Sky have pretty much built their business on buying in shows from other countries, but gradually they’re starting to do their own productions and commissions and Critical is an interesting, although not necessarily completely successful, entry into that list. It sits well alongside The Smoke and like that series brings an originality to the approach to a fairly standard television setting.
At its core, Critical is just another medical drama. Patients come in with varyingly horrific injuries and the dedicated team of experts fight to save them, with the familiar televisual mix of strict procedures and maverick creativeness to save a life. Meanwhile they have their own personal issues to deal with, their own insecurities, fears and egos not to mention a convoluted network of relationships for them to agonise over.
What really sets Critical apart is the absolutely incredible level of detail for the medical procedures. Firstly the process details are rigorous, and will the formality and structure will be familiar to anyone who’s watched something like 24 Hours in A&E (e.g. introductions, specific roles, precise language and cross-checking dosages etc). The most impressive however is the breath-taking graphic detail of every medical procedure. It’s really not a show for the squeamish, there’s blood and organs everywhere, and the brutality required to save lives often seems worse than the actual injury. I really have no idea how they’ve made these scenes so realistic, but the sounds and visuals are horrifically compelling.
Most episodes focus on just one patient. The patient rarely speaks and has minimal background, they are practically a prop at times. The episode is real time, the first hour of their treatment in hospital. The adrenalin the characters run on is contagious and I found it utterly engrossing and frequently more edge-of-seat than most action films. There are also some nice character choices, the lead consultant is an army veteran, and his military approach to processes, team management and improvisation is fascinating.
But then it lets itself down in the most obvious and stupid of ways. You know what’s exciting? Literally heart stopping medical action. What’s not exciting? Bureaucracy. I want to see the processes and the techniques and the passion that goes into saving people’s lives. I do not want to see bickering over schedules, ego driven arguing or micromanaging budgetary concerns. The ‘evil’ bureaucrat was a pantomime villain, his sole reason for being apparently to complain and bully the team as they try to save lives and I just don’t want to believe that it’s realistic a doctor would behave that way, or that a hospital would allow it.
Likewise, I could have done without most of the personal elements. The relationship woes just didn’t add anything to the series for me and took time away from more interesting subjects. They often inserted those moments right into the middle of emergencies and completely killed the pace.
I wasn’t expecting much from this series, so was really impressed at the areas of originality. I’m hoping that they’ve got some of the wrinkles out in the first season and I really look forward to next season.