There’s nothing quite like being ill on television. Since the dawn of black and white broadcasting, has there ever been a season that didn’t have a doctor series? Remember Marcus Wellby MD or Dr. Kildare? I hope not – you’d have to be at least as old as me, so let’s not start there. Doogie Howser MD… you know – the genius who becomes a teenage doctor… still too long ago? Of course the older I get the more the idea of a teenage doctor becomes more plausible. There are a lot of professionals I see these days that look like teenagers to me.
But it seems this last decade has brought on a golden age of hospital hysteria. In fact, it’s beginning to seem like there’s no end to the misery brought forth from modern medicine being shot into our veins with no vaccine on the horizon.
We could start with a good dose of Grey’s Anatomy or, after seventeen seasons, perhaps overdose is more appropriate. Take a batch of newbies and put them in the world’s most unprofessional ‘teaching’ hospital to become surgeons. Apparently it’s a given that such students, already qualified as doctors, should all be treated like teenage imbeciles while they learn the finer points of shagging co-workers in the closets, lounges and hallways of Seattle’s wonkiest hospital. If you’re not playing the character of Meredith Grey, don’t plan on staying too long. Being related in any way to Meredith is a death sentence on this series: mother, step-mother, half sister and husband all hit the chopping block with more regularity than Henry the Eighth’s wives. With a body count like this, the writers must have used up all the plot devices to snuff Meredith’s kith and kin – everything from Alzheimer’s to plane & car crashes to a case of terminal hiccups.
But while Meredith and her happy crew are enjoying the bright lights of the operating theatre while digging around inside people and demonstrating that ‘Bones’ doesn’t have the market cornered for TV gore, along comes the delightful Dr. House, played by Hugh Laurie. It’s not that the idea of an anti-social belligerent doctor doesn’t have comic possibilities. Doc Martin (played by Martin Clunes) has been successfully milking laughs from the same idea for some time now. Sadly the wonderfully comic Laurie left his funny bone back on the set of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’. House is an unrelentingly unfunny, acerbic and serious doctor. It’s a tribute to Laurie’s skill and range of acting ability, but the series is rather hampered by the predictable formula that played out every week: the patient has _____ (fill in the blank) and nobody but the amazing Dr. House can (eventually) figure out what it is. He and his little team of long suffering students always have two dead ends to explore before Dr. House gathers them all in the study and – TA DA! – reveals the disease: it was Col. Mustard with the venereal disease in the library.
And if House wasn’t enough, David Shore, creator of House, has now delivered unto us something called The Good Doctor. Surely if you liked the wonky antics of (originally named) Seattle Grace Hospital and the anti-social, belligerent doctor House, you will love combining the ideas. Let’s take another wonky ‘teaching’ hospital and insert a savant autistic individual who is, because of his condition, incapable of empathy or many other normal emotions and put him in training to be a surgeon. Yup, it’s got to be a winner!
There are a few things that unite each series. For a start there are always some weird pathologies and goofy patient presentations. Robert Sean Leonard (played Wilson as Dr. House’s sidekick) showed up on an episode of The Good Doctor with a marlin (the fish) stuck through his leg – he never went for laughs like that on House. My favorite is not from House – it was the guy who stuck his penis in a hornet’s nest – sure why not, doesn’t everyone? Each series also has the busy doctors giving endless hours helping patients through any crisis in their private lives and lots of time to sort out their own chaotic love lives with their co-workers. The nurses are the only staff in these hospitals that look busy while the doctors are miraculously freed from any paper work, rounds or other mundane bureaucratic requirement. But the real grabber is the plenteous amount of operating gore. Don’t we just love to watch the good doctors tuck negatives of brain scans upside down into viewers while we wait to see what bit of someone’s inside will soon be hacked into in the full glory of color? Maybe Jack wouldn’t have become a ripper if they’d only had hospital television back then!
In trying to predict the next mega hospital hit, I’m thinking we’ll start with a group of idealistic young doctors in training to be surgeons. Let’s have the main character a curmudgeon savant schizophrenic individual who keeps falling off his meds but is beloved and helped along by everybody except the dreadful hospital administrator. The students will all be mentored by a ten-year old chief of surgery in a wonky teaching hospital that’s floating in outer space. Nobody gets into the hospital unless they are dysfunctional and everybody’s love life will be in disarray. They’ll all be copulating like rabbits on steroids and, of course, there will be a bounteous supply of patients exhibiting plenty of weird pathologies. It will have the usual parade of gory operations but they’ll operate mostly on space aliens. Now for the pièce de résistance… just for good measure, the cast will have to have a sprinkling of jaded vampires.
David Shore – are you taking notes?