Television: ‘Critical’ needs a dose of the emotion shown by ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Review: Ugly reality TV on ‘Immigration Street’ while ‘Suffragettes Forever’ is a bit niche

Chilly countenance: Claire Skinner as Lorraine Rappaport in ‘Critical’

Chilly countenance: Claire Skinner as Lorraine Rappaport in ‘Critical’

 

As a committed fan of medical dramas since the days of ER, when George Clooney was a B-movie actor in scrubs and Julianna Margulies was a nurse and not a Good Wife, the arrival of a big, glossy new one counts as a must-see. Critical (Sky 1, Tuesday) is written by Jed Mercurio, whose last TV outing was the superb, original and nail-biting police thriller Line of Duty. He also has medical form, in Cardiac Arrest and Bodies, and he used to be a doctor, so what’s not to like? A lot, actually.

We’re used to on-screen hospitals being unrecognisably swanky – I’ve stayed in far worse hotels than the airy, sparkly Seattle Grace of Grey’s Anatomy (Living, Wednesday) – so the set always an element of fantasyland. Even gritty old Casualty, on BBC One, doesn’t focus on rampant MRSA or on patients stuck for days on trolleys. But I’m not even sure the hospital in Critical is a hospital. It’s vast, with every surface a blinding white except for the medics’ scrubs, which are stylish slate-grey numbers over black tops.

From a distance the cast look like fashionable people in an art gallery wandering around an achingly hip operating-theatre installation. There’s a lot of faffing around with touch screens and digital readouts, which makes me think it’s supposed to be set in the future. And for some reason this temple of medical excellence has only one patient, which is distractingly weird.

The big idea in Critical is that rather than focus on the relationships between the staff – which is why Grey’s is such a hit – it’s all about the medicine, with each of the 13 episodes about a single case. But we never get to know the patient – a boring old knife-in-the-heart injury: House would sneer at such simplicity – or at least we don’t in this first episode, so it’s difficult to care too much.

And there’s no frisson of squeamishness as the camera closes in on a squelchy blood-filled chest cavity, because that looks terribly fake, too. There’s also not a hair net in sight on those perfectly coiffed surgeons’ heads. Those of us with medical expertise gained from hours of watching television worry about stray hairs falling into that gaping chest.

It’s great to see the Irish actor Catherine Walker in a big international TV role – she was a star of The Clinic, on RTÉ – although the women doctors, all the same age and shape, and with the same chilly countenance, seem clones of each other. It’s hard to get too interested in them, either.

For my medical-drama fix I think I’ll stick with the warm, engaging and reliably incident-packed Grey’s Anatomy, which is now three episodes past its midseason hiatus. (Spoiler alert: if you’re watching on RTÉ2 you are several episodes behind, so look away now.)

This week’s drama centres on the difficult subject of fatal foetal abnormality, and does so in a nuanced but heart-wrenching way. That’s one in the eye for anyone who thinks Grey’s is all about surgeons shifting each other in the storeroom, although it has quite a lot of that, too.

One of the midseason cliffhangers – there were at least three juicy ones – was the discovery that all is not right with April’s pregnancy. After two episodes in which abortion is presented as a path to take – a viable option in the eyes of her husband, Jackson – April, a devout Christian, still hopes against the medical evidence that the baby boy will be fine. With the reality of the condition now clear, the workaround for the moral dilemma is to induce April early so that she – still praying for a miracle – and Jackson can hold him before he dies. There are prayers and candles, twist-the-knife-in-your-heart acting and the multiple flashbacks that Grey’s does so well, all while several other meaty plots tick away in the background. There’s not a dry eye in the house: it’s a classic episode.

Immigration Street (Channel 4, Tuesday), from the same producers as last year’s screamingly controversial Benefit Street, arrives in truncated form: one episode instead of the intended six. Put simply, many residents of Derby Road in Southampton – the “immigration street” of the title – are mindful of the tabloid clickbait that was Benefit Street and don’t want the cameras there. In that series “benefit” was presented as interchangeable with “scrounger”, so naming a series Immigration Street seems loaded, as if the word is automatically negative, a promise of pre-election ammunition for UKip.

This programme is ugly, with boring contributions from the few who agree to take part while others make their opposition to the camera crew’s presence clear through verbal or physical confrontations.

The concept behind Immigration Street raises a broader point about reality TV: the production company appears to have come on to the previously anonymous, non-newsworthy street and started filming, on the assumption perhaps that people would be happy to get their 15 minutes of fame. It wouldn’t wash in a middle- or upper-class area, and Derby Road is neither.

I’m not sure I buy the production company’s side of the story, as presented in this attempt to salvage some television time from the exercise. The gist is that they intend to be positive, to show the street with its 30 nationalities as a multicultural melting pot.

What this saga needs is a third eye, another production company to document objectively what happens from all sides, including how the street comes under siege from the press. That would be more interesting.

Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power (BBC Two, Wednesday), presented by the historian Amanda Vickery, is rigorous and serious in its approach. It is, I suspect, of strongest appeal to people interested in filling the gaps in their knowledge of British feminist history rather than to viewers coming to it cold.

In this first programme, focusing on the 18th century, Vickery packs in a huge number of events and of people. Potentially vivid segments, such as one on the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, are dispatched in a few minutes when there is much more to be said. I might wait to tune in again until the third and final part of this series, when Vickery brings the story into more recent times.

Ones to Watch: 1990s Roscommon and baked journalists

Roscommon was never so famous. The third series of Chris O’Dowd’s comedy Moone Boy (Sky1, Monday) kicks off with the promise of less hideous clothes – it’s the 1990s – and cameos from Terry Wogan, Sharon Horgan and John Sessions.

The Channel 4 News journalist Jon Snow (left) and the royal correspondent Jennie Bond are two of the volunteers willing to get wasted on TV for an experiment to see the impact of drugs, in the already controversial Drugs Live: Cannabis on Trial (Channel 4, Tuesday). tvreview@irishtimes.com

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