‘Welcome to the NHS…’ says the sarcastic doctor Adam (Ben Whishaw) after guiding a pregnant woman in labour to the Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward (‘Obs and Gynae’ or ‘Brats and Twats’), enduring several unthinkable obstacles along the way. Those ridiculous inconveniences – one involving a Paternoster lift – would seem totally absurd if they weren’t so rooted in real life.
Doctor-turned-comedy writer Adam Kay pens this new seven-part BBC series This Is Going to Hurt, based on his bestselling memoir about life in the NHS. Thank goodness he’s funny because his environment is exhausting as much as grim. Using comedy to assuage the intense drama, Kay shines a fluorescent light on the draining experience of working in a busy hospital, which the more privileged and sheltered among us will never fully comprehend.
Adam is your part-time narrative guide. He can’t be as descriptive or daydreamy as J.D. in Scrubs because, frankly, he doesn’t have the time. His Fleabag-ish asides brief you with the necessary information, or tell you a joke or a thought he couldn’t say aloud. Sometimes those thoughts slip out when he’s not careful, and it’s easy to cheer when he does. The ward is dim and bleak with missing ceiling tiles and blood on the floor. When roaming its corridors, the flashy, expensive medical dramas from the US feel like garish fantasies.
Ambika Mod stars as junior doctor Shruti (left). Photo: BBC
Considering Adam is in Obs and Gynae, the miracle of birth turns into an everyday mundanity. Even cutting open bellies for C-sections becomes standard, and there are a lot of them.
That routineness hasn’t hit Shruti, a young junior doctor working under Adam who started two months ago and hasn’t yet delivered a baby. Nobody’s around to teach her, she spends most of her free time buried in medical textbooks revising for her exams, and Adam keeps barking at her mistakes. It’s a career-making performance from Ambika Mod, who can’t compete with Ben Whishaw’s all-encompassing captivation, but provides a nevertheless absorbing, eager and refreshing presence.
In Adam’s case, he’s a sumptuous mixture of empathetic and charming, while also being a bully and a suck-up. Whishaw creates such humanity in the role, that it’s hard not to love him even when you hate him. Defensive quips slip off his tongue so easily, lightly berating his inferiors after he’s promoted (sort of) to Acting Registrar. But he’d rarely behave like that in front of his posh and patronising boss Mr Lockhart (The Crown’s Alex Jennings), who wears a suit and drives an Aston Martin.
Alex Jennings as Mr Lockhart. Photo: BBC
As well as dealing with the daily tasks of deliveries and removing bizarre objects from vaginas, Adam is also nursing an unspoken trauma that leaks into his home life. He has a boyfriend, but never tells him anything. He hasn’t even officially Come Out yet. Not even to his mother, who flaunts an aristocratic flair with the sort of quietly demonic traditionalism that Harriet Walter (Succession) achieves so brilliantly. So many issues bubbling inside a nearly sleepless brain, a breakdown seems imminent. Alas, he’s just too busy.
This Is Going to Hurt initially thrusts you into an anxious nightmare. After the first episode, you wonder if the others will be as painful and as traumatising. Rest assured: from the four episodes available to critics, the series embraces the more relaxed moments. These are blistered by stag nights with laddish friends-of-friends, or middle-class parents with private healthcare, or horrific visions that torture his waking life. But happiness is occasionally allowed to peek through, if Adam lets it.
What unfolds is an enlightening, upsetting, fraught, and funny series that will bolster your appreciation for the NHS, as well as honour those who lay down their lives for it.
This Is Going to Hurt will air on Tuesday 8 February on BBC One and iPlayer.
|What||This Is Going to Hurt, BBC One review|
08 Feb 22 – 08 Feb 23, ON BBC ONE
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