Nothing like a bunch of hospital shows to fill your quarantine media-watching needs…
You know how in some medical procedurals, half the conflict is from the characters’ romantic drama? Well, in this one half of it is from medical abuse, corruption, over-the-top unethical schemes, and general shadiness.
Just finished season 3. The writers are trying a little too hard to make a couple of those shady characters feel sympathetic, without substantially changing their behavior. But in general, it’s been good.
Production of the last few episodes was cut short by COVID-19, so they did some hasty shuffling to turn episode 20 into a reasonable finale. At least the case-of-the-week was appropriately dramatic, and creepily timely — it’s the back half of a 2-parter about [how unethical medical exploitation led to] a super-infectious fungus propagating in the hospital, and the perpetrators scrambling to cover it up before anyone with a conscience notices.
The writers even managed to slip in a couple last-minute lines like “at least it’s not airborne like the coronavirus.” Per the producer: “The way we were handling the superbug is very different from the way that you would handle a virus like COVID-19. We wanted to make sure the audience didn’t get those two confused, because it would have made us, as storytellers, look irresponsible.”
I wonder if, when the pandemic recedes enough that they can start filming season 4, they’ll set it during the outbreak? Or will they do a time-skip to the aftermath?
I’m wondering this about a lot of medical shows, tbh. But this is the only one I’ve seen where they managed to reference it in-universe before going dark.
The Good Doctor
This is the one with the super-anvilicious trailers, characters yelling “Do you REALLY think he can be a surgeon when he has…AUTISM?!?!”
And the first few episodes were about as bad as you’d expect, based on that! But then it settled into a groove, chilled out about the main character, and I made it through all 3 seasons on streaming.
There were a few deeply off-putting episodes, but they were basically isolated incidents, not ongoing plotlines. The standouts:
- A patient is a mute kid who signs, so everyone repeatedly conflates “nonverbal communication” (the kind without words) with “sign language” (which is language, as complex as any spoken language, with words and everything!)
- A 17-year-old trans girl, brought in with complications that turns out to be caused by her puberty-blockers, so she wants to skip straight to a double testectomy. Her parents are generally supportive of her gender, but don’t consent to this because it’s “a permanent change” that she’s “too young to decide to make”, never mind that the physical changes brought on by puberty are also a permanent change and they’re deciding to force it on her, and the doctors end up not doing it, and everyone’s insufferably smug about how it’s for her own good
- (note to the parents: your daughter will always remember this as the moment when she learned that, no matter how much you profess to love and support her, she can’t actually trust you with anything important)
- In a separate episode, a teenage cis girl comes in with a fake ID to get genital surgery without her parents’ consent, and, guess what, the doctors move heaven and earth to sidestep the rules and make it happen
- In another separate episode, a cis man comes in with complications that turn out to be from taking estrogen, and wants a testectomy as an alternative — the reason he’s trying to crater his libido is because, although he’s never acted on it, he’s physically attracted to kids — and the physicians won’t do that either! He’s an adult, he gives his full consent, but they want him to go through a 3-month psych evaluation (you know, just to confirm that he’s sure he wants to stop being aroused by children??), and, long story short, he unsuccessfully hurts himself and then successfully jumps in front of a bus. Exactly one (1) doctor feels any kind of regret about this, while another outright says “eh, the world’s probably better off this way”
- (you know what would really make the world better, is if doctors heard “I want to volunteer for a treatment that unequivocally helps prevent child abuse” and went “hot diggity dog, we love preventing child abuse, get this patient to the ER, there’s not a moment to lose!”)
- …So that’s not exactly an isolated incident, it’s a pattern of the show being convinced that “ability to produce sperm” is more important than anything else, including patient wishes, mental health, child safety, and human life
…Put all together like that, it sounds pretty awful, but this was spaced out over 56 episodes and there was a lot of more-palatable stuff in between!
Including things like “an alt-right radio host comes in with a ton of conspiracy theories about how he’s been poisoned, then it turns out he’s been sent to the hospital by his own brand of unregulated supplements.”
Until the end of s3, when the writers jump right off the MRA cliff. Our hero’s girlfriend dumps him because “you’re obviously in love with Woman #2, and you should tell her” (okay, this is part of another pattern, where characters chronically insist on contradicting the autistic guy about what his own feelings are), Woman #2 turns him down (as she’s already done earlier in the series), and he fixates on “women only want to date men who are tall, handsome, and neurotypical.” (Note: he’s only ever wanted to date women who are thin, beautiful, and neurotypical.)
Aaaaand then there’s a whole thing with a patient’s girlfriend finding out he’s been cheating and taking a golf club to his car, which inspires the main character to show up at Woman #2’s home with a blunt object, visibly agitated, and tell her “I want to smash your car. I want to hurt you the way you hurt me.” And her reaction isn’t “I’m calling the cops now”, it’s “I’m sorry.”
Two episodes after that…in spite of a pep talk from a patient who reminds him that he can find love in many places, he doesn’t have to fixate on a specific person who doesn’t even return his feelings…Woman #2 is kissing him and telling him how stupid she was for not agreeing to go out with him.
And the writers had previously spent so much time developing their dynamic as “a man and a woman can have a platonic friendship that’s healthy and loving and supportive”! I would’ve been disappointed no matter how they made it romantic, but might’ve kept watching, annoyed-but-not-surprised, if they’d done it another way. Like this, though? Hard no. I’m out.
Carol’s Second Act
Okay, gonna end the post on a lighter note. I haven’t seen the whole season — “which episodes are available for streaming” has been patchy and incomplete — but what I’ve seen is adorable.
It’s a sitcom about a schoolteacher who made a late-in-life career switch, so now she’s a medical intern, in a class of other interns who are young enough to be her kids. (Her actual kid, a pharma rep, shows up a few times too.) So there’s generation-gap humor, and “folksy teacher wisdom is surprisingly applicable to medical issues” humor, and Mom Jokes, and hospital-type workplace jokes, and it’s just absolutely charming.
You can tell they have a sitcom budget, not a network-drama budget. At least the rooms look like they’re in hospitals, not “a bedroom with white walls and one character wearing a stethoscope” — but they’re still low-res versions of the equivalent rooms in another show, and you can tell which part of the set is the fourth wall. Cases-of-the-week don’t involve anything too visually elaborate. Definitely no “close-up shots of the doctor’s hands mid-surgery.”
And, you know, they don’t go for horrible complications or tragic deaths. It’s not one of those shows where the setting is completely incidental — the writers have put some actual effort into medical details, there are plotlines about symptoms and diagnoses and treatments alongside “someone accidentally ate the senior resident’s lunch” or “one of the interns is secretly doing standup and the gang goes to watch her set.” But the tension in the patients’ cases isn’t “will they die horribly at the end of it,” and, sure enough…they don’t.
(Granted, since I haven’t seen the whole season, I can’t guarantee it’s not another “season finale takes a disappointing dive” show. I sure hope not. Either way, nobody spoil me.)
So if you generally like hospital procedurals, but right now you’ve maxed out your limit on stories about medical tragedies? This is the cheerful and uplifting version. Highly recommended.