From "General Hospital" to "Scrubs", there have been plenty of television series about doctors and drama inside the hospital. The packaging for "Trauma" plays up the fact that this show takes a less-traveled road, throwing the spotlight on the action in the field, but as with any solid television show, the focus is on the characters. Creator Dario Scardapane and his talented roster of writers, directors, and cast members weave a tricky web that deftly avoids soap opera style pandering and presents the audience with a group of appealing, interesting heroes; it's a shame that the "Season 1" plastered on this set should more accurately read "The Complete Series".
"Trauma" is set in San Francisco, where a group of emergency response teams wait for the signal to head out to the scene of an accident. In one ambulance, Boone (Derek Luke) and Tyler (Kevin Rankin) make for a long-standing, reliable team, while in another, veteran medic Nancy Carnahan (Anastasia Griffith) has been teamed up with first-timer Glenn (Taylor Kinney). In the skies above, Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuk (Cliff Curtis) and Marisa (Aimee Garcia) pilot the helicopter in case any victims need immediate airlift support, and all of them take their patients to Dr. Joe Saviano (Jamey Sheridan), the head of the trauma unit at the closest hospital.
As with most shows, especially action shows, the pilot episode for "Trauma" really emphasizes the characters' most obvious personality traits. Rabbit, for instance, is the textbook "cocky hotshot who doesn't play by the rules". It takes time and effort to illustrate a character like that without coming off as annoying, but "Trauma" has a top-notch cast that always hints at other layers and motivations beneath the surface, and to the writers' credit, over the course of the series' 18 episodes, the scripts gradually move away from the more cliche archetypes of the pilot, forming more nuanced personas.
At the center of it all is Griffith as Carnahan, one of the most appealing female leads I've seen in a show in a long time. Griffith is terrific, delivering an irresistable blend of strength, humor, vulnerability, and sexiness that feels authentic and well-rounded. In the pilot, the series opens with a prologue about an accident in which Nancy's boyfriend Terry is killed, and Rabbit ends up hospitalized. The series proper picks up from that point, and it would be easy for Nancy to be an incomplete version of her former self, wracked with sorrow over Terry's death. Thankfully, both Griffith and the show are better than that, weaving Nancy's story around her new partner Glenn, Rabbit's return to the crew, and her relationship with both Dr. Joe and her father Dr. Lyndon Carnahan (John Terry). Rabbit, meanwhile, is dealing with his own levels of post-traumatic stress over the accident, and Curtis, a reliable character actor, always imbues the role with more charm than dickishness.
With Nancy and Rabbit in the foreground, the rest of the cast is basically strong support. Boone and Tyler are a close second, with most of their storylines focusing on their partnership, and whether one or both of them should be moving on from it. In the first few episodes, Boone's marriage is painted as on the verge of collapse, but the story falls to the wayside in favor of a more appealing subplot that has him looking to take over for Captain Basra (Steven Anthony Jones), should Basra choose to retire. Tyler is both sarcastic and flying by the seat of his pants, but also reveals to Boone that he's closeted, and looks for support in coming out to his parents. In the air, Rabbit's new co-pilot is Marisa Benez, a tough Iraq war veteran who refuses to take any of Rabbit's nonsense. Again, this is a character that could easily come off as stereotypical or cliche, but Garcia never plays the hard-edge too hard, imbuing Marisa with the kind of warmth I wish Michelle Rodriguez would give her characters more often.
As far as weak links go, the show's CG is consistently spotty. The violent accidents in the first episodes (and it is worth noting that much of "Trauma" is bloody and even gory) are robbed of some of their believability by sub-par CG work that really pulls the viewer out of the show. Kinney's performance as Glenn is also lacking in the kind of depth and range the other performers bring to the table; the actor often seems somewhat stiff when confronted with things that his character doesn't like. He forms a lightweight romantic bond with a doctor named Diana Van Dine (Scottie Thompson), but it's never as compelling as Nancy and Rabbit, or even the friendship between Boone and Tyler. The early episodes are just slightly bogged down in a very rinse-and-repeat feel when it comes to mixing the accidents with the plot, but the show improves in the second half (there was a gap in which NBC took a long time to order more episodes, and the commentary notes they came back with different priorities). The worst flaw, though, is that the series tragically ends on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved. It's a shame that the series creators weren't given a chance to re-shoot the finale to give the series a bit more closure, but "Trauma" is engaging and entertaining for what it is.
The series' 18 episodes break down on the discs as follows:
Disc 1: "Pilot", "All's Fair", "Bad Day at Work", "Stuck"
Disc 2: "Masquerade", "Home Court", "That Fragile Hour", "M'aidez", "Going Home"
Disc 3: "Blue Balloon", "Tunnel Vision", "Protocol", "12", "Targets"
Disc 4: "Scope of Practice", "Frequent Flyers", "Sweet Jane", "Crossed Wires"
"Trauma" comes in a pretty basic digipak with a sleeve cover. The cover art is made from the glossy magazine ads I remember being used to promote the show when it was new. Inside the case, there's a one-sided insert promoting "The Biggest Loser", and the discs are seated in the slightly newer design of plastic trays where the hub for the upper disc slightly overlaps the disc seated in the bottom, deeper tray. (Please note that this is not the same kind of troublesome packaging that Universal used on the recent Back to the Future Blu-Rays.)
The Video, and Audio
"Trauma" is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. There's a bit of fuzz, and black crush and noise are a slight problem during dark sequences, but by and large, the show looks about as good as should be expected of a modern, major network television show.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track tries to use the surrounds, but the sound effects all have that slightly hollow, lightweight feel that so many modern movies and television shows tend to have. The audio has a good spread across the channels, but it doesn't feel immersive the way a big-budget movie might. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.
On the pilot, executive producer/director Jeffrey Reiner and executive producer/series creator Dario Scardapane sit down for a single audio commentary. The pair laugh and comment on the changes they made over the course of the season, the authenticity of the medicine in the pilot, reasons for choosing San Francisco, and generally sound proud of the show they've made. An easy if not essential sit.
The only other extra for the set is a reel of deleted scenes corresponding to the episodes on each disc (12:15, 25:05, 20:12, and 9:46). Most of these are pretty forgettable, as they're also extremely short. The only significant edits include a nearly-complete B story about a gunshot victim who percieves the drugs used on him as a break in his sobriety, a trio of scenes where Boone's son breaks his arm, and a completely alternate version of a pivotal scene, done with Marisa instead of Nancy. All of these extra scenes include English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
I would have watched more "Trauma", if it had continued. Alas, these 18 episodes are all we're going to get. Although it's a bittersweet experience, given the show ends on an unresolved cliffhanger, the strength of the characters, especially series star Anastasia Griffith as Nancy Carnahan, is impressive enough that it's worth a spin regardless. "Trauma" is recommended to fans and newcomers alike.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.