Big stars come out for 'Coma'

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:43 PM ET

The character in Coma who speaks the following words will remain anonymous for now, since you might be able to parlay it into a plot spoiler if you thought about it hard enough.

Nonetheless, when it is pointed out somewhat condescendingly that the purpose of doctors is always to do what's best for their patients, the chilling observation goes like this:

"Yes, but the irony is that we have done our jobs too well, and we live in an aging society."

This isn't from a transcript of a recent health-care debate in Canada or the United States. Rather, it's from the new two-part mini-series Coma, which airs on consecutive nights - Monday, Sept. 3 and Tuesday, Sept. 4 - on A&E.

Coma has a marquee ensemble cast, featuring the likes of Lauren Ambrose, James Woods, Ellen Burstyn, Richard Dreyfuss, Geena Davis and Steven Pasquale. But it's Ambrose's character, Susan Wheeler, who drives the plot.

Susan is a medical student working as a trainee at Peach Tree Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Her grandfather was a medical legend in the area, so she certainly has the genes for the job.

Shortly after joining the surgical rotation, Susan becomes alarmed by a handful of unexplained comas suffered by patients at the hospital during procedures in which such occurrences should be exceedingly rare. Driven particularly by the unexpected coma of someone who was a casual friend, Susan starts to poke around, solely out of curiosity and concern.

Of course, this is a TV show, so there's more going on than initially meets the eye, as viewers would expect. Susan discovers the coma rate at Peach Tree Memorial has been sporadically high over a long period of time.

Susan's investigations lead her to ponder the existence of a nearby, high-end facility that cares for patients in advanced vegetative states, known as the Jefferson Institute. The woman managing the secretive institute is Mrs. Emerson, played by Burstyn, who at least partially is channeling Jessica Lange's delightfully creepy performance in the first season of American Horror Story (FX Canada).

One thing that struck me about Coma is the oddity that, if something has been awry for an extended period, a newbie medical student would be the only one perceptive enough to stumble across a pattern. The Woods character, Dr. Theodore Stark, offers a single-sentence explanation at one point, but still, a tad far-fetched.

Yet Coma hardly is the first story to focus on a plucky hero who sees what others can't see. This is a slick, well-acted project that takes its subject matter very seriously.

Neither corny nor cheap, Coma is a thriller with some horror affectations. You know, just like health care.

 


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