“Mary Kills People” is a smart, entertaining series that understands, on a core level, that nobody really wants to watch a TV show about medically assisted suicide. Use of that phrase so early in this review may send some running for the exits, but that would be a mistake. “Mary Kills People” is an energetic, savvy program that combines elements of crime thrillers, medical soaps, and propulsive character drama, employing all those recognizable forms to illuminate the complexity of the knotty issues at its core.
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Anchored by a charismatic performance from star Caroline Dhavernas, “Mary Kills People,” a Canadian import, resembles its lead character’s specially prepared doses of life-ending medication: It combines the dark stuff with a dollop of fizzy champagne. With a fraction of the resources of most American shows but a surfeit of ideas and frisky energy, this Lifetime drama supplies one of the most impressive debuts of the year.
The show itself is merciful; it doesn’t take long to go about its business. In this era of episodes of television that drift in maddening ways and seasons that often seem too long at a mere 10 or 13 episodes, “Mary Kills People” operates with a brisk Canadian efficiency. Its first season consists of six episodes, none of which is longer than 45 minutes. It’s easy to forgive a few patchy subplots and one or two generic bits of casting, given that “Mary” marches forward with a sense of purpose and economy that shows with 10 times its budget would do well to emulate.
Dhavernas, a versatile actor who brought a similar steely sympathy to her “Hannibal” character, plays Mary Harris, an ER doctor with a thriving side business. For a fee, she and her partner, Des (Richard Short), help people with terminal illnesses end their lives. Given that the activities of Mary and Des, an acerbic former plastic surgeon who lost his medical license, aren’t exactly legal, they are forced to operate on the fringes, which they rather enjoy.