Despite widespread and deserved critical disdain, I rather enjoyed the first couple of episodes of Off the Map. It’s clearly not a GOOD show, but it’s a show that’s extremely effortless to watch. Many have aptly described it as Grey’s Anatomy on an island, but it’s also sort of what Lost would have been like if every character were early-season Jack and the smoke monster was a whole bunch of sick people with odd ailments.
Even more so than on those other shows, the cast is composed entirely of beautiful people (there’s not even a token fat guy for comic relief). Like Lost, the background scenery is consistently breathtaking, which combined with the cast makes the show very easy on the eyes.
Most importantly, Off the Map seemed to know what it was. The first few episodes provided an oddly satisfying, if admittedly stupid, mix of melodrama and ridiculousness. Sure, some people scoffed when the second episode centered around a guy who was in the process of being squeezed to death by a giant, extremely fake-looking anaconda. But to me, that’s just good dumb fun.
Likewise, the pilot featured Michael McKean attempting to spread his dead wife’s ashes over a particular, glow-in-the-dark* lake. But then he hurt himself! By the end of the episode, he was patched up, but still in need of urgent medical care. So the beautiful doctors sent for a medevac helicopter. As the beautiful doctors wheeled their patient to the helicopter, he woke and started complaining about not getting to spread his wife’s ashes. The beautiful doctors responded to these complaints by … making the helicopter wait and rowing McKean to his special spot. Which is completely absurd and nakedly manipulative. But who really cares? The lake was pretty! Michael McKean cried! Happy endings all around!
(*Because of bugs. Or something.)
The danger in combining this sort of over the top melodrama with ridiculous, sensational situations lies in taking any of it seriously. For the most part, the first three episodes avoided that temptation. The fourth episode, on the other hand, um, didn’t.
For those of you who may have for whatever reason missed it, “On the Mean Streets of San Miguel” was mostly doing fine until until the beautiful blonde doctor uttered the always troublesome line, “He’s a Nazi.” And she didn’t mean a metaphorical Nazi, which would be problematic enough. As she pointed out later to her handsome male doctor coworker, “My patient is literally a Nazi.” OK then.
The Nazi in question was an old fellow who had fled to South America so as to avoid prosecution for war crimes. He regretted the misguided Naziness of his youth and had built for himself a respectable, even altruistic life as a beloved teacher to poor South American children. Golly, Off the Map, people sure are complicated, aren’t they? The remainder of the story centered on the beautiful blonde doctor’s decision to keep the dying former-Nazi alive so he could face some sort of vague authority instead of mercifully letting him die.
Now, is it possible for a show that had just featured a giant, extremely fake-looking anaconda to do a story like this? Well, probably not. But Off the Map did a wonderful job of compounding the problem by leavening the Nazi A-plot with subplots involving lightly comic relationship drama and a patient with a large, painful erection. Because nothing goes together better than Nazis and dick jokes.
As you can probably imagine, while the episode was going for something meaningful, it came off as somewhat tasteless. In the case of Off the Map, it would probably be better off forgoing any attempts at meaningfulness altogether.