Public Service Announcement 58 of 2019: Mary Kills People, New Amsterdam

I thought the first season of Canadian mercy-killing drama Mary Kills People was absolutely terrific: black humour, great acting, and some weighty moral issues. The fact that the second season is being shown in the middle of the night would suggest that not very many people agreed with me. Hunt it out, folks, hunt it out (Wednesdays, 12.10am, More 4).

Meantime, New Amsterdam is the latest in the very long line of medical dramas to make their way from America to the UK. Unfortunately, it’s coming in the same week as the 25th anniversary (yes, 25 actual years, don’t shoot the messenger) of the first broadcast of the genuinely brilliant and revolutionary ER, all 15 seasons of which are going to be made available for streaming on All 4. There’s nothing obviously out-of-the-ordinary about New Amsterdam, but it has Tom out of The Blacklist (Ryan Eggold) in the lead role as the new medical director of a hospital which needs fixing (Thursday 26 September, 9pm, More 4).

Mary Kills People s1 ep 1

Canadian ER doctor Mary Harris (the excellent Caroline Dhavernas) does indeed kill people, although only those who volunteer for it. Along with her assistant Des (Richard Short) she provides a discreet assisted suicide service to the terminally ill, who are in turn referred to her by a nurse who discreetly makes patients aware of their end-of-life options. She is apparently motivated mostly by principle: she does charge people, but that, she explains, is so she knows her customers are serious. And, in order to reinforce that point, we see her at work in the ER going above and beyond to save the life of a young man who has been stabbed. At home, she has two daughters; a tetchy relationship with her ex-husband, who seems to be just a little bit of a jerk; and a stash of mercy-killing drugs under a floorboard in a hut in her garden.

She also has a new referral: Joel, terminally ill with a brain tumour. But her secret side hustle is under threat: her daughter and a friend find the drugs in her hut; the dealer who sells the drugs to Des clearly doesn’t think Des is buying them for personal use; the grieving widow of her last client has found a leaflet with (I think) her phone humber on it; and, perhaps worst of all, the cops are on to her. Rather like Dexter, another show in which noble cause homicide was at the centre, one imagines that watching her outpace her pursuers will be a significant theme. The way, mind you, in which she deals with her daughter’s understandable questions about why she has a supply of a euthanasia drug is COLD. And funny.

I was spoiled for the twist at the end, although had I not been I don’t think I would have seen it coming. Anyway, I absolutely loved this, although it won’t be for everyone. The subject matter – well, the morality seems relatively straightforward to me, but your mileage will vary. And the humour is very black – the opening scene is an assisted suicide which goes wrong, meaning that Mary needs to find a quick and dirty alternative to the pentobarbital-laced sparkling wine she normally uses. But this is a very good show indeed, and I’m not sure it’s that far short of being – potentially – a great one.