Public Service Announcement 31 of 2016: Conviction, Code Black

New American drama Conviction reaches the UK this week. Hayley Atwell plays – deep breath – defence attorney Hayes Morrison, a defence attorney, the daughter of a former President, whose mother is also running for the Senate. She’s caught with cocaine and blackmailed by the DA into working for him as the head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, which looks into possible wrongful convictions. That’s quite a lot of backstory to be getting on with. This sounds like the sort of nonsense that I like, and I must admit that I was quite looking forward to it, but the reviews in America have suggested that there isn’t much to see; ratings aren’t great either, which means that renewal is unlikely. Shame (Sky Living, Wednesday November 2, 9pm).

Still, surprise renewals do happen: LA-set medical drama Code Black, for example, spent its first season on the bubble, but was ultimately renewed by CBS. (Unlike Limitless. I miss Limitless.) We reviewed season 1, but in the wake of some odd casting decisions between seasons – Raza Jaffrey and Bonnie Somerville out, Rob Lowe in – I am reliably informed by our Code Black correspondent that we won’t be doing the same with season 2 (W, Wednesday November 2, 9pm).

Also starting: season 2 of DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow (Sky 1, Thursday November 3, 8pm); season 13 of Grey’s Anatomy (Sky Living, Wednesday November 2, 10pm); season 5 of House Of Lies (Sky Atlantic, Thursday 3 November, 10.10pm); and season 1 of sci-fi drama The Expanse, starring Thomas Jane (Netflix, Thursday 3 November).

There’s a lot going on this week, so we’ll need more than one PSA to cover it all. More soon.

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Code Black ep 18

It’s the season, very possibly series, finale of Code Black and suddenly it’s an episode of 24?

Mario, Angus and Angus’s Adderall habit are the on-site docs at a Presidential Debate (sensibly involving made-up candidates instead of real ones – I don’t think the show needs that particular level of controversy) when a suspicious explosion causes mayhem: all of a sudden, there are blood and guns everywhere, Secret Service running about shouting things like “I’ve got Skylark!” and “Flamingo’s on my six!” and everyone’s at DEFCON ONE.

The Senator, his wife and daughter, and the Governor and his wife are rushed to hospital by chopper and various cars, with sniffer dogs and black-clad agents getting all up in the medics’ business. Or at least trying to; nobody at Angels Memorial is going to let law enforcement tell them how to treat their patients, no matter who their patients might be.

Matters are complicated, however, by the Governor’s wife and a poor janitor having exactly the same injury requiring exactly the same surgery at exactly the same time, when – who’d have guessed it? – only one surgeon is available to do it, and also by the fact that Angus is hyped out on his drugs, Heather is a psycho blackmailer and Christa has suddenly become a jealous teenager. “Do NOT cast me in the role of needy girlfriend,” she tells lovely Dr Neal, “I’m better than that and you know it.” While spending the entire episode acting exactly like a needy girlfriend and finally – I think? Maybe? – breaking up with lovely Dr Neal because she was once married (so?) and he once asked Grace to marry him. A year before he even met Miss Better Than the Role of Needy Girlfriend. FFS.

Look, it’s bad enough that Grace is annoying as anything – watching her successfully patronise the Governor’s wife into calming down is both unbelievable and stupendously irritating – but it’s insufferable that her addition to the cast has also turned the usually sensible and delightful Christa into an idiot. And it’s a particularly unfortunate way to end the season when the show’s precarious “on the bubble” status means this might be the last time we ever see Dr Lorenson at all.

Sigh.

I really liked Christa and Neal together, we waited ages for it to happen, and there was no reason for the writers to mess with that just yet. Change things up about the show, sure, but not the things that work!

On the changes that did work front, though, I wasn’t sure about Mike at first, but he’s turned out to be a far superior replacement for Guthrie Junior, and his scenes with Angus this week are unexpectedly poignant. Campbell might be an arrogant jerk, but he’s an interesting, charismatic one who should stick around if season two is actually commissioned after all. Leanne has gradually become less of an unbearably demented walking soundbite-generator and more of a largely inoffensive stereotype tv doctor as the season has worn on, so I suppose there’s hope for her too, as long as the tremendously watchable, decent Jesse is around to keep her in check. (I’d swap her for Dr Taylor in a heartbeat, though.) And hospital boss Dr Halpert got off to a rocky start, but he’s unexpectedly turned out to be all right, as well.

