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TV Series Review

With every major surgery comes major risk. Procedural complications. Potential side effects. Irreversible damage. Despite the looming presence of such hazards, most patients are willing to play the odds to experience the greater reward. On ABC's reality offering Miracle Workers that payoff is nothing short of, well, miraculous.

Like the Extreme Makeover franchise or Amy Grant's short-lived Three Wishes, this series aims to radically change lives.

Each week, a team of doctors and RNs finds two individuals suffering from some physical challenge. The goal is to match each prospective patient with a physician pioneering a cutting-edge procedure that could provide a cure, or at least improve their lives. According to the show, "These miracle doctors across the country are now making possible what was previously thought impossible."

It's true. The medical field is progressing at the speed of sound. In one episode, a man who'd been blind for 22 years has his sight restored. In another, a doctor helps a 19-year-old severely impaired by Tourette's syndrome to live a normal life. America also saw a toddler with extreme scoliosis get his spine straightened.

These are astounding feats that involve life-threatening operations. And producers play that emotional component to the hilt. As a result, we get an overwhelming dose of staged drama—forced scenes, robotic dialogue and semi-scripted reactions. The hosts repeatedly make it clear that stakes run high. "There's a keen sense of anticipation in this room," M.D. host Redmond Burke explains during one post-operation examination, just in case viewers hadn't figured that out on their own. "Twenty- two years of hopes and dreams are hanging on this moment."

Such over-the-top, heart-tugging verbiage fills what often feels more like a PAX infomercial than a reality show. Yet through all the moving stories and intense surgical procedures (which can get gory and are almost always wince-inducing), this series is about resurrecting hope. "I haven't had hope in a very long time," one girl says, thanking the show. Likewise, Burke tells an amputee of the plan to "restore you to being complete again." While Miracle Workers may overlook the spiritual facets of healing, hope and wholeness (Luke 9:1-6; 1 Peter 1:3-7; James 5:13-16), it meets a physical need that enables people to face the future with shining optimism.

Admittedly, this show suffers from a serious case of melodramatitis, working too hard to ratchet up natural tension. Still, only a hardened cynic would let that flaw rob them of the joy of seeing desperate people get a new lease on life.

Episodes Reviewed: March 6, 13, 20, 27, 2006

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