Medical procedures aren't always by the book, especially for doctors working with limited resources in the South American jungle.
Three young medics get that education fast in "Off the Map," a seriocomic, scenic ABC series from Shonda Rhimes and fellow makers of "Grey's Anatomy" that debuts Wednesday, Jan. 12.
Actually being filmed in Hawaii, the show features Zach Gilford ("Friday Night Lights"), Caroline Dhavernas ("Wonderfalls") and Mamie Gummer -- daughter of two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep -- playing the newcomers who learn to use a coconut for a blood transfusion, among other lessons.
Personal baggage is part of what the trio brings, and they find others coping with emotional complications. Their main supervisor (Martin Henderson) has a deep, secretive connection to another doctor (Rachelle Lefevre, "Twilight"), while two more staffers (Jason George, Valerie Cruz) also are linked beyond their professional ties.
Series creator and executive producer Jenna Bans went to South America for her initial "Off the Map" research, and she reports she had "experts helping me, like doctors who have done (the volunteer program) Doctors Without Borders and different kinds of international outreach work. This is set in a fictional country, so we can pull from many different influences a little from Peru, a little from Costa Rica. It's one big melting pot."
Executive producer Rhimes says that even with her background in medical dramas, it was important for her newest one to be set on largely unfamiliar turf.
"I want the show to stand on its own two feet," she says, "because it's very different from 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Private Practice.' Just because the worlds of all these shows are medical, that doesn't mean they're in any way similar. I say this is sort of 'Indiana Jones with scalpels.' "
Co-star Gummer notes there's true camaraderie among the "Off the Map" actors, especially being together so far from home. "There certainly are parallels" between the performers and their characters, she confirms, "arriving and trying to navigate this uncharted territory. It's easier for us as actors to come into this world and constantly try to get our bearings."
Though she's new to the immediate atmosphere in her "Off the Map" role as Mina Minard, Gummer did research of her own before starting the show.
"I read a book called 'Inside the Outbreaks' (by Mark Pendergrast), about epidemiologists who trot all over the globe," she says. "It was fascinating stuff, and it helped me get into the mindset where Mina is so driven in her approach to the work. At least outwardly, it's what she wants to believe is driving her."
The "Off the Map" pilot episode was done in Puerto Rico, but filming then was relocated to take advantage of a production infrastructure that has supported ABC's now-ended "Lost" and, of course, the current CBS reboot of "Hawaii Five-0." Bans says, "The great thing about Hawaii is that it can double, and has doubled, for so many different locations for so many years. It's been perfect for us. We've been able to find everything there."
Rhimes credits veteran casting director Linda Lowy with helping to gather several series veterans and a screen legend's offspring, but she adds, "Jenna had a very specific idea of what she was looking for. That always helps, when you know your characters as well as Jenna does, so it was oddly simple to bring everybody together."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun