The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Royal Pains Is No Royal Pleasure

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Image As the second season of Royal Pains is now two weeks old, I have decided to re-post my original assessment of this show (written in July 2009), because most of my initial points of skepticism still hold true even now. But people like popcorn and bubble gum, so I suppose this show will stick around a while. Though I can't really see why…

No one has any high expectations when it comes to Summer Television. We all expect filler shows that were never intended to run longer than eight to ten episodes, a lot of reality programming and other weird experiments testing our patience. Occasionally Summer TV produces a break-out hit, which then finds its way into the regular fall schedule or returning the next summer, but mostly being a replacement show during the sunny season is no claim to fame.

We mostly want our summer shows to be easy-breezy fun, not too dark, not too complicated and easy on the eyes. If that is the ultimate standard for Summer Television, then I have no complaints against USA’s new show Royal Pains, which tries to bring a new twist to the medical shows we have all become used to and, in some cases, sick of. Royal Pains is kind of like popcorn: it tastes good, but it won’t make you full. Yet after five weeks of watching Royal Pains, I am starting to sour on the taste.

The premise of the show is interesting enough. Dr. Hank Lawson gets fired from his position as an ER doctor in New York, dumped by his fiancée, and is then convinced by his brother to set up a concierge doctor service in the Hamptons. A concierge doctor being a doctor for the rich and famous they can call up any time, have him come to their home, completely equipped with a mobile clinic, treat them with utmost confidentiality and then pay him handsomely for it. This is an intriguing concept, since having a personal doctor seems to be the new must-have status symbol of the upper ten thousand. One doesn’t even have to reference the dubious personal doctors Michael Jackson employed to drive this point home.

Yet Royal Pains makes nothing of the interesting premise, because the things the uber-rich and sometimes politically potent clients demand from Dr. Hank aren’t nearly outrageous enough. Sure, it’s ludicrous that a highly pregnant woman demands for Hank to come with her to her family’s own island off the shore, completely cut off from cell phone service and with helicopters being the only way in and out, and then asks him to induce her labor. But instead of spending time developing and solving this conflict, the show opts for the keeper of the island to have an accident, which prompts Hank to first cook his own saline in a huge pasta pot (sic!) and then drill a hole in the guy’s skull with a regular household drill (sic!).
These kinds of accidents happen around Hank all the time and he always fixes people right then and there on the spot with whatever is available. He is a regular MacGyver that way.


The show could make an interesting point about the “medical business” and how absurd it has become, especially given that Hank’s love interest is the administrator of the Hamptons Hospital. But even when I suspend my disbelief about Jill, barely in her thirties, being administrator of a hospital, nothing comes of the pair-up with Hank. Initially the two had this love-hate thing going on, because she is struggling to keep her hospital afloat while he is cashing huge checks for attending to the elite's boo boos, but the dynamic soon fizzled and left the two of them behaving like 15-year-olds who have never been in a relationship.
They keep trying to find a time to meet, yet neither one of them tries very hard to make it to these dates, the smallest thing can distract them and they keep standing each other up. The broadly-drawn, clichéd back stories the characters are given (she is a Hamptons native who hates the tourists, he was abandoned by his father and his fiancée) end up making their relationship a mere derivative of leading couple chemistry. (Did I mention there is no physical spark between them either?)

Now, Hank’s brother, Evan, who handles the financial side of HankMed (as they cleverly called their endeavor), provides some comic relief, but it doesn’t take longer than a few episodes to get sick of his stereotypical nerdiness. The heavy-handed attempts to make the two brothers appear three-dimensional (Evan: “You ever wish you could call him? Just say hi?” – Hank: “Sometimes I wish I had a father I wanted to call.”) ultimately fall flat, because they remain vague and few and far between.

ImageNot even the underlying story arc of Hank’s boss Boris, in whose guest house the Lawson brothers are residing, seems to be going anywhere. Boris originally hired Hank as a concierge doctor and once proclaimed: “I have big plans for you.” He hasn’t been seen since and all we really know about him is that he has a live shark in an aquarium in the basement.

Royal Pains is a bubble gum show, when it could be more. Even if it didn’t want to tread the trodden ground of the health care system going to hell, it could at least delve deeper into the relationships of the show’s characters. Jill and Hank’s assistant Divya are two modern women fending for themselves in between all the rich snobs, yet they never get scenes any meatier than leaving embarrassing phone messages or sniping at Evan, respectively. The Lawson brothers practically had to raise each other, yet all they seem to bond over is their disagreement over how to handle HankMed. And why is every patient of Hank’s ultimately portrayed as likable, when money undoubtedly goes to a lot of people’s heads and makes them complete douche bags???

Eight episodes are scheduled this season, five of which have aired and the show hasn’t taken the viewer anywhere except on a vacation in the Hamptons. Which is nice enough, I suppose, if all this slumbering potential doesn’t bother you. By the end of summer I expect this show to pop like the gum-bubble it is.