Ah yes, it’s summer again, and with hellishly hot weather and blood-sucking bugs comes that other given — filler network programming. That means lots of reality TV shows and lots of re-runs. On the bright side, this dearth of compelling TV makes reading books a lot more interesting. Another upside is that, on occasion, a show that isn’t an obvious home run will sneak in through the cracks. While “NY Med” is only sporadically gripping, it’s interesting enough to make me set my DVR. Ironically, what ABC considers their biggest selling point in the show may in fact be the weakest, but let’s jump to the 12-hour erection. If “NY Med” knows anything, it’s how to start things off with a bang (or bang that wasn’t, I suppose).
The first episode kicks off with a man ending up in the ER with an Cialis-boosted erection that’s done exactly what those creepy ads warn about — it’s stuck around for 12 hours without showing any sign of budging. While the procedure to solve the man’s problem is quickly executed off-screen, it’s clear from the jump that this show isn’t going to shy away from the reality of hospitals — good, bad and, well, kinda funny.
The good, of course, is seen when Dr. Oz takes the screen. Everyone loves Dr. Oz, and it seems Dr. Oz loves everyone right back. The woman changing sheets in the hospital tells him how much she likes him. People who are visiting people who aren’t Oz’s patients stop him in the hallway to ask for hugs and visits. Dr. Oz gladly complies, because he’s just That Kind of Guy. He even gets goopy when it comes to cardiac surgery, telling a patient, Jack, that he only operates on people who have a loved one with them. Recovery without one is just too hard, and, as Oz notes, “If you don’t have a reason for your heart to keep beating, it won’t.” Someone ring Hallmark, because I’m pretty sure Oz can spin-off a line of greeting cards.
Jack lets the good doctor call his ex-wife, who seems absolutely thrilled to be talking to Oz. Although Jack assures us that he doesn’t “look at Dr. Oz as a celebrity; he’s just a really good surgeon who’s working hard to get me back on my feet,” it’s pretty clear to us that Dr. Oz is a celebrity, and everyone who comes into his orbit is thrilled about it. It’s a nice little moment, but as drama it’s a bore.
More interesting by far are some of the patients we meet. A man shows up in the ER complaining of chest pain, but the truth is less urgent — he doesn’t want to show up for a jail stint due to begin the next day. A recovering addict checks in screaming with back pain. He admits he started using drugs again to deal with his suffering and calls himself a 44-year-old loser. Even the nurses feel sorry for him. These are storylines covered glancingly, characters who check in and out only to disappear leaving more questions than they answer. We spend more time with Cornelius, who has tumors in his liver ducts, and Rhonda, a mom with a brain tumor. Following them through the surgical process, we get pulled into their stories whether we like it or not. Of course, they’re scared — scared of dying, scared about surgery — but what we can’t predict is the outcomes of their surgeries. No spoilers here, but let’s just say it’s best not to get too attached to any patient on this show.
It’s easier to get attached to the medical professionals here, however. Uniformly young and good-looking, they’d be excellent candidates for “Grey’s Anatomy” except they seem too sleep-deprived and driven for that show’s compulsive bed hopping. But “NY Med” does give us some insight into who these people are, with Dr. Arundi Mahendran emerging as someone to watch. She sings beautifully, practicing in the hospital chapel and in the hallways as she heads off for surgical consults, but she also has a quick wit and excellent bedside manner. As she assures a patient in a melodious British accent that, despite a death sentence, he has plenty of living to do, he somehow thanks her for the good news. Not that she’s always a Clara Barton do-gooder — she also bitches at her fellow surgical residents for stealing her chocolate supply. It’s a nuance that makes me hope she shows up in future episodes, which can also be said of Kevin, the ER nurse who gets spattered with infection vomit (thankfully, we don’t SEE that exactly, just hear it) and fellow nurses Diana and Marina. One patient goes so far as to develop a little crush on Marina, which is as close as the show gets to typical TV drama. But the truth is, these people are working far too hard to worry about the cutesy stuff.
All this life and death with only smatterings of frothiness may be a bit much for summer viewing. Except for Dr. Oz’s relentless feel-good Oprah-esque storylines, there are a lot of things on this show that people tend to avoid — heart monitors, bed pans, droopy hospital gowns. People die. But people also live, emerging bowed but not broken on the other side of medical trauma. Like the show itself, it’s not always the perfect outcome. But most of the time, it’s better than the alternatives.