As were the finale, and, for the most part, the season in general. I won’t pretend that Code Black was ever essential viewing, nor that it had anything new or particularly powerful to add to the already-crowded field of hospital drama. As I’ve said before, that’s probably be too much to ask for, anyway – after 15 seasons of ER, 30 seasons (and counting) of Casualty and the hundreds of other shows in between, audiences are unlikely to be surprised by yet another GSW to the chest, yet another surgery/ER turf war or yet another new resident’s trials and tribulations. But despite Code Black’s flaws and cliches, immensely likeable performances from Raza Jaffrey, Bonnie Somerville, Luis Guzman, Kevin Dunn and (all-too-briefly!) Christina Vidal meant I grew to quite like it. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the show were cancelled now, but I’d watch a second season if it were renewed, which – in the insanely crowded current tv landscape, when I’m giving up on shows all over the place – I mean as no small compliment.

Code Black ep 17

After the brief madness with Malaya’s stalker and REDACTED’s murder over the past few weeks, Code Black has now settled back down into its usual watchable but unremarkable groove, which makes it something of a challenge to write about – I hardly have anything to say – but with just one episode left in the season, it seems weird to stop now.

This penultimate ep included a genuinely sweet and very funny storyline about a family injured at a zombie convention (and why not?); a very odd, unsatisfying sub-plot about possible child abuse at a camp for troubled kids where Christa’s entirely sensible instincts turned out to be wrong, because it’s more important to find ways for her and love rival/ professional irritant Grace to butt heads as much as possible than for the story to make sense; Leanne learning that with great power comes no money; and an estranged, thoroughly unlikeable couple finding their way back to each other through the time-honoured route of near-death.

It also has Campbell lecturing Neal on the differences between surgeons and emergency physicians – something every medical show likes to do on a regular basis, despite most of us non-medically qualified viewers not caring a jot what anybody’s job title is, and just wanting to see good-looking folk dashing around with gurneys – and Heather getting Angus addicted to Ritalin. On which latter note: what? Now? Why?

Shrugs.

Code Black ep 16

It’s Notable Guest Star Week on Code Black, with Beau Bridges(!), Annie “Renee from 24” Wersching and Odell Beckham Jr. (whom I understand is a very big deal in the NFL) all popping in to Angels for a bit of the craic.

Well, Odell came in for the craic and for a genuinely sweet storyline about his sick “Coach” Beau (which reminded me of my beloved Friday Night Lights and Coach and Mrs Coach, sigh). Beau and Annie popped in to play patients.

All that was fine, and everyone had a lovely time passing Annie’s wee baby about and wiping away a tear or two at Odell’s lovely motivational speech to Coach Beau. Less fine but still passable were Leanne struggling with being the new Administrator and not wearing scrubs (nobody cares, you guys) and a very odd storyline about Heather being involved in crackpot cryogenics (WTF?). Downright annoying, however, was Neal’s ex Grace, whom we’d never even heard of before, turning up and taking over most of the episode with some eye-rollingly “maverick” mercy mission story involving a sick orphan, some pretty brazen manipulation of a hospital-full of staff, and a load of emotional blackmail. I imagine we were supposed to like or at least admire this woman, what with her charitable endeavours and her “maverick” tendencies and her determination to save her patient no matter whose career (Neal’s) or relationship (Neal and Christa’s) she might jeopardise in the process, but neither Christa nor I ever want to see her again. So we’ll be stuck with her till the end of the season, I’m sure. Two eps to go!

Code Black ep 15

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why we’re doing this.”

Me neither, to be honest. Of all the framing devices they could have used to tell the story of how REDACTED died, an internal panel / witch-hunt apparently taking place a few days after the murder of one member of hospital staff and the attempted rape and murder of another, conducted by the boyfriend of the deceased, with no Union reps or lawyers or police or anyone impartial at all in charge seems a bizarre choice, but there you go.

While I wouldn’t have gone for any sort of flashback device myself, however – let alone one that broke every rule of logic and human resources there is – once I got beyond the general idea, the episode itself was well-plotted, beautifully acted and, for the most part, pretty compelling. I’m not sure it needed all that relationship drama thrown in as well, though. Christa’s random tiff with Neal came out of nowhere for no real reason but, in fairness, at least it was dealt with briefly and decisively (I hope) so didn’t really detract from the main story. The introduction of yet another arrogant jerk into the already asshat-centric Mario and Heather relationship wasn’t quite so forgivable, unfortunately. Surgeon Campbell is very handsome, true, but he’s also self-righteous, rude and determined to blame everyone else for everything. Heather certainly has a type, huh?

Code Black ep 14

*Spoilers*

As we head into the last few eps of the season (and probably the series), it looks like the show is trying to shake things up.

In a slightly odd turn of events, dedicated Dr Leanne “all about the work” Rorish is planning to give up the work to find her true self (or something), but has to go on one of those annoying field trips people on tv tend to take first; learn life lessons from quirky drifter, forgive someone something terrible so she can forgive herself, you know the type of thing.

