Public Service Announcement 28 of 2018: For the People, The Good Doctor

Apparently Sky Living’s name has been causing Sky TV one or two problems. Its market research has revealed that some of those who are unfamiliar with Living expect it to broadcast lifestyle shows; whereas it is, in fact, probably the UK’s most reliable source of American procedural dramas. As of tomorrow, therefore, Sky Living will be rebranded as Sky Witness. Hee. Sky Witness! Do you see what they did there? (Actually, I’m not 100% sure myself that I see what they did there. so let’s move on.)

As part of the launch there will, in August, be three new American shows on Witness, and the first of these is For the People, a legal drama from Shonda Rhimes’s Shondaland stable. It stars – among others – Ben Shenkman, who latterly became one of the most interesting things in Royal Pains; Britt Robertson;  Ben Rappaport, the “other Cary” in The Good Wife; the wonderful Hope Davis; and Anna Deavere Smith. Now, this doesn’t need to be great to push my buttons: give me some shipping, some Secret Pain, some ethical dilemmas, and some “Objection!” “Sustained!” “Counsel, approach!” dialogue and I’m likely to be on board.

The more interesting subplot, it seems to me, is whether Rhimes is still in possession of her mojo, particularly as she’s about to jump ship to Netflix for scarcely-conceivable amounts of cash money. Scandal remained relevant at least until it concluded, but it undoubtedly went downhill after its second season. How To Get Away With Murder and Gray’s Anatomy are hanging on in there, but her most recent new show, The Catch, crashed and burned after two seasons. I liked it quite a lot, but that opinion wasn’t shared by enough people to keep it going.

For the People has been renewed for a second season, and this first season is only ten episodes long. This seems to be a trend in American TV, and it’s one of which I wholly approve; with so much choice these days, it’s asking a lot of a viewer to commit to a 20-plus episode season of any new show. Anyway, I’m going to give this a go. CJ will be reviewing the first episode, and I’m sure we can rely on her to give a Shondaland show starring someone out of Royal Pains a fair review. *looks to camera* (Monday 6 August, 10pm, Sky Witness.)

And just a quick word about The Good Doctor: if you missed it first time round, Sky Witness is running season 1 from the start, commencing on Monday 6 August at 8pm. It’s a well-crafted medical drama, which I realise sounds as if I’m damning it with faint praise. But the acting is good, the plots quite often head off in unexpected directions, and it’s definitely worth a look.


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There’s a new resident in town: the pushy, ambitious, and generally appalling Dr Morgan Reznick. And she’s pitched straight into a contest between Melendez and Lim: Reznick and Browne are on Melendez’s team, and Murphy and Kalu are with Lim. Each partnership has a patient of roughly equivalent trickiness to treat and cure.

Probably the more interesting case is the one allocated to Murphy and Kalu: they have Quinn, a teenage girl suffering from abdominal pain. Murphy quickly discovers that she has a penis, and undergoes an episode-long course in the use of appropriate pronouns for trans people. Quinn has testicular cancer, a situation which becomes increasingly complicated: Might it be better to take this opportunity to remove both testicles, not just the cancerous one? And will she require to stop taking puberty-blocking drugs? Her parents are supportive of her choices; her grandmother less so. As is generally the case with The Good Doctor it seemed to me, privilege duly acknowledged, that within the confines of an hour-long network drama it handled complex issues with sensitivity and delicacy. Quinn is played by Sophie Giannamore, a young trans actress (a word I try to use sparingly, but it seems relevant here).

Reznick and Browne’s case is a little more standard: a single father who develops resistance to antibiotics, but is saved by a faecal transplant (a concept I can add to my occasional but long-running Unpopcult series, Things I Totally Read About In The New Yorker). This is most notable for its bickering between Browne and the ruthless Reznick. Thing is, Melendez knows what Reznick’s up to, but encourages Browne, rather than sulking, to raise her game in response.

It’s another solid episode from this well-crafted show. And it’s probably my last review of it for now: with Homeland and Scandal back, Nashville coming soon, and an imminent Scandi-noir thing that I’m planning to take a look at, my dance card is getting uncomfortably crowded.

