2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

TV Review: ABC’s “Black Box”

Published: April 22, 2014, 7:03 am, by Terry Terrones


“Black Box

Cast: Kelly Reilly (“Sherlock Holmes”), Ditch Davey (“Spartacus”), Laura Fraser (“A Knight’s Tale”), Terry Kinney (“Oz”) and Vanessa Redgrave (“Howards End”)

Air-date, time: The pilot episode airs at 9 p.m. Thursday April 24 on ABC

The premise: Dr. Catherine Black, world famous neurologist, is at the top of her game. Each week, this beautiful and brilliant doctor will attempt to unravel the mysteries of the brain while hiding her own secret: she’s bipolar. There’s only one person who knows everything – her psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hartramph (Redgrave). Hartramph is intuitive, deeply insightful, and strong, an imposing mentor and mother figure.

The focus of this series is the brain. The brain is the source of everything – from whom we love to how we act and feel. It is the ultimate mystery, which is why doctors call it, the “black box.” Catherine and the staff of “The Cube,” a state-of-the-art neurological center, will constantly be challenged by cases never seen before. The patients being studied have rare, highly visual, often hallucinogenic and startling conditions, which we will see through their eyes as Catherine diagnoses and treats them.

Highs: The show is only an hour long.

Lows: I tortured myself through three episodes of “Black Box,” each one worst than the next. I’ve never seen a series try so hard to make a character look like a tortured genius yet fail so miserably. No matter how hard the show tried to heap fictitious honors on Catherine Black, or make her seem intelligent by jamming multi-syllabic words in her mouth, every time she’s onscreen her character is unbelievable and unlikable. I don’t blame Kelly Reilly, who was enjoyable enough in the “Sherlock Holmes” films. The problem is how over the top ridiculous Dr. Black is made out to be. When your main character thinks she’s flying over San Francisco after sleeping with her limo driver because she’s celebrating giving a brilliant talk at prestigious neurological conference, that character is severely flawed.

As for the patients Dr. Black studies? They come out of the mental illness cliché handbook. There’s the guy who hears voices in his head. The woman who sees what looks like a cross between a leprechaun and a Keebler elf that doesn’t really exist. There’s another woman who can only see the right side of the world. It’s all a bit too silly. Dr. Black is also put in a bunch of awkward scenarios: An absolutely ridiculous physical encounter with her boyfriend AND a doctor she works with when she’s “off her meds” (they happened consecutively, not at the same time). Dr. Black has a daughter she has her brother and sister-in-law raise that’s now a teenager. The daughter doesn’t know that Catherine’s her real mother. Then there’s the saint of a boyfriend, who repeatedly gets treated like garbage by Catherine yet still wants to marry her and have kids. Add it all together and you have one of the dumbest “smart” shows on TV, with the most cringe inducing character you’ll ever see.

Grade: (F): I’m stunned this show made it on air after ABC execs saw the pilot. “Black Box” is dreadful and is probably the worst pilot I’ve seen in my three years as The Gazette’s media columnist. The show gets slightly less loopy as the series goes on but if “Black Box” isn’t cancelled after two episodes I’ll be surprised.