A Gifted Man sums up the "she dies" genre — and not in a good way

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There's a genre of movies that can be summed up this way: "She dies in the end." In them, a beautiful, angelic, ethereal woman teaches a self-centered man to love and fully experience life - and then gets killed. A Gifted Man is the exact same genre inverted. Oh no, he doesn't die. She still dies. She just dies in the beginning.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, a number of A-list actresses chose death as a career move. Charlize Theron dropped dead after loving and improving Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder dropped dead after loving and improving Richard Gere, Mandy Moore dropped dead after loving and improving that guy from Nikita, and Leelee Sobieski dropped dead after loving that guy from American Pie. No, that other guy. No. That other guy. Yes, him. Gwyneth Paltrow and Meg Ryan both dropped dead after loving guys and possibly improving their lives in alternate dimensions or higher planes of existence. It was a thriving concept, and has recently added another A-list actress to its ranks, but by necessity it couldn't be sustained. That pesky tragic ending was always out there, eliminating the possibility of sequels or longer stretches of drama. The concept was built on its own, ahem, demise.

A Gifted Man, the new tv series on CBS, has found a way out of that trap. This show lets its viewers know that death should not provide any respite from a woman's sacred duty to change a man. Instead of a woman dying at the end of a movie, after she has changed a guy's life, put him in touch with what really matters, and opened his eyes to the beauty and whimsy of life, she dies at the beginning, and has the rest of eternity to devote to his improvement. This really opens up the field for the concept.


Patrick Wilson, a rich and arrogant neurosurgeon, is startled one day to see his ex-wife, a self-sacrificing family practitioner who last was at a free clinic in Alaska, wandering around the streets of New York. They have dinner at his place. The next day he finds out that she died two weeks ago. She died, she tells him later, because she ran into the street to fetch a lost ball for a group of children. (Saving an orphaned nun's puppy from a burning building would have been laying it on too thick.) She appears to him several times more times. The first time she gets him to unlock the computer systems at the clinic. The second time she forces him to treat a several patients from that clinic, while paying for their treatment as well.


So far, it's possible that she's just a bossy ghost getting him to finish up tasks that she left undone. If that had been the case the whole series might have had a more Joan of Arcadia feel to it. But when the show reveals that her password for the computer system is still the name of the husband who divorced her and took off for New York ten years previously, we get a feeling that that's not the case. When she starts hanging out with him on a pier and in an astral realm when he's projecting himself out of his body (this really happens), telling him about how there are some things he can't control and some things he should just accept that he doesn't understand, we know it's not really about getting things done. This is going to be a Sweet November that never ends.

At least the cast is perfect. Patrick Wilson has played the least-liked member of the Watchmen, a deranged evangelical Christian, a pedophile fashion photographer, and the honest-to-god villain in the A-Team movie. No one who battles Liam Neeson could be a virtuous person. Wilson's had plenty of practice convincing people that he's a creep. Julie Benz plays his sister, a struggling, put-upon single mother who is at times affectionate, at times appalled, and at times mystified by the main character - which is exactly who she successfully played in Dexter. Meanwhile, Jennifer Ehle is the literally angelic love interest. She's particularly well-cast. You can just picture her strutting around the set, "You want luminous? I got your luminous right here. Let me give you the smile - Boom! Down to earth, loving, wise - it's a shame that you didn't have me killed while rescuing a puppy, because I could have pulled that off. I'll be in my trailer while you collect yourselves."


It's only the pilot. Possibly the season could take some interesting turns, with the ex-wife possessing a patient and spewing pea soup everywhere, or rounding up a ghost army to ride herd on all the self-centered jerks in New York, or possibly just realizing the guy isn't worth it and begging for the merciful release of real death. But most likely it will the bittersweet romantic movie that never ends - with her putting her all into relentlessly pushing this guy towards moral, emotional, and spiritual perfection, because what else is she going to do with her afterlife?

I'm hoping for the ghost army, though.