Well, I guess I got what I wanted. Breathless isn’t actually Dr Heartbeat. It’s far too busy being Dr Mad Men instead.
Set in 1961, a certain amount of overlap in hairstyles and costumes is going to be inevitable, but so much about this is Mad Men re-created on a budget and re-located to Holby City gynaecology ward that it’s embarrassing.
I’m not even talking about the pregnant women (and everybody else) smoking and the drinking and driving and whatnot – again, it’s 1961, so some overlap is fair enough. I mean all the main characters seem to have emigrated from Sterling Cooper.
Take Davenport’s slick-haired Otto Powell. Suave, handsome, confident. Intimidatingly good at his job. Dark secrets in his past and present. Ignores/cheats on his increasingly troubled blonde wife, despite an almost irresistible sympathy and understanding towards other women. Uh-huh. They couldn’t have been more blatant if they’d called him Dr Don Draper.
Although the writers were obviously worried they’d been a touch too subtle with “Otto”, so they went a step further and named the red-haired, curvaceous, determined nurse with the nasty doctor fiancé (he’s the Pete Campbell, by the way) and the red dress to show off her figure “Jeanie.” Just in case we didn’t work out for ourselves she’s Nurse Joanie Holloway. FFS.
Sigh. I so want to be fair to Breathless. I so want to like it. But I’m struggling, and it’s not just the borrowing from other shows that’s putting me off; if your show’s good, borrowing’s forgiveable. But Breathless isn’t good. It’s more cheesy and dull than anything else.
The main problem is the characters, I think. For the most part, they’re ciphers rather than people you can believe in or care about. Yes, there are a few moments when Otto’s mask of self-satisfaction slips and we get a glimpse of the more vulnerable, more likeable man underneath. And the new nurse Angie may just be able to carry off principled and pretty without being too perfect. But their relationship is so desperately bogged down in cliche and the affair they haven’t even started yet is so clearly signposted from the second they meet that I’m already bored with it. And they’re the characters I like! I care so very, very little about any of the others, that if even these two and their forbidden attraction can’t hold my attention, what hope is there for the rest of the show?
Of course, there are some interesting themes. The underground abortion story could be an intelligent exploration of a complex and difficult issue, if it worked a bit harder. The horrific Dr Truscott’s behaviour towards his patients and fiancée, and Jeanie’s own worries about marriage and status could be used to examine the position of women and attitudes to women’s bodies in medicine and society. But while the ideas are there, the execution isn’t, so it all just seems a bit corny and tired. And – never mind Mad Men – far too much like an old-timey episode of Casualty to ever really spark my enthusiasm. I’ll give it another week to grab me, since it’s Jack Davenport and I love him, but it’s not looking good.