Public Service Announcement 11 of 2018: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Scandal, The Good Doctor, Designated Survivor (maybe)

Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story anthology series returns to UK television tonight. I thought the first season, The People vs O.J. Simpson, was something close to a masterpiece. This second season, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, arrives with slightly less of a critical fanfare, although reviews have generally been good; and, apparently, containing an excellent performance from Glee’s Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, Versace’s killer. Thing is, although I should be watching, I’m not going to be. It may be that I’m just not as interested in this case as I am in that of Simpson. Written, incidentally, by Tom Rob Smith, also responsible for scripting the decidedly patchy London Spy (tonight, BBC2, 9pm).

After that, though, some Unpopcult favourites are lining up to come back from their midseason hibernation. Scandal is back for its final run of episodes (Thursday 1 March, Sky Living, 10pm). The Good Doctor returns for the rest of its first season (Friday 2 March, Sky Living, 9pm). And there was a rumour that UK viewers would this week once more be getting to see President Jack Bauer in the Designated Survivor Situation Room, grappling with what we must presume to be the irrevocable REDACTED of his beloved REDACTED, who at least won’t be prosecuted for felony corruption (Netflix, maybe Thursday 1 March, but don’t bet on it).

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I’m going to tiptoe through part of the Patient of the Week storyline: she’s female, a person of colour, Muslim (I think), and suffering from exposure to chemicals that can be used to manufacture explosives. Shaun thinks she’s a terrorist. She isn’t. More interesting is that Melendez punctures her bronchus during what should be a routine procedure. Shaun thinks he’s distracted because of his breakup with Jessica, and grasses him up to the hospital board. Melendez says he’s fine – TV code for totally not being fine – but Kalu eventually proves that it wasn’t Melendez’s fault, and gets a grudging thanks, as no-one’s forgiven Kalu for being wrongly fired yet.

Even better than that is the news that the glorious Dr Lim is back, although this week she keeps her moxie on a low flame. She’s being assisted by Browne in the treatment of a man who keeps having strokes, despite having been prescribed medication to reduce his risk. Coyle is available to help, but Browne persuades Lim that in #MeToo world there’s a bigger picture than one single brain operation, and quite right too, because Coyle’s a serial harasser and Lim’s a bawse.

What it comes down to, though, is that the operation might leave the patient impaired in some way. In which case, says his wife, nuh-uh: he wouldn’t want that, so just let him die, and we can all move on. Shaun – playing a human lie detector this week – deduces, correctly this time, that she’s fibbing. Well, it will turn out that Someone’s been tampering with dude’s meds, and Someone Else actually wants him to die because he’s human garbage. Even in #MeToo world, though, there are some ethical boundaries which Browne isn’t prepared to cross, and the operation goes ahead. Not the best episode, but by no means a bad one.

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Shaun is back. Has he, wonders Melendez, dealt with the personal crisis that Glassman mentioned? “I was on a road trip with my girlfriend!” Shaun blurts out cheerfully in response. Melendez is, to quote P.G. Wodehouse in another context, far from being gruntled. And Shaun gives Glassman two weeks’ notice of his intention to quit. This is so that he can move to Hershey, Pennsylvania, ostensibly so that he can be more independent. Coincidentally, that’s also where Lea is going.

We’ll get back to that. First, though, there are formerly-conjoined twins Jenny and Katie to be treated. To start with Jenny wakes up, although Katie is still in a coma. (There’s an acutely-observed, and moving, scene when Jenny’s mother leaves her room for a moment and Jenny has a panic attack: she has literally never been on her own before that moment.) However, Jenny’s heart is about to pack in. The obvious solution is to give her a transplant from Katie, although this will of course result in Katie’s death.

Commendably, a moral dilemma which could take a full episode to resolve is dealt with in minutes, and Katie’s ventilator is removed. Much to everyone’s surprise, though, she doesn’t die; she doesn’t for now regain consciousness either, but she is able to breathe unaided. Faced this time with a dilemma which is medical as much as moral – one twin in a vegetative state who might take months to die, and a second twin who still needs a heart – Shaun arrives at an obvious solution: conjoin them again! But this time Jenny won’t go for it, as she doesn’t want Katie to be her life-support machine. The clock’s ticking on this one, as they might both die.

Jenny changes her mind, agrees to have the surgery, and the process of joining them together again goes ahead. But Jenny’s heart starts overworking, and this is killing Katie. So they need to be separated (again). And Katie regains consciousness. At this point in the episode, frankly, it’s anyone’s bet who will die, and whether they’ll be joined together or not when it happens.

