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Don't Dismiss This Show Because You Think You Know What to Expect

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 8, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 8, 2010 |

It’s no wonder ABC snagged the rights to air “Boston Med,” an eight-part documentary series currently airing on Thursday nights at 10 EST. Those bastards probably bought it up and buried it among crappy summer programming so that it’d go unnoticed. Because once you watch “Boston Med,” you may not be able to go back to “Grey’s Anatomy.” Because this docu-reality series, which follows the doctors, nurses, and patients at three Boston-area hospitals, is not only a more honest depiction of the goings-on inside a hospital, it’s more dramatic, more heroic, and more emotionally satisfying and harrowing, precisely because it is real, because these life-and-death stakes apply to real people and not a lot of overzealous actors trying to win Emmys. What’s even more remarkable — or maybe not, depending on what you think of traditional hospital dramas — is that the real doctors and nurses seem so much more personable, so much more charismatic, and funny, and caring (and in some cases, better looking) than the people playing doctors that you see on TV.

If this is the first you’ve heard of “Boston Med” (and I hadn’t heard of it until a review elsewhere sparked my interest), it’s not what you might think it is: It’s not “Cops,” set in a hospital. There isn’t any flashy editing or obnoxious voice-overs. It’s only manipulative in the sense that real life can be manipulative, especially if those cases are condensed down into 40-minute episodes, stripped of the banality between the highlights, and given mostly subtle music.

“Boston Med” comes from Terence Wrong, who created a similar docu-reality series, “Hopkins,” a few years back that followed the patients and caregivers of Johns Hopkins. For “Boston Medical,” he’s condensed thousands of hours of footage — tracking over a year at three major hospitals — into these eight episodes, which undoubtedly only track the highlights. But what amazing highlights they are. I was hooked within ten minutes of the first episode, and barely looked up until I’d completed the first two. I was impressed with the doctors and nurses in the show, who weren’t a series of stone-faced caricatures screaming “STAT!” and fucking in closet rooms. They were likable, and there was so much life and depth in even their brief interactions with patients. The whole thing gave me a newfound respect for medical providers.

The first episode focused, among other things, on two older ladies who were awaiting lung transplants, as well as a Boston-area police officer who had been shot in the face trying to break up a minor burglary of a taxi cab. Seeing the families of those patients essentially waiting to find out whether their loved ones would live or die was plain gut-wrenching. The first two episodes, in addition, tracked a trauma intern, Pina Patel (who is also very, very pretty), dealing with patients in the ER, which is a hell of a lot crazier than what you see on TV. There’s, like, 30 people standing around while a doctor is trying to save a life, and in many cases in “Boston Med,” they don’t succeed. That’s also what makes the victories even more rewarding, because there’s a very real feeling that they might not make it, and Wrong has a way of editing the series in such a way that you develop attachments to these people within a matter of seconds.

Neither is “Boston Med,” a gruesome documentary series — there’s no effort here to shock or disgust the viewer. There are a lot of procedures, and many of them are shown, but it’s done in a tasteful, eloquent manner, not to highlight the blood, but to draw your attention to the stakes. It’s a real lung; it’s a real baby; it’s a real cop. And these are real doctors doing a stressful job they love, even if it unfortunately means perhaps missing a daughter’s dance recital, though Wrong is careful not to minimize the importance of that dance recital in the grander scheme of saving another’s life. The whole series, so far, is just incredibly well constructed.

I don’t want to say too much else about it, though the second episode was even better than the first. I will say this, however: “Boston Med” is the only new show of the summer, so far, that I absolutely know I will follow through until the end. It’s gripping television, emotional powerful, and absolutely compelling. And I never thought I’d say that about a medical reality series.

If you get a minute, you can still watch the first two episodes before the third part airs tomorrow night.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.