- September 3-4, 9 p.m., A&E.
Based on the popular 1977 novel by Robin Cook (which was also made into a 1978 movie directed by Michael Crichton), A&E miniseries Coma packs two hours of story into four hours, which means it’s full of go-nowhere plot digressions and half-hearted red herrings. Beneath all the filler lies a halfway decent medical thriller, although it’s consistently undermined by the choppy pacing, cheesy dialogue and indifferent acting.
Lauren Ambrose plays medical student Susan Wheeler, who uncovers a conspiracy when she notices that an inordinate number of otherwise healthy patients at the hospital where she’s working have lapsed into comas during what should be routine surgeries. Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) plays Susan’s mentor/lover/co-investigator, but the two leads are overshadowed by the big names in the supporting cast: James Woods, Richard Dreyfuss, Geena Davis, Joe Morton, Ellen Burstyn. Other than Burstyn, who plays the delightfully evil head of a suspicious coma-care facility, the veteran actors are mostly in paycheck-cashing mode, and it doesn’t help that their characters are often superfluous.
The first half of the two-night event (which was produced by filmmaker brothers Ridley and the late Tony Scott) builds a reasonable amount of suspense, but the second half squanders it with never-ending chases and dead-end plot threads. Somehow Coma is both excessively padded and narratively rushed, conveniently wrapping up while leaving plenty of loose ends. It flirts with important issues of medical ethics but ultimately has nothing to say, settling for cheap (and mostly ineffective) scare tactics over anything genuinely unsettling.