"Heartland" is the kind of series that taints its actors with mediocrity. As transplant surgeon Dr. Nathaniel Grant , the usually likable Treat Williams becomes an irritatingly stock TV doctor -- he's arrogant, but oh-so-humane. And then Kari Matchett , so ethereal on "Invasion," is reduced to playing the ex-wife who still loves the heroic doctor but can't have him because he's a noble workaholic. An organ-donor coordinator, Matchett's Kate works off her despair by trying to acquire hearts for others.
The blandly earnest TNT show, which premieres tonight at 10, is a medical drama that just didn't need to be made. Like the short-lived "3 Lbs." starring Stanley Tucci , "Heartland" goes through the motions of "House," "Grey's Anatomy," and "ER" with no real spirit or drive. It's hard to believe this series, from David Hollander of "The Guardian," is the best one TNT could find to follow "The Closer." Perhaps the network's hidden agenda is to remind viewers how successfully "The Closer" vitalizes the procedural format by pairing the hit with a show that only parrots others of its genre.
Set in St. Jude's Transplant Center in Pittsburgh , "Heartland" skims the surface of one or two patient melodramas each week. There are the grief-stricken families asked to donate their loved ones' organs, and there are grief-stricken families who will lose their loved ones without a new organ. Into these cookie-cutter situations comes the sanctimonious Dr. Grant. He stresses about the ethics of whether a bad man should get a good heart, for instance, or whether a good son should risk his life donating an organ to save his bad dad. And if he ultimately approves of the organ trade, he'll get all maverick and bend whatever rules he has to bend to make it work. Dr. Grant also sees dead people -- or, rather, brain-dead people -- as he has visions of the donors.
Grant and his ex have a teen daughter, Thea (Gage Golightly , looking like a young Alicia Silverstone ), and next week they get a new colleague, Tom Jonas (Rockmond Dunbar , C-Note from "Prison Break" ). But neither character brings much distinction to the show, nor does Dabney Coleman as Grant's ailing mentor or Morena Baccarin as Grant's lover. "Heartland" doesn't use its talent in service of anything other than predictable, inoffensive stories and a contrived relationship between the two leads. No one has the chance to shine.
By the time Grant is sitting in his car outside his ex-wife's home at the end of tonight's episode, watching her and their daughter with longing and regret, you know "Heartland" probably can't be saved. "I can't be away from the hospital," Grant says guiltily, explaining why he wasn't a good family man. Fortunately, we can , with the simple click of a button.