What's in a name? Plenty. Or so it would seem when it comes to Dr. Grace Devlin, the central character in Fox's crime drama/medical procedural mash-up The Mob Doctor.
The first part—the "Dr." part—gives us the bare bones basics of the character. Grace is a doctor; a still wet-behind-the-ears resident who has an impressive knack for healing and an equally impressive mountain of student loans. All important stuff, of course, but hardly unusual in a television landscape littered with hyper-talented, overworked physicians.
"Grace," her first name, offers us a little more insight—the setup, if you will. It seems that Grace's younger, slightly shifty brother Nate has a mountain of debts of his own to deal with—gambling losses he owes to the mob. He's in so far over his head that the wiseguys decide to kill him, and the only way our good doctor can save her beloved baby bro is by working for the mob on the sly. She's taking Nate's debt on her own shoulders, which gets to the very core of the Christian concept for which she was named. Then, when Nate's original IOU holder gets offed in the opening episode, she remains committed to sticking around town and protecting her brother, even though that seems to require her to keep her shady pact with the mob.
Which brings us to her last name, "Devlin," aka the core of the show. Grace showed some grace. We've covered that. But in so doing she signs part of her soul away to the devil. And when the "devil" dies, she signs it over to the guy who kills him—in this case a crime boss named Constantine. If Constantine wants Grace to take someone's pulse, she must. If he asks her to pilfer some industrial-strength painkillers, she'll find a way to do it. And if Constantine wants her to "accidentally" botch an operation on one of his Chicago-area rivals, well … the implications of what might happen if she refuses are crystal clear.
The Mob Doctor sports a bevy of content issues endemic to both the medical and crime television genres. Things get pretty bloody and pretty deadly both in and out of the operating room. Grace has been known to share her bed and her body with her beaus. Frank and evocative discussions about the medical implications of sexual activities—some of them carried out by minors—can get a lot of attention. The language can be rough.
Amid all that, The Mob Doctor plumbs an intriguing ethical question: What happens when good people do bad things? It gives us likeable characters, throws them into impossible situations and asks them to crawl through the muck toward some good, even admirable goal. And as they crawl, viewers are pushed past the realm of passive observers into a space where they become virtual judges and juries. Did Grace overstep? Should we give her a pass? Is it OK if she steals for the mob but not OK if she kills for it? And even as we recognize that not everything Grace does can be justified, we almost always root for her (and characters like her) to stay ahead of the law—for the sake of that good goal she has.
The questions The Mob Doctor inspires aren't always bad ones. But when we're asked to rationalize some of Grace's bad choices, that can't help but encourage us to rationalize a few of our own. And this is an area in which none of us need any extra pushes.
A wiseguy, on the run after killing someone, brags about his prolific drinking, smoking and sexual habits. Grace takes his urine sample (and carries it to the car in a plastic bottle), then smuggles him into the hospital under the auspices of a patient already dead. (A henchman stuffs the stiff in a closet.) We learn that the man's wife was poisoning him, and her corpse later shows up in the hospital, missing a finger where her wedding ring once was.
A woman wearing a blood-stained wedding dress walks into the hospital, weeping blood. Her examination and operation reveal a bit of skin and some of her internal organs. Someone threatens a truck driver with a gun. In flashback, we see Grace's drunk father passed out on the ground, then carted off by mob goons. A woman breaks a window. Constantine shakes down some "business partners" over illegal gaming machines.
A couple apparently used drugs to spice up their sex: Grace uses some, a "popper," to rouse an unconscious man. A mafia guy compliments Grace's butt. Characters say "b‑‑tard" (once), "a‑‑" (twice), "h‑‑‑" (four times), "d‑‑n" (twice) and "b‑‑ch" (twice). God's name is misused.