One of the joys of the Internet is easy access, on demand to plenty of movies and TV shows. The only question is: what's worth watching, or even binge watching? For this week’s The Pulse, I've got suggestions for some television gems you may have missed. Surprise! They all have something to do with health care. And while it's a bit of a departure from my usual reporting, I think watching these medical TV shows might even be good for your health.
For a full list of shows, plus some bonus recommendations, and where to watch, scroll to the end of this article.Got some time on your hands after the holidays? Need to entertain some visiting relatives? We've got just the thing: medical TV show recommendations!
Our first stop is London’s poor, gritty east end, circa 1909. A time when tuberculosis can ravage a whole apartment building. Industrial accidents maim child laborers. But the Royal London Hospital is there for them – never refusing a patient who can’t pay. If you love medical history as much as I do, feast your eyes on the series "London Hospital."
Each episode draws from the actual Royal London’s own historical records, like case notes and autopsy reports. The result paints a vivid picture of what medicine was capable of at the turn of the last century. And not so capable of – like giving patients on the operating table the right dose of anesthesia.
The London loses a few patients to ether overdoses. And they’re just a few of the casualties of the evolving science of medicine. One London Hospital doctor nearly burns his hand to a crisp inventing a the X-ray.
A couple of other shows mine the same period, following different story lines.
"The Knick" is a Steven Soderbergh creation from Cinemax, set in a turn of the century hospital in New York. It’s a cutting edge—and cutthroat—kind of place. The institution hires a black surgeon – forward thinking for the time, but he faces so much resistance he can barely get into the operating room. The hospital’s top surgeon battles a cocaine addiction. The series is lush, a little racy, even. And while it may not be entirely faithful to the facts of medical history, it does reflect what an incredible time of medical discovery it was. Lots of great surgery scenes, too, if you like those.
And don’t forget "Bramwell," a series that aired in the late 90s but can still be found on DVD from PBS or even on YouTube. It’s the story of one of London’s first female surgeons. Her classmates shun her. She's barred from a job at a major hospital. But she opens her own clinic –and the professional community starts to come around.
OK, so maybe I’m a bit obsessed with medical TV. Lucky for me, there’s a smorgasbord of shows.
"A Young Doctor's Notebook"
Our next stop is frosty Siberia, circa 1916. The quirky series “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” is based on short stories by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov. And it’s about a young medical graduate–played by Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame—sent to practice in a remote Russian village, where conditions are primitive. His older self, played by John Hamm, comes along to relive his past. In this scene, the young doctor has just finished amputating a young peasant girl’s legs. His older self tries to console him, but there are early signs he’s not as wise or confident as he sounds.
I’d like to take you back to England for a final pick: the series Doc Martin. Here’s one the whole family can watch –eldest to youngest. And for the binge watchers out there -multiple seasons are available of this sweet comedy about an insensitive, blunt London doctor. He returns to Cornwall to run the only clinic in a small village. But his manner rubs some residents the wrong way. In one scene, doctor Martin Ellingham, played by Martin Clunes, is approached outside his clinic door by an inspector from the health board. The inspector tells him there have been some complaints about his manner around patients. Doc Martin listens, then walks into his clinic, shutting the door, leaving the inspector mid-sentence.
But eventually, the citizens of Portwenn embrace the prickly general practitioner. Watching this series makes me wish we all had a primary care doctor who knew us as well as Doc Martin knows his villagers’ aches and pains–but maybe with a better bedside manner.
Happy watching! (And listening)
That should keep you busy through the holiday season and beyond. Feel free to let me know what your favorite medical television shows are. And of course, don’t forget to listen to your radio, too. Doctor’s orders.
Where to watch/learn more about the shows
- London Hospital (originally called Casualty 1909 in Britain): First aired on the BBC, but can now be purchased for download on Amazon.
- Bramwell: Originally aired on PBS' Masterpiece. You can still order DVDs on Amazon, but you could watch some episodes right now on YouTube.
- A Young Doctor's Notebook: Distributed by the BBC a couple of years ago, now available for streaming on Netflix.
- The Knick: Season 2 has just been released, but only on Cinemax. You can stream episodes now on Amazon.
- Doc Martin: Distributed by American Public Television, now in its seventh season. You can watch current episodes on local public television stations (just look up via your zip code here) or stream on demand via Netflix or Acorn.tv.
- Bonus recommendation! House, M.D. is always good for a laugh, played by the inimitable Hugh Laurie. Streaming on Amazon.
- Bonus recommendation! The Green Wing: First broadcast in 2004, a goofball British hospital comedy. Think "Grey's Anatomy" meets "Soap" meets "Little Britain." Streaming, with a subscription, on Hulu.
Shows with a special focus on nurses:
- Bonus recommendation! Anzac Sisters: Tells the story of World War I nurses from Australia and New Zealand, battle by battle. They managed, in desperate conditions, to save lives and keep themselves sane, from Gallipoli to Lemnos. Distributed in the US by Acorn.tv, a subscription-only online streaming service of mostly British and Australian television and movies. If you're signed up, find "Anzac Sisters" here.
- Bonus recommendation! The Crimson Field: Series released June 2015 about British nurses on the front lines in France during World War I. Fascinating meeting of cultural/social norms of the time with limits of medicine and the new horrors of wide scale war. Previews of several episodes of "The Crimson Field" available on PBS.
- Bonus recommendation! Call The Midwife: Stories about young midwives, dispatched to help poor East Londoners, living in less than ideal conditions, giving birth. Charming. Lots of episodes. Suitable for most ages (except the very young) - you and your grandparents will love it. First aired on PBS, streamable online now on Netflix.