Around January of this year, I finished rewatching all seven seasons of The Good Wife. I have always been a sucker for legal and medical procedurals. I am neither legally nor medically minded in the slightest, but I enjoy the fictional stories that play fast and loose with either set of rules. And while The Good Wife was centered on Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick, the deuteragonist, Cary Agos as played by Matt Czuchry of Gilmore Girls fame, was an equally compelling, charismatic character. There exists an interesting symmetry between the two characters, and appropriately between the actors. Whereas Margulies’ big role pre-The Good Wife was ER, Czuchry’s big role post-The Good Wife was as the titular character in Fox’s latest medical drama: The Resident. So, when I saw Czuchry’s smug smile on my Hulu feed, I clicked the pilot thinking “what the hell, I need the background noise.”
And now as season two reaches its halfway point, the first thing I do every Tuesday morning is watch the latest episode of The Resident, and I’m not entirely sure why.
And I thought I was already disenchanted with healthcare…
A little bit of context: immediately after graduation (like literally two days after walking across the stage), I moved up to Wisconsin for a job in the healthcare information technology industry, a field that is about as close to working for a hospital without actually working for a hospital. Now for a variety of legal reasons, I can’t tell you what I did and what happened when I was there, but I can tell you that learning about the healthcare industry made me hate everything about the healthcare industry.
The mark up tables for pricing, the convoluted insurance systems, the overwhelming focus on financial gains over patient quality of life. There’s a lot fundamentally wrong with the American healthcare system and the more you dive deeper into it, the more you want to burn it all down. Enter The Resident.
On The Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, The Resident is CYNICAL.
The opening scene of The Resident is a routine surgical procedure that within minutes results in a dead patient after the Chief of Surgery experiences a tremor while making an incision. Within minutes, the surgical staff concocts a cover up story before dark, opening music plays.
In one scene with the third-year titular resident, Conrad Hawkins is talking with prodigy surgeon Mina Okafor (Shaunette Renée Wilson) where they discuss how the Chief of Surgery has earned the nickname HODAD, or Hands of Death and Destruction. This is an actual industry term. This was one of the first terms I learned while working adjacent to healthcare. This small conversation got me hooked in a way I didn’t expect. The subsequent episodes went on and continued to be unrelentingly critical. Episodes dealt with a wide gambit of topics from racial biases in medicine, up-coding, the devastation of budget cuts, overworked doctors, undocumented patients, medical device peddlers, legal ramifications of medical care, the whole nine yards and then some.
To some degree, there is a bit of bile fascination when I watch the show. An urge to see how utterly cynical a modern medical drama is willing to openly display.
A Proud Tradition of Quirky Doctors and Bleak Circumstances
I first got into medical dramas with Scrubs, one of the more realistic depictions of actual hospital dynamics, and House, one of the least realistic depictions of jerk-ass doctor facades. I loved Scrubs for its quirky cast of empathetic characters constantly striving to do the right thing. I enjoyed House for the Sherlockian style.
In more ways than one, The Resident is what happens when you mix the quirky cast with overtly dramatic scenarios. Conrad Hawkins is very much the latest iteration of the bad boy doctor who the patients love. Davon Pravesh (Manish Dayal, who I adored in AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire) is the energetic first year, forced to learn the realities of medicine. Mina Okafar is the black immigrant no-nonsense surgeon who is literally better than everyone except the department heads with either hands or the robotic surgical machine. Nicollete “Nic” Nevin (Emily VanCamp, a.k.a. Sharon Carter) is the experienced nurse practitioner who knows more about the day to day floor of the hospital better than everyone. Randolph Bell (Bruce Greenwood) is the overbearing hospital administration stand in, except with none of the typically redeeming qualities. It all sounds incredibly familiar doesn’t it?
Even the episode structure follows the same beats: mysterious diagnosis of a central patient, while the other members of the cast runaround with their own cases before they intersect in some odd way. It’s formulaic, but in some ways, it only works because of it.
To Love A Flawed Show
There is honestly no reason The Resident of all shows has such a firm place in my weekly rituals. It is a show rooted in cynicism with brief glimpses of idealistic empathy that stand out in a jarring contrast. The only explanation I can offer is that it feels honest in a 2018 way. It feels like a show that juxtaposes the reality of hospital administration with the people trying to do good in a broken system. It’s bleak, but everything is bleak nowadays.
The adventures of Conrad “Death before Dishonor” Hawkins and his motley crew is one of cognitive dissonance and medical mysteries, that fills some sort of gap in my viewing rapport. I’m not sure I can recommend it, but I’m sure that next Tuesday, I will be up at 6AM to watch the latest episode on Hulu.
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