S1, E1 “Pilot”
Heartbeat wants to be funny, irreverent, and dramatic all at once. It spends as much time setting up gags as it does setting up life-or-death emergencies, however, the pilot was neither funny nor gripping. The jokes just never landed and seemed forced, while the more dramatic scenes were underscored with sad, indie-pop music at every turn. Guitar riffs, piano strokes, softly-sung lyrics accompanied a major medical procedure and other “dramatic” scenes as if the show didn’t trust the action (or dialogue) to convey the drama on its own.
Dr. Alexandra “Alex” Panttiere is the Chief Innovations Officer at her hospital. We know this because she mentions her title several times. She’s also a brilliant surgeon. We know this because at least one character mentions it. And we see her in on several tricky operations. And she’s invited to make a speech.
She also has a complex personal life. Her ex-husband, who is a former lead singer for a band, left her for another man but he’s as close to a best friend as she has, he’s great with the kids, and he’s chummy with her current boyfriend, Pierce, who’s also a doctor at the hospital where Alex works. Then there’s Jesse, a former love interest who begins working at the same hospital as Alex and Pierce. Pierce eventually feels some jealousy but he’s still guilt-ridden over the time he cheated on Alex, though she’s moved on from that.
At work things are even more challenging. When she’s not charming potential new investors to donate money to the hospital, Alex is busy trying to get a heart transplant for her patient who’s already lost out on one heart. When another patient dies, Alex joyously explains to her patient they have the heart they’ve been waiting for. But she loses that one, too, because one of the financial donors now wants the heart for a family member who is supposedly a better match anyway.
Alex becomes furious and battles with her boss, Millicent, over the heart. Millicent happens to have started as a young surgeon with Alex so they have a history. As Alex is about to explain to her patient that she’s lost out on a second heart, her patient’s ex-boyfriend prepares to leap off a building—and Alex just happens to be in the right spot to see him and runs to his side to prevent him from jumping.
The ex-boyfriend signs over a note giving permission to harvest his heart specifically for Alex’s patient. But she explains that if he jumps, he’ll pretty much smash all his organs upon impact and they’ll be useless. The ex sees this reasoning but he’s come prepared with a backup plan—he’s got a gun in his pocket and promptly blows his brains out. Alex takes no more than a couple seconds to process this before announcing to the doctors behind her that they have a new donor.
Alas, she can’t use this heart either due to the circumstances behind the suicide. Once again she battles Millicent and once again she loses. But her patient suddenly flat-lines and needs immediate attention. For some reason (the technical explanation went way over our heads), a new heart won’t be able to pump blood on its own and needs to piggyback on the old heart. This is a procedure only four doctors have ever successfully performed and Alex wants to be the fifth—she assisted on the procedure once before. She feels justified in taking the ex-boyfriend’s heart now that her patient’s life is hanging in the balance, but she still has to battle Millicent as well as her former love interest Jesse who’s now chief of surgery. This time Alex wins the battles, performs the procedure (with more technical babble), and successfully saves her patient’s life.
Then it’s off to a black-tie gala where her boyfriend makes it clear he’s ready to take their relationship to the next level. But she has a conversation with Jesse and the way she looks into his dreamy eyes suggests she may not be done with him yet.
We can't help but reference the one medical show we're already watching: Code Black. It manages to provide nonstop intensity while breaking up the life-or-death procedures with seriously funny moments. But the comedy comes in the form of quick throwaway lines that seem to always make us laugh, while the drama concentrates on the medical procedures and patients, and on the effects that the job has on the doctors, not on the constant interactions (love-related or otherwise) between staff.
Heartbeat, or at least its pilot, seems as concerned with the soap opera aspect of the show, if not more so, than the actual procedures or patients. It attempts to squeeze as many non-medical distractions into the pilot as possible, from a jumper to a love triangle to an antagonistic relationship with the boss. The characters aren’t that engaging and most of them seem to exist to serve the purpose of reminding us how brilliant and fantastic and rogue Alex is.