty of drama in these 26 episodes. Indeed it’s one of the shows greatest strengths and weaknesses that there’s always plenty of high stakes stuff going on to keep you interested, but it constantly takes things right to the edge of where they start to seem a bit silly. Luckily Kelley is involved, who’s since made a career out of mining the excesses of TV tropes and deconstructing them. You can see the beginnings of that in Chicago Hope, which helps keep things entertaining as you know the show is aware of what’s it doing.
However where it really stands out is with scenes between two people, which are often brilliantly written pieces of character drama, allowing the actors to really show off their talents. There’s plenty of opportunity for that in Season 3, with Dr. Jack McNeil (Mark Harmon) joining the staff and butting heads, morals dilemmas such as whether to operate of a man who’s scheduled to be executed and being drawn into a situation where a group of white supremacist wannabe assassins are holed up in a grocery store.
Of gay interest is the introduction of an LGBT side-character, who’s a friend of Adam Arkin’s Dr. Aaron Shutt. What’s fascinating about it is that while this was only 16 years, he really is treated as an introduction to gays, as if everything about him needs to be explained to ensure he’s a real human too. It just goes to show how times as changed, as there’s a definite sense here of a show trying to balance out stereotypes, but at a time where all these things still need to be explained quite bluntly.
It often gets a little OTT and there’s little doubt that if as much happened to a real person as happens to the characters in Chicago Hope, they’d have an immediate nervous breakdown, but it’s all done with a light enough touch that it never stops being entertaining. It also helps that you can feels the beginnings of David E. Kelley’s trademark love of making shows that discuss important issues in an enjoyable way. It’s not the greatest medical show ever, but it is a good one, and you can still feel its legacy in shows today.
Overall Verdict: Another good season of a medical show which may try to cram so much incident in it gets a little ridiculous, but does it with enough verve, good writing and knowing humour that it’s difficult not to like it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac