Thanks to an energetic cast, gorgeous locations, a parade of delightful guest stars, and so much soap the sea practically bubbles, Royal Pains has become a reliable source of escapist entertainment during its two and a half seasons on USA. It follows the standard “Characters Welcome” formula of quirky leads, cases of the week, and light serialization in a sunny resort setting—think Burn Notice with stethoscopes replacing the guns. Any given week you can see Mark Feuerstein MacGyvering his way through another medical mystery in some $20 million home, while his brother and business partner Paulo Costanzo hatches a money-making scheme and their elegant assistant Reshma Shetty frets over her parental issues.
Disposable fun for the USA network core demo, without a doubt. But as with many of these shows that don’t get a second glance from critics and trendspotters, there’s something undeniably engaging underneath the mix-and-match elements. Here it’s the actors, especially Costanzo as “EvanR.LawsonCFOofHankMed”, whose comic takes enliven every episode, and Campbell Scott as a mysterious kajillionaire whose Teutonic gravitas is never less than magnetic—but who unfortunately appears only every third week or so.
Scott’s Boris Kuester von Jurgens-Ratenicz (Boris for short) is nowhere to be found in the mid-season première airing tonight, “A Farewell to Barnes.” And neither is a lot of the carefree appeal of the show, to be honest. We ended the first half of season three last August with several cliffhangers. Our hero Hank has found art collector Eric Kassabian (a super-suave Wilmer Valderrama) collapsed in front of a painting, and we know it’s due to Divya’s negligence while working her secret second job at the local hospital for arrogant doctor Paul Van Dyke (My Boys’ Kyle Howard). Evan’s fiancée Paige has found the courage to confront her imposing senatorial candidate father, the General (Bob Gunton), about their family’s coverup of her mother’s bouts with depression, but Evan and Paige’s engagement has been postponed until after the campaign. Jill (Jill Flint), Hank’s finally ignited flame, is planning to take her dream job in Uruguay and fretting about whether a long-distance affair is a good idea.
“A Farewell To Barnes” spends so much time advancing (and in some cases, retreating) in these plotlines that there’s barely a moment for the case of the week—a party planner having dizzy spells while supervising her make-or-break bash for a divorcing couple. Aside from putting several elaborate cakes in imminent danger as Lucy the planner sways and clutches the table—and implicating some innocent caterer for potential food poisoning—this is one of the thinnest medical mysteries of the show’s run. Lucy makes a valiant attempt at introducing a catchphrase—NUG, which stands for “No Unhappy Guests”—but compared to how much of the patient of the week we usually get to see, and how many red herrings are usually introduced, it’s barely a nod to the notion of episodic medical drama.
There are too many other irons in the fire: The General seems to be softening on Evan and opening up about his wife—that is, until Evan berates him for putting a fundraising dinner ahead of Paige’s art career; Hank initially blames Van Dyke for Eric’s collapse but then persuades Eric not to sue, before finding out about Divya’s moonlighting at Hamptons Heritage; Jill decides she needs to break up with Hank since their relationship is making it difficult for her to commit fully to the Uruguay opportunity. Everything culminates, in a nicely orchestrated sequence set at the divorce party where Jill and Hank deal with their issues on the dance floor while Paige and Evan deal with theirs on an overlooking balcony. And just in case that’s not enough, we get a teaser for a mini-arc to come: Cocky golfer Jack (Ed’s Tom Cavanagh) returns from last season’s “Mulligan” (wherein Hank cured a hand ailment) to get a physical before signing up for a big sponsorship. Of course his physical doesn’t come back clean, and of course we’ll be hearing more about this in the next couple of episodes.
Is that enough for one lighthearted hour of concierge medicine in America’s liberal playground? If not, please feel free to throw in a brief appearance by Mo Rocca as the officiant at the divorce ceremony (“By the power vested in me by some random website … ”). Sprinkle it all with celiac disease, and we’re off and running in the second half of season three. But forgive me if I don’t think Royal Pains has started until I hear Campbell Scott simultaneously glowering, precisely enunciating his consonants, and underplaying in a way that sets off the manic energy around him to utterly charming effect. Every week he’s absent is one step closer to his next appearance. Or at least that’s how I choose to see it.
- Actually, give the performance of the night to a tiny character turn by one of Lucy the party planner’s flunkies. Instructed to report to Hank if he’d experienced any vomiting or diarrhea, he reminiscences matter-of-factly about going on the Cyclone at Coney Island when he was eight years old: “At the bottom of the second drop, I just lost it. Both ends.”
- Jack and Jill, it turns out, are Facebook friends and so he knows all about the Uruguay job. Also, I believe they went up a hill to fetch a pail of water.
- One thing about the Hamptons setting: Beautiful people have an excuse to wear outfits much more colorful than you normally see in your city dramas. And their hair gets so elegantly windswept.
- Enduring lesson: Have someone else carry the giant tiered divorce cake for the next party you plan. Seriously, tingly fingers and thrush or not, who would try to do that alone in high heels?