Ignore the super-sweet title. Forget the sound-bite descriptions about a doctor who learns the meaning of life from a dead woman. Don’t recall the many overly-sweet ghosts of pop culture.
None of that has anything to do with A Gifted Man. Because none of that does justice to this complicated, smart and thoroughly lovely drama.
The basic premise of A Gifted Man is both odd and utterly familiar. A brilliant-but-arrogant neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson), is surprised by the reappearance of his ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle) into his carefully controlled life. His surprise turns to full-on shock and disbelief when it turns out that Anna is, in fact, dead and a ghost come to haunt Mike.
Thanks to Anna’s ghostly interference, Mike’s life begins to change both subtly and completely.
Nothing in this brief plot description makes A Gifted Man stand apart from any of the many other dead-loved-one-makes-living-better stories. So what makes A Gifted Man outstanding?
Simply put, A Gifted Man may have the best cast of any new show this fall.
Patrick Wilson’s Mike manages to be arrogant and focused without coming off as a total jerk. He’s a surgeon. He’s brilliant. He’s attractive. Of course Mike is a bit of a jerk! Who wouldn’t be? But he’s also a man of morals and dedication, so it’s OK.
It is especially OK because the dead ex-wife, Anna, is a bit of an annoyance herself. Also a doctor, Anna ran a free clinic across town and has become a ghost to continue her control-freak ways. There is nothing sweet or ethereal about Anna, as played by Jennifer Ehle — an actress best known for playing the equally no-nonsense Elizabeth Bennet on BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.
Even the supporting cast outshines any other new show. Margo Martindale, a newly-minted Emmy winner for her role on Justified, plays Mike’s supremely capable and oft-ignored secretary. Julie Benz (formerly of Dexter, Angel and No Ordinary Family) fits in perfectly as Mike’s slightly dippy — but believable –sister.
And then there’s the shaman. Yes, A Gifted Man has a shaman. A New-Agey, constantly eating, slightly sarcastic shaman named Anton. Played by Pablo Schreiber (The Wire), Anton is essentially a spirit-world version of Dr. Michael Holt.
Not Just the Cast
It’s not only the acting that makes A Gifted Man worth watching. There’s a good story going on too.
Mike isn’t just wafting through the clouds with his dead ex-wife: He’s a working neurosurgeon with a long list of clients to impress. In the first episode alone, Dr. Holt treats a playboy billionaire, a tennis prodigy and a young boy for various and serious medical issues.
With so much going on, the show thankfully doesn’t have time to descend into saccharine stories about feelings and the purpose of life. A Gifted Man will undoubtedly touch on its premise’s deeper meaning over time. But its true gift is make brilliant television that moves our hearts without sickening our stomachs.
(Image courtesy of CBS)