Review: Pulse 1×1 (Australia: ABC)

Not new the new House

Pulse

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

One of the best lines in this week’s episode of Will was “It’s 1589, Will – everything’s been done. It’s how you do it that counts.” I was reminded of this as I was watching Pulse, ABC (Australia)’s new medical procedural, as I tried to work out why it was so incredibly boring. It wasn’t for want of trying, certainly.

Based on an apparently true story, it’s the tale of high-flying financial analyst Claire van der Boom (Hawaii Five-0) who suffers kidney failure but receives a transplant so survives. She subsequently decides to retrain as a transplant doctor herself. Years later, she finds herself a trainee on the cardio-thoracic and renal wards of a major teaching hospital, learning how medicine actually works in practice. But as she’s still on immune-suppression drugs, any patient she meets could make her sick – she could make others sick, too.

So Pulse immediately gives you those three points of empathy – she’s a doctor but she knows what it’s like to be the patient as well; she’s determined to fight the patient’s corner, even if the more seasoned doctors are more calculating and blasé about the whole thing; and everything’s as life-threatening to her as it is to her patients.

On top of that, she’s both expert and trainee, so we have the tensions between those with the knowledge and experience and van der Bloom’s more impulsive tendencies. There are critiques of the Australian health system, including male dominance of the Australian surgical profession.

There’s co-worker Andrea Demetriades (Seven Types of Ambiguity) soft-porn shagging her boss, Blessing Mokgohloa (Spartacus: Blood and Sand). There’s her super-firey Welsh boss Owen Teale barking universal truths about healthcare – he’s also the man who gave her her transplant for a double-shocker.

Surprisingly, there’s even Spartacus himself and part-time weathermaster Liam McIntyre as an ex-soldier turned doctor and possible love interest for van der Bloom.

And that’s just the set-up – in the first episode, we’ve got people passing out after being sent home too soon, we have an organ lottery and we have transplant kidneys being snatched away at the last minute.

Much peril! Very wow!

And yet it’s absolutely tedious. Which brings us back to that line of Will‘s. It made me cast my mind back to when I last actually watched – and continued to watch – a procedural. On the medical side, it’s House; on the police side, it was the CSI franchise. I think in both cases it’s because they actually did something different, House being a combination of philosophy and Sherlock Holmes detective story, CSI being more like a series of scientific experiments. Everything since has singularly failed to grab my attention.

Which makes me think that I:

  1. Simply dislike procedurals.
  2. Like new things and constant repetition of the same format is intrinsically tedious to me
  3. Might not dislike procedurals when they’re actually something else in disguise

And despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, Pulse is a meat-and-two-veg medical procedural, no different from Casualty, predictable, with nothing new to say that House et al hasn’t already said, no great and unusual new characters to love, no amazing performance to lift the show out of its rut (although Teale’s great, of course). It’s not terrible, it’s well made, plenty of people love that kind of thing. I just don’t like something where I can guess more or less everything that happens before it happens. I suspect you don’t either.