Meantime Kalu has engaged an attorney to fight his dismissal from the hospital, and it’s been discovered – uh-oh – that two other doctors at St. Bonaventure’s who assaulted colleagues were warned rather than sacked. And what do those doctors have in common? Well, of course they were both white. It’s protested in vain that they were also both superstar doctors who brought the donors in, but there’s no coming back from that, really, and Jessica makes a substantial settlement offer. Except Kalu doesn’t want money; he wants his job back, and he gets it. Andrews is unimpressed, accusing Kalu of weakening the position of minorities by playing the racism card when it isn’t warranted.

The show really hits home in its final scenes, though, which are all about separations, whether physical or metaphorical. (And soundtracked by Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s beautiful and melancholy ‘Someone To Stay’). One of the twins survives. Shaun decides to stay in San Jose. Lea heads to Hershey without him, although they share an embrace and another kiss. And Jessica breaks up with Melendez because she loves him, which is another of these things that only happens on TV. He wants kids; she doesn’t; and she can’t deprive him of that. (Which presumably means that, after a decent pause, Melendez and Browne will be hitting it.) This was really very good indeed.

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Just about every show has its road trip episode at some point. So as The Good Doctor is hardly rewriting the hospital drama playbook, it’s no surprise that, with Glassman hunting for Shaun, Lea persuades him to escape for a few days in her grandfather’s Starsky & Hutch-esque Gran Torino. They crash it; they go to a karaoke bar; they get drunk; they kiss. It’s all quite sweet. But then Lea reveals that she’s planning to change jobs and move away. Not good.

Meantime, back at the hospital Andrews rightly thinks that Melendez won’t be able to resist scrubbing in on an absolute banger of a case: a kidney transplant between teenage twins Jenny and Katie. Who happen to be sparky, intelligent, about to go to different Ivy League colleges… and conjoined at the skull. Andrews has already planned to separate them in about six months’ time, but when the kidney transplant goes wrong – as we knew it would – that operation has to be brought forward. It seems to go well, but by the episode’s end they haven’t come round from the anaesthetic.

In HR news: just as it looks as if Claire and Melendez might be about to start their slow but anticipated descent onto Planet Affair, Melendez decides that he doesn’t need to have kids with Jessica to stay with her. And Claire tells Dr Coyle that unless Kalu gets his job back, she’ll round up the other women he must have sexually harassed. So Coyle intervenes, but Andrews is unwilling to reconsider his decision to dismiss Kalu; he regards physical assault on a member of staff as something he’s not prepared to excuse. Together with Lea’s possible exit I wonder whether the show is refreshing itself by shedding a couple of characters, thus also keeping us viewers on our toes? (I have no idea if they’re leaving, I should say, and I’m keeping it that way.) I’d miss Lea, but perhaps not Kalu quite as much. It’s another highly enjoyable episode, though.

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Two Patients of the Week in this episode, and some pretty big themes to go with them. Bobby Ato is a champion videogamer – and a good-natured, cheerful one at that – who needs surgery on ligaments in his arm. Kalu and Shaun help Melendez and Andrews with this one; Bobby, though, is all about empowering Shaun, telling him that the other surgeons don’t respect him and that he needs to assert himself a bit more. This has two immediate consequences. In relation to Bobby himself, Shaun insists on ordering an MRI, which reveals that he has inoperable cancer. And Glassman is trying to get Shaun to see a therapist, which for some reason causes Shaun considerable distress, so he sets up home in a closet in the hospital, essentially in order to hide.

Patient number 2 is a woman with an unpleasant-sounding leg problem. Browne gets this one, and is assisting Dr Coyle, who turns out to be a little handsy and over-friendly. The woman is successfully treated, but that isn’t the story here: she was over-exercising to lose weight in order to impress male business contacts; and meantime Browne is having her own #MeToo moment. First of all Kalu tells her, in essence, that maybe she’s over-reacting, then when Coyle makes a more forceful pass at her Kalu hears about it and goes to the other extreme, flinging him against a locker-room wall. Neither reaction is welcomed by Browne, and Kalu ends up sacked for assaulting a colleague, even though on any reasonable analysis Coyle deserved it.

Glassman and Shaun contrive a surgical intervention for Bobby which leaves him impaired, but alive and determined. Shaun, however, maintains that he wants to make his own decisions, and that one of those decisions is not to see the threrapist. When Glassman, losing patience, confronts him in the hospital foyer Shaun ends up slapping him in the face, and when Glassman goes to his apartment it’s empty. Shaun has disappeared. It’s a sobering but impressive episode. My intention had been to stop reviewing The Good Doctor at this point… but maybe one more.