The unkindest cut.
November 4, 2007
I don’t really watch television these days. While I saw my fair share of “the Simpsons” back in the day, and occasionally consented to a post-exam DVD marathon back at university (thank you, “Arrested Development”), I’ve lived the past two years without a television, and I can’t really say I miss it. My abstention isn’t a means of condescending to the CheezIt-consuming public; I’m just busy, and when I do end up watching television, I find that I have little patience for the ever-increasing hyper-fast cuts between scenes and the tortured, reality-show-inspired melodrama of most dramas (and I would not mind if everyone even remotely related to the washed-up-celebrity-repackaging-apparatus of MTV and VH1 were to be imprisoned in a gulag, or better yet, shot into the sun for unleashing “I Love New York 2” upon an unsuspecting humanity).
As you might imagine, this cuts my arsenal of small talk down a bit. When confronted by references to “Lost,” “30 Rock,” or “the Office” (USA version, as the British one dodged the statute of limitations), I generally have to steer the conversation toward something a little more familiar (not the local sports team). It’s not that I have anything against these shows, I’m sure that they’re quite entertaining, as they happen to have engrossed plenty of smart people I know (though there are exceptions, although to avoid offending anyone I will have to refer to the show via an “alias”), but I simply find it easier to toss the whole medium aside.
However, entering medicine has cut off a major line of retreat for me. Whenever I begin shepherding matters away from television, someone always manages to ask, “what do you think of _____ medical show?” The directness of the question defies easy deflection, and after a while, I simply got sick of not having a good answer. So, with Sun-Tzu watching over my shoulder, I decided to defy the tactic by giving into it. I sat down and watched some medical-y shows on my laptop. And by the end, I wanted to toss my laptop out with the television.
Plot: Dr. Meredith Grey is a new surgical resident at a high-powered hospital. There are also other surgical residents and attendings, and they are all terribly attractive. The lot of them have steamy encounters outside of the OR, and drama ensues.
Big risk: Can a drama succeed when the main character is basically a prickly twat?
Is it medical?: Some of the more outlandish cases are actually rooted in medical fact. For instance, it is possible for a person to live a fairly normal life with only half of a brain (one hemisphere). Surgical residents are also super-stressed. Yet, a good portion of this stress comes from the fact that surgical residencies are often tremendously boring, from long hours and fights over who gets to do surgery rather than scutwork, to the fact that routine procedures are just that, routine. Most people who undergo surgery are not trying to reduce their inconvenient, spontaneous orgasms.
Cons: “Grey’s Anatomy” has added more than its fair share of regrettable entries into the vernacular. Not only can we thank it for “McSteamy,” “McDreamy,” and “McPutyourstupidadaptationhere,” but why your relationship will never progress beyond “sex and mockery,” and everyone’s favorite, the inimitable “vajayjay.”
Pros: It’s nice to see that Sandra Oh’s career has continued beyond “Arli$$.”
Plot: The show chronicles the lives of the doctors and staff of “County General Hospital,” which is essentially a carbon copy of the über-stressed, real-life Cook County Hospital, which has a legendarily busy ER. As the show’s season has long since surpassed the double-digit mark, there have been more characters on the show than we have space to list on WordPress.
Diagnosis: “ER” plays pretty close to the rulebook. Although it certainly bends more than enough for dramatic purposes, the show has more or less run the gamut of routine (but still life-threatening) conditions to show up on the ward. The show also manages to convey the fact that the operation of the emergency room isn’t constrained to those who work in it; emergency and police personnel are an essential part of the set-up.
Working in a busy e.r. can also be quite dangerous, a fact that was employed to considerable effect when medical school student Lucy Knight was killed by a schizophrenic patient. Although statistically speaking, it’s much more likely that some drunk jerk would have attacked her (sadly, there are plenty of them in the e.r. on a given night), rather than someone with schizophrenia (few of whom are actually violent), when compared to the doctors on other shows who have to deal with violent patients (e.g. getting knocked unconscious by a baby’s junkie father and then gearing up to do some more surgery), such deviations are pretty trivial.
Cons: The danger/death thing is used much too much in later seasons (e.g. a doctor loses a limb to a helicopter rotor in one season, and has another helicopter fall squarely on him in the next one). Furthermore, the number of doctors who end up leaving the show due to their stubborn willingness to perform ethically-correct but legally- or financially-inviable procedures is simply ridiculous.
Pros: Again, the show is fairly accurate, and given its sweeping novel-like breadth, it really does give a reasonable sense of the environment of an emergency room and the hospital. Were ER to move a little further beyond melodrama territory, it could be a really effective medium for examining the shortcomings of health-care in an urban environment (ala how the “the Wire” looks at public policies such as drug enforcement and education).
Plot: J.D., a new intern, along with his friends Turk and Barbie, embarks on a fun-filled journey through residency at Sacred Heart hospital. Given that the hospital is also full of wacky doctors, nurses, and janitors, can laughs, a little heartbreak, and life lessons be far behind (groan)?
Vital Signs: “Scrubs” doesn’t hide the fact that it’s wacky, and its moves towards the maudlin are telegraphed extensively. Thanks to some remarkably hokey CGI, viewers are introduced to such fascinating patients as the man with a kitten in his mouth (“or should I say, a kitten with a person around it?”), and J.D.’s head occasionally disconnects from his body and flies around the wards. Yet, apart from the frequent dream sequences, irksome attempts at seriousness, and occasional breaches of the fourth wall, the show manages to effectively portray the absurdities inherent to the culture of medicine, such as the doctor/surgeon divide.
Cons: No Hawkeye Pierce.
Pros: Most of “Scrubs'” additions to pop culture remain at the pop-culture-reference level, and thus remain funny rather than annoying. Paging Dr. Acula?