The best thing about NBC’s new medical drama The Night Shift, premiering tonight at 10 PM, is its unintentionally hilarious promo photo. The ridiculously attractive and calculatedly diverse cast is brought together by Photoshop, all looking this way or that way, each one in a different show than the person to their right. In the middle is our hero (or antihero, if this were a better written drama), a badass doctor who refuses to play by the rules — you can tell, because he’s riding a motorcycle inside of a hospital. That’s how The Night Shift chooses to convey this rebellious characteristic: A motorcycle in a hospital. It’s so out of touch, so frustratingly uncreative, and it reflects everything that’s wrong with the show.
It’s possible that this is because we’ve finally hit peak medical drama, but The Night Shift has to be the most clichéd medical show that has ever been on television. I’m not arguing that it’s easy to make an original TV show, especially one within a semi-formulaic genre that has been overdone for years (and a genre that includes the groundbreaking ER and the unique Grey’s Anatomy, both praised for their quality and longevity), but The Night Shift isn’t even trying.
The show revolves around the staff who work the night shift at a San Antonio hospital (it helpfully includes time stamps at the bottom of the screen in case you’re confused as to what time the night shift is). Everyone is gorgeous, everyone wears form-fitting scrubs, and everyone is attracted to each other. The Night Shift teases out the romantic past of a couple that very obviously had a romantic past, so much so that there is never any payoff, only boredom. And that’s why the show is so frustrating: It’s not bad but it’s boring. That’s the worst thing a show can be — I will sit down to watch hours and hours of a fascinatingly bad show but I have no patience for anything that bores me to tears or that’s so predictable I can mouth the lines along with the characters despite watching it for the first time.
The characters in The Night Shift are barely characters. They aren’t real or developed; they resemble stock photos that walk and talk. The only character’s name I remember is the Rebel Doctor himself, T.C. Callahan (Eoin Macken), and that’s only because it’s such a fictional character name. It’s the name of a doctor who likes to drink brews and punch his superiors and take off his shirt (as he does approximately every three minutes). He performs the tough surgeries and breaks the rules but he gets shit done so no one seems to care that he’s a walking malpractice suit. He is, if you can believe it, tortured by his past in Afghanistan (we know this because of the flashbacks but also, primarily, because of his smoldering eyes when he thinks about it).
On the opposite end is Michael (Freddy Rodriguez, you poor soul), the hospital administrator who cares more about saving money than he does about saving lives. Do you see how clichéd that description is? Now try having it repeated to you, over and over, during every episode. Sure, there is a backstory to Michael that’s supposed to evoke sympathy, but instead elicits nothing more than eye-rolling.
But again, the show isn’t bad. The other former combat doctor, Drew (Brendan Fehr), has a secret — one that is a bit predictable, but at least gives him more depth than his coworkers. There are some hints that the show could be great if it worked a little harder — such as a subverted child abuse storyline in an episode — but it doesn’t seem like the show wants to work hard. It wants to replicate the disasters of ER, the romantic entanglements of Grey’s Anatomy, and the gross-out comedy of Scrubs (hazing a new doctor by making him give pelvic exams to elderly women; a near-identical joke about confusing the lost and found box with the box of objects extracted from patients).
At its best, The Night Shift coasts on its shallowness and provides an unintentional homage to everything better. It’s a passable show but it doesn’t stick. Likely, it will quietly burn off for eight episodes — there is a reason it’s airing during the summer — and never craft its own identity.