Whatever. Leanne “leaving” – I’ll believe it when I see it – does, in theory, leave a vacancy for official tough love dispenser that you’d think Dr Hudson or Dr Guthrie would walk into but, no, we have to shoe-horn in some weird kind of story about Angus’s Dad trying to give Angus’s brother Mike the job which everyone protests loudly about despite everyone apparently wanting Mike to have the job anyway. So this strand of the story is a gigantic waste of time since all it does is remind us (again) that Angus has Daddy Issues (and really, show me the character on tv who doesn’t) and make Leanne look contrary.

Whatever, again. Forget the pointless hospital staffing sub-plot, time to look at characterisation instead. Since I’m always saying Code Black relies on medical drama cliches, it’s only fair to say that this week’s ep does try a couple of experiments with character development which I wasn’t expecting.

Firstly, the Mario/ Heather / Angus love triangle is turned into a Mario / Heather tiff, because Heather, apparently still living la vida loca, thinks they’re not “exclusive” while Mario’s taken aback that the girl he likes is as much of a player as he (usually) is. Unfortunately, both of these characters are way too unlikeable for me to side with either of them, but the show deserves a little credit for trying to do something slightly different with a workplace relationship and characterisation within it nonetheless.

Likeability isn’t a problem for Christa and Neal, of course, but it’s not an easy week for them either, despite the frankly blissful way they start it. Now properly loved-up – Aw! and Squee! – they end up strugglung with a difficult case involving a mentally ill, suicidal patient whose wife insists his wishes be respected and he be allowed to die. It’s counter-intuitive of course, for both of them, but particularly difficult for Christa whose instincts and feelings about patient care have, till now, always turned out, unequivocally, to be right. This week, however, those same instincts and feelings lead her down a more ambiguous path and, while it’s hard to disagree with how she feels, it isn’t as simple as rightness or wrongness, for a change.

There’s no such ambiguity, however, in the episode’s ending, which appears to get rid of one of my favourite characters in the most horrible way possible. I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, since, alive or dead, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing any of these characters for a second season, but still, I really liked REDACTED. Couldn’t they have killed Mario instead?

Code Black ep 13

*Spoilers*

In the “other medical shows have done this better” corner this week, Mario and Heather take a short break from being gross to persuade a young girl to accept treatment that her domineering, dogmatic stereotype of a father has banned her from having (there was a chance here for the show to look at potential conflicts between faith and medicine in a thoughtful, interesting way but, disappointingly, they went the easy, full-on abusive cliche route instead), before going right back to being gross again. Note to Mario and Heather: STOP having sex in the locker room. We’ve all suffered enough.

Well, all except Angus, who hasn’t yet realised  his “friend” is getting busy with the girl he’s incapable of talking to, but it can’t possibly be long now. This week, however, Dr Oblivious is otherwise distracted, as the “smug family member” slot vacated by Guthrie Jnr is filled, temporarily at least, by Angus’s brother – one of those people who can’t resist being terrific at everything and grinning about it all the time – which causes Angus himself to forget about ten episodes’ worth of character development and go back to dithering. Joy.

Also dithering is Leanne, who keeps cancelling what we’re supposed to think is a date, but is really an appointment with a therapist which might – might, let’s not get our hopes up too quickly now – mean that, OMG, the hospital actually does have a psych department after all. Except that it’s entirely possible that “Paul” a) works elsewhere and b) isn’t actually a proper psychiatrist at all. As far as we know, then, the current status of psychiatric services at Angels is still MIA.

No dithering or unexplained absence from my beloved Neal and Christa, though, who are as awesome as usual and twice as sweet. As well as saving a little boy’s life, Neal steps in to help the traumatised parents find their way back to each other because he’s lovely and sensitive like that, while also trusting best-doctor-in-the-hospital Christa’s judgement in relation to her treatment of another patient, because she’s earned it. And because she’s lovely and sensitive too. Unfortunately for the said patient, however, Neal and Christa are overruled by Gina, who is usually terrific but gets it spectacularly wrong this week because – I think – she wants Neal to look at her the way he looks at Christa instead. Aw, hon. We all know what that feels like, but, luckily, very few of us end up arguably being the cause of someone’s death as a result. Poor Gina, left with nothing but guilt, regret and the receipt for hospital linens to hold onto. Unlike Neal and Christa, who have guilt, regret, the knowledge that right was on their side, and also – oh my DAYS – each other. Which means – FINALLY – the kiss I’ve been waiting for since episode 2. THE KISS I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR SINCE EPISODE 2. OMG. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!