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There’s a timing to everything. Back in 2004 when House first aired, the idea of a brilliant dickish doctor seemed like a breath of fresh air, an antidote to the countless medical shows in which doctors are hard-working angels of mercy, tirelessly caring for their patients no matter what obstacles are thrown in their way. Sure there was the occasionally abrasive doctor – eg Bruce Greenwood in St Elsewhere – but full on dicks? Not so much.
Now, the brilliant dickish doctor is everywhere. Indeed, he’s so pervasive, so much de rigeur, that an otherwise insipid show about a nice doctor can turn out to be the 2017-2018 season’s big hit, people are so keen for a different kind of medical professional.
But we’re also in the post-Weinstein, #MeToo era, when abusive (male) bosses are being called to account, since women are feeling less inclined to put up with their sh*t any more. Brilliant? Genius at your job? Then work out how to have some social skills as well, since you shouldn’t be someone else’s boss if you can’t.
All of which potentially makes The Resident either awkwardly timed or prescient, depending on how later episodes work out. It sees Manish Dayal (Halt and Catch Fire) playing a brilliant ex-Yale, ex-Harvard student turning up to his new hospital on his first day of medical residency. He’s been inspired to come to said hospital by none other than Bruce Greenwood, the head of surgery at the hospital.
Unfortunately, he’s been placed in the care of senior resident Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife), a brilliant but thoroughly dickish guy who’s going to re-educate him in the true ways of medicine, initially by getting Dayal to stick his fingers up people’s bottoms. Dayal can protest, but if he does, he’ll get given the heave-ho ASAP and never work in medicine again, no matter how dickish Czuchry gets.
Over the course of the episode, we naturally learn that Czuchry is indeed brilliant and cares about his patients, but definitely a dick in private life, as nurse and ex-girlfriend Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters, Revenge, Captain America: Winter Soldier) can testify.
More importantly, we learn he’s also prepared to break the rules if he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Greenwood, for example, is actually going around killing patients by the ton, thanks to his tremulous hands, and everyone is having to cover up for him. Those that won’t cover up he blackmails, since either he’s covered up for them all as well whenever they’ve cocked up or they need his recommendation to get a visa to stay in the US in Shaunette Renée Wilson’s case.
To stop Greenwood without getting fired himself, Czuchry will do his best to bend the rules to make Greenwood stop himself. But Czuchry also has a touch of the Alec Baldwin in Malice and he’s prepared to bend the rules in darker ways, too.
What are you saying?
It’s a bit hard to know at this stage what The Resident‘s message actually is. On the one hand, as soon as Dayal requests a transfer to another resident, VanCamp spins a tedious analogy for him about whether he’d like his car repaired by someone who smiles a lot but overcharges and doesn’t get the job done versus a shoddy-looking garage that still fixes it at a bargain price. Initially, it therefore looks like the show is supporting the tedious and insidious “brilliant people are dicks – live with it or lose out” line.
But by the end, the show does seem to be suggesting that maybe brilliant people who are dicks really need to stop being dicks. But as neither Greenwood nor Czuchry get fired, it’s a bit hard to tell which way the show is going. Maybe it doesn’t know either.
That ambiguity does at least allow for some more cynical and realistic examinations of medical ethics and politics. Should doctors have that much power? Given that medical errors are the third greatest cause of death in the US (according to VanCamp), should we have a more realistic attitude towards their occurrence, including the money paid out to compensate those who’ve suffered from them? Do the efforts made to attract rich donors distort US health care? Are brilliant immigrants mistreated and subject to racism and xenophobia? Is death better than survival, not just for the patient but their family, past a certain point, and do doctors have the right to judge that for themselves?
All the same, with its jarringly bad dialogue and cookie cutter characterisations, The Resident doesn’t really feel like the show to do the issues justice. Everyone’s character is pretty generic and stems from the job, rather than any real background information supplied. VanCamp is utterly wasted in a thankless role one can only hope gets fleshed out to as many as two dimensions in later episodes. Greenwood is great, as always, but doesn’t exactly have to fire even half his cylinders for the part. Czuchry’s fine and surprisingly unlikable, but feels too young to be the source of all wisdom.
The Resident is definitely a cut above the usual medical drama and does at least fire a few caveats at the dickish doctors of Code Black, House et al. But it’s more like a medical Training Day than anything with real edge or import, and it might have come at just the wrong time.