As the sirens fall silent and the blood banks gets a chance to restock, it’s time for a brief look back over the first season of Sky1’s new medical drama.
Critical’s initial ‘mission statement’ was to be a real-time medical drama. Whereas your General Hospitals or your ERs might begin an operation and then cut away (no pun intended) to another scene, Critical gives us the events of a single continuous hour.
There’s no scope for switching the camera to something else, and to the show’s credit it’s gone the whole 13-episode run without trying to wriggle out of its self-imposed format. Sometimes the treatment has finished before the hour is up, allowing some of the air time to deal with the aftermath (the death of the patient in Episode 3 for example); and sometimes the episode starts before a patient has even arrived (such as Harry’s early coffee in Episode 6, or Glen and Fiona’s brief lie in at the start of Episode 12). But in all cases, once the titles fade the clock starts ticking.
It’s also been a show determined to show as much detail as possible, and some utterly convincing prosthetics and effects combined with what at times has seemed like gallons of fake blood have been used to show a whole array of operations over the course of the season. Exposing the chest cavity to restart the heart has become almost an anti-climax, in comparison to juggling a patient’s uterus or amputating a leg or improvising a bit of brain surgery.
For anybody interested in the ‘reality’ of medicine and emergency treatment or simply in the nuts and bolts of what’s going on inside our bodies, it’s been a fascinating run.
As for the on-screen talent, with a large ensemble cast it’s been almost impossible to mention everyone in a weekly review but one of the show’s strengths has been in the combined team. Glen and Fiona have been mentioned often, so too has Neve McIntosh as Mrs Hicklin – what appeared to be a dull, superior, starchy role at the start of the season has turned out to be something far more interesting and layered over the course of the run and if there is a second season I hope she’s back.
But it’s also worth mentioning the other cast members who’ve been so reliably good. Emma Fryer both appealing and just a little bit disturbing as the fracture-obsessed Dr Osgood; Kimberley Nixon as newbie Harry, our initial audience identification figure; Billy (Danny Kirrane) with his uncomfortable array of chat-up lines; ear-phone wearing Justin (John MacMillan) performing CPR to the rhythm of the Bee Gees; even OCD Brian (Orion Lee) in CT…
Prasanna Puwanarajah as Ramakrishna Chandramohan has been particularly fine – a lot of the time he has only had an array of jargon to say, reporting on patient statistics in what has become a curiously compelling manner. His calm tone sometimes belying the concern on his face, sometimes the frustration showing itself – and when he gets the opportunity to do a little more (most impressively when he accompanies the burned Lorraine Rappaport in the air ambulance in Episode 8) he gives a strong performance.
The question is… will there be a second season?
The other big Sky drama of the early part of this year was Fortitude, and by the end of its first run that show had been renewed. So it’s not encouraging that there is as yet no similar news with Critical. If asked, of the two shows I would probably have expected the modern medical drama to be a more likely ‘hit’ than a slow-burning, graphic tale of madness sweeping across a remote Icelandic town. But the viewing figures show quite the opposite, and by quite a margin.
Perhaps Critical’s problem is that it has fallen between two stools. With its determination to show medical procedure in extraordinary detail it was never going to be simply another Casualty or Grey’s Anatomy; but on the other hand there has been enough of the familiar ‘doctor versus management’ and ‘hospital romance’ type of drama that it can hardly be hailed as something radically new.
It would never sit well on BBC One or ITV, but if it had found a home on BBC Two or Channel 4 I believe it would have made much more of an impact. As it is, on Sky1 it may just not have been visible enough. Sometimes we talk about a show failing to find an audience – I fear that Critical’s problem may simply be that an audience failed to find it.
What did you think of Critical? Let us know below…