The USA Channel's has become one of cable's most successful, bringing together a roster of quirky shows that have appealed to an increasingly wider range of viewers. The network even become specific about the elements of the series, as exec Bonnie Hammer discussed in a recent Wired magazine article: moments of exterior scenes with blue skies offer levity. "Characters Welcome" remains the channel's motto, and the result has been a set of shows where strong characters remain important and - as a result - viewers have become increasingly hooked to shows like "Royal Pains", a light series that takes a look into the increasingly in-demand practice of "concierge medicine" - in other words, doctors who make themselves available to patients 24 hours a day and often go beyond the usual level of service for a retainer.
The series stars Mark Feuerstein (a funny actor who deserves his own series after a string of thankless supporting efforts) as Henry "Hank" Lawson, a doctor who is dismissed from the hospital he works at in NYC after a wealthy donor under his care passes away. Depressed, he heads with his bumbling younger brother (Paulo Costanzo, a good match against Feuerstein and really is quite believable as his brother) to a party in the Hamptons. After saving a life, he's asked to become the concierge doctor at the local resort community. He's assisted by Divya Katdare (Reshma Shetty, another great bit of casting, as she's superb trading barbs with the other leads), a young Indian woman who didn't tell her parents that she got a medical license.
Accepting the gig, he pulls together a private medical company called HankMed, and works with both those who have the money to have him at their beck and call and those who don't have the means to pay. The series also walks the line nicely between comedy and drama, as while Feuerstein and Costanzo do a terrific job delivering one-liners, the series also weaves in genuine emotional moments and drama.
There are certainly some terrific situations this season, including one case where Hank helps a park ranger (stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan) after being hit by lightning. Gaffigan is very funny (and occasionally even rather moving in a couple of scenes), but it's particularly amusing to see Gaffigan in the woods after his lengthy stand-up rant against camping ("My parents never took me camping. You know why? Because they loved me." "Camping" clip) Other highlights include a lotto winner who believes he's been cursed by his success, an infomercial king who worries his clumsiness may be due to a bigger problem and an illness that hits the cast of a reality TV series, among others. Some of the situations feel a little extreme or "overly unusual", but the series manages to keep the situations grounded and character-driven enough that they're reasonably believable.
The second season of the series continues largely along the same successful path as the first season in terms of the core elements of the show. However, the characters are developed further, new subplots are successful at deepening in the series and the actors seem more comfortable in their roles. This time around, the series sees Henry Winkler returning as Eddie, the con artist father of the two brothers who got them into some serious, serious trouble at the end of season 1. At the beginning of the second season, Hank's problems with Eddie are far from over, as Eddie returns and tries to dig into the Hamptons scene further. Divya decides to go forward with her arranged marriage, but runs into doubts and some concerns that she couldn't have expected. Hank tries to start a relationship with a competitive local doctor, but still crosses paths and harbors feelings for other local doc, Jill (Jill Flint). Campbell Scott continues to provide one of the show's best performances as Boris, the reclusive billionaire who invited Hank initially - and who invites the brothers to Cuba this season to investigate his medical condition. Despite the show's setting of wealth and opulence, the series doesn't emphasize it and tries to explore the humanity of the characters - Hank has to be doctor and a bit of psychologist - and their situations. It's "Scrubs" meets "Northern Exposure" set in mansions (including the second largest home in America - see the "Location, Location, Location" featurette) and other luxurious places.
Sweet without being cheesy, charming without being forceful or manipulative and effortlessly enjoyable, "Royal Pains" is a pleasant surprise and a great deal of fun.
For an online "extra", take a look at Feuerstein and the cast doing a "Beastie Boys"-style rap as a promo for season 2: Clip
Disc 1 Spasticity
Keeping the Faith
Mano a Mano
In Vino Veritas
Disc 3 Frenemies
Whole Lotto Love
Open Up Your Yenta Mouth and Say Ah
Disc 4 Pit Stop
A History of Violins
Fight or Flight
Listen to the Music
VIDEO: The show's slick, sleek look is presented quite well with this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The show's blue skies look bright and vibrant, and the show's overall color palette remains warm and well-saturated. Sharpness and detail aren't outstanding, but the presentation does consistently deliver crisp, reasonably well-defined images. A few traces of pixelation and minor shimmer were spotted, but the presentation otherwise looked clean and smooth.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is crisp and clean. Surrounds are used mildly at times (background chatter, storm rumbles), but the majority of the presentation is dialogue-driven. Auido quality is fine, with crisp, clean dialogue and warm, full score.
EXTRAS: "Medusa" and "Open Up Your Yenta Mouth and Say Ah!" offer commentary from Feuerstein, creator/producer Andrew Lenchewski and exec producer Michael Rauch; "Fight or Flight" offers commentary from Feuerstein and Rauch. Disc one offers a gag reel and guest star feature, while disc two offers short Q & A's with the cast and crew, as well as a brief featurette on locations. The commentaries are a great listen, as the three tracks provide a good deal of insight into the creative process, with thoughts on story development, acting, characters, locations and more.
Final Thoughts: Sweet without being cheesy, charming without being forceful or manipulative and effortlessly enjoyable, "Royal Pains" is a pleasant surprise and a great deal of fun. Highly recommended.