"Chicago Hope: The Musical!"
In a daring, unconventional and flat-out weird episode, Dr. Aaron Shutt bursts a blood vessel, and "Chicago Hope" bursts into song.
Adam Arkin, the poker-faced actor who splits his time between Seattle and Los Angeles, normally shares screen time with the rest of the fine ensemble cast: Emmy winner Hector Elizondo, Christine Lahti, Mark Harmon, Peter Berg and others.
Tonight's surreal show (10 p.m., KIRO-TV) focuses intently on Arkin's Shutt, putting the actor in almost every scene. "And my deep affection for this episode has nothing to do with that," says Arkin, flashing by phone his characteristic irony.
Arkin's pent-up brain surgeon finally cuts loose, lashing out with shades of the raging sarcasm once displayed by Arkin's recurring "Northing Exposure" character. At the beginning of the show, Shutt has a savage headache, which has the usually meek, trod-upon doctor snapping at everyone in sight. (To Lahti's Dr. Austin, who asks him for advice: "You know, to be perfectly honest, Kate, I don't care what you do.")
After a "You can't fire me, I quit!" scene, Shutt is stuck in line inside a "convenience" station, where a player piano is burrowing into his skull. "I'm not trying to make your life any more difficult than it clearly must already be," he barks at a cashier, "but I have a really bad headache, and the noise from this thing is making me just a tad psychotic."
Seconds later, Shutt is on the ground, clutching his skull . . . and next thing you know, it's tuxedo-and-dance time. While most of the other actors lip-sync, Arkin himself belts out "Luck Be a Lady," the "Guys and Dolls" number. "It took a lot of hard work," says Arkin, whose only previous experience in a musical was a substitute run on "Guys and Dolls" on Broadway. "It was a wonderful experience and wonderful task to throw yourself into."
This offbeat episode also has Shutt flashing back to a childhood singing experience. The voice of the child singing is actually Arkin's own, from a recording made by his father, the greatly respected comic actor Alan Arkin. (The father and son have acted together a half-dozen times, most recently when Alan played Adam's father last season on "Chicago Hope.")
Mandy Patinkin's Dr. Geiger - who left the show as a regular but returns infrequently - even shows up, to sing and give the hallucinating Shutt angelic advice. Arkin says he and Patinkin hardly had to struggle to reprise their rhythm. "We fall into it very quickly . . . Mandy was very much a part of what launched the show and defined the show. I think he set a standard of work and dedication to the work that is still a part of the show."
Even during the intense production season, Arkin returns to the Northwest as often as possible. "Technically, I don't live in Seattle," he says from his trailer on the 20th Century Fox lot. "I've pretty much resigned myself to living in Los Angeles. But I'm very much connected to my daughter." Arkin's daughter, who is 10, lives with her mother in Seattle.
"Most of the time, when I have any time off I come up to Seattle . . . I find it recharges me, when I get out of Los Angeles. Just being with my daughter does that.
"And it's a reminder that there is life outside of show business."