'Black Box,' 9 p.m. Thursdays on ABC
No stars (out of four)
Catherine Black is a doctor with demons. She's impossibly brilliant, a neuroscientist so revered for her work that she's known as "the Marco Polo of the brain." But her own brain is her enemy, driving her to dance wildly to smooth jazz and think about flying off a handy balcony.
That's because Cat (Kelly Reilly) is secretly bipolar, and the medication that lets her function normally also dulls her dazzling intellect. So, from time to time, she flushes her drugs and takes "a freakin' rocket ride." Unfortunately, anybody who samples "Black Box" is forced to go along.
This is, hands down, the worst series of the year, with the most annoying lead character in a season with many annoying lead characters.
Sadly, it is built on good intentions.
"The show has been a great journey for me, driven by a passion that is both personal and intellectual," Amy Holden Jones, creator of ABC's "Black Box," says in a preface to the episode provided for review. "My father was a physician, a cancer researcher, and he was bipolar."
Jones' father might not recognize himself in Catherine Black, whom we get to know as she's making an impassioned speech about being "medicated into mediocrity" and then having an anonymous fling ("on the ride home, I became hyper sexual") with a cab driver.
Then, the saxophone kicks in and it's out onto the balcony to dance, dance, dance.
The great Vanessa Redgrave, who must not have seen the entire script, plays the sensible therapist.
"Normalizing does not doom you to mediocrity," she says. "It allows you to live long enough to do your best work."
The "black box," ABC tells us, is what doctors call the brain, "because they an see what goes in and comes out, but what happens inside is a mystery." In future episodes, Catherine will explore such neurological conditions as "the self-explanatory Exploding Head Syndrome."
Warning: You may feel as if your own head is exploding as you grab for the remote to turn off "Black Box."