December 05, 2010

Preview of Off the Map

Off the Map is an ABC TV show debuting in January. Let's take a look:

About Off the MapExecutive producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice) and creator Jenna Bans (Grey's Anatomy) bring to viewers an uplifting medical drama that explores how far one has to go in order to truly heal.

Welcome to "la ciudad de las estrellas" (the city of stars), a tiny town in the South American jungle which has one understaffed, under-stocked medical clinic. That's where idealistic young Dr. Lily Brenner just landed, along with fellow doctors Mina Minard and Tommy Fuller. All of these young doctors are running away from personal demons, but they aren't the only ones with emotional baggage. Take the legendary and enigmatic Ben Keeton, who was the youngest Chief of Surgery at UCLA. He walked away from it all to found the clinic. Together with his right-hand doctor, Otis Cole, the mysterious Dr. Ryan Clark and local doctor Zita Alvarez, he'll teach the newcomers how to save lives in the most challenging environment they've ever worked in—while taking them on adventures of a lifetime.

In this ensemble drama, six doctors who have lost their way will go to the ends of the earth to try to remember the reasons why they wanted to become doctors in the first place.

Off the Map stars Jonathan Castellanos as Charlie, Valerie Cruz as Zitajalehrena Alvarez (Zee), Caroline Dhavernas as Lily Brenner, Jason George as Otis Cole, Zach Gilford as Tommy Fuller, Mamie Gummer as Mina Minard, Martin Henderson as Ben Keeton and Rachelle Lefevre as Ryan Clark.
Comment:  This show has a huge potential to be stereotypical if not offensive. Let's examine the potential problems:

  • The Off the Map theme embodied in the title. I suspect we'll hear how remote and wild the jungle is constantly. The "the most challenging environment" and "the ends of the earth," says this article. "The Wild West," says the excerpt below. Yes, because wherever you have Indians, you must have "stone knives and bearskins" by definition. A jungle village couldn't possibly have the Internet, computers, or television. Not to mention supplies and conveniences brought regularly by truck, boat, or plane.

    In reality, Off the Map is filming in Hawaii, so the jungle's going to look pretty tame. Also, a couple scenes show the doctors looking out over the ocean. That would place them along the coast of Colombia, Venezuela, or Brazil.

    I imagine you'd have a hard time finding a village "off the map" along the Caribbean coast. I'm guessing any coastal location is within a few miles of a city, seaport, village, factory, oil well, or tourist resort. The coast isn't remote by definition.

  • The cast features five white doctors, one black doctor, a Latina doctor (Valerie Cruz), and what looks like a Native boy (Jonathan Castellanos). The Latina is so beautiful she might as well be a model. The boy probably will provide local wit, wisdom, and high jinks like any number of indigenous sidekicks (e.g., Tarzan's boy "Boy").

    And...that's it? A Latina hottie and a jungle boy? That's all the "local color" the cast will provide?

    How is it that a show set in a South American jungle is still predominantly white? Does the show really require six Americans who have to find themselves? How about some Latino and Native doctors with issues that need resolving? A medical professional from Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, or Buenos Aires would be just as lost in the jungle as a clueless American.

    In shows about doctors or missionaries in remote locations, usually the cast is predominantly native. For every 3-4 non-natives you have 6-7 natives in supporting roles. Will Off the Map uphold this ratio? Judging by the previews, no.

  • What about the demographics of the surrounding population? Will they reflect the demographics of a South American coastal nation--say, Venezuela?

    The Venezuelan population is something like 65% mestizo, 20% white, 10% black, and 2% indigenous. Can we expect Off the Map's patients to reflect these numbers? Roughly 80% brown and only 20% white? Will the producers fly in huge numbers of Latino and Native extras to make the show look realistic? Or will Hawaii's mixed-blood "Eurasians" play most of the background characters?

    I'm guessing the latter. Off the Map probably won't use enough Latino and Native actors to depict a genuine jungle clinic. The show may be more authentic than Crusoe or Running Wilde, but I doubt it'll be as authentic as The Mission or Medicine Man. I'm betting it'll look and feel phony.

    For more on how Americans view South American jungles, see Twilight's Amazon coven and Hidalgo in FIRST WAVE #4.

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