Doctor to the rich is quite a character

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / June 4, 2009
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'Royal Pains" is very USA.

With each passing TV season, the basic cable channels are further refining their brands, cultivating ever-more distinctive tones. FX has come to specialize in gritty amorality, AMC is building a franchise around men in extremis, and USA - with "Monk," "Psych," and "Burn Notice" - is all about funny-neurotic heroes and dramedic atmosphere.

"Royal Pains," which premieres tonight at 10 on USA after the return of "Burn Notice," isn't very good. But the series fits so perfectly into the whole USA gestalt, under the "Characters Welcome" promotional mantra, I feel almost admiring toward it. "Royal Pains" relies on a feeble premise about a do-good doctor who reluctantly becomes a concierge physician to billionaires in the Hamptons. The one-liners are broad, the plots preposterous. And yet it all works in a lighthearted-summer-fare kind of way, helped along with almost pornographic images of Hamptons wealth.

Mark Feuerstein plays Hank Lawson, the kind of TV doctor who has the wherewithal to simultaneously save a life in an emergency and explicate his medical procedure for the viewers. Hank loses his job in a New York trauma unit, after a major hospital donor dies while Hank is working on a more critically ill nobody. His fiancee leaves him, and he falls into a Netflix-fueled depression. Finally, his free-wheeling brother, Evan (Paulo Costanzo), drags him to the Hamptons for a weekend of partying, and the pair get caught up in adventures that draw Hank into his new career.

Feuerstein is a likable lead, although none of his TV vehicles, from "Conrad Bloom," and "Good Morning, Miami" to "3 lbs.," has taken off. (He has fared better in shorter arcs on shows such as "Once and Again" and "The West Wing.") He holds the screen and makes Hank's over-heroic doctoring tolerable, and he has been given a perfect costar in the tightly wound Costanzo, who was on "Joey." Feuerstein and Costanzo look like real brothers, and their neurotic, bantering chemistry has a nicely worn-in feeling. While Hank deals with his rich patients' psychosomatic ailments and a breast implant that needs inflating, stat, Evan just wants to have sex with superficial women. Meanwhile, a self-appointed medical assistant (Reshma Shetty) attaches herself to the brothers.

The casting turns comically strange when Campbell Scott shows up, with a nutty German accent, as a rich man named Boris, who becomes Hank's Hamptons benefactor. Scott has no business in this role, and yet that's exactly what makes it work. We can't take the character seriously, and that's a good thing. "Royal Pains" will continue to work if it can stay playful and innocuous. The minute Hank gets invested in healing the moral ills of spoiled Hamptons rich folk, "Royal Pains" will become a royal pain.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at For more on TV, visit

ROYAL PAINS Starring: Mark Feuerstein, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Flint, Campbell Scott, Reshma Shetty


Time: Tonight, 10-11

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