Code Black: Pilot Review

Code Black Title ScreenIt’s ER. That’s it. That’s the summary. If you’ve seen ER, it’s just that again. With less George Clooney.

I’m not saying that trying to do a new version of ER is a bad thing. I mean ER was great (at least at first) and emergency medicine is intrinsically well suited to episodic television; it’s easy to get a mix of high intensity action, emotional melodrama and the occasional comedy from your rotating cast of victims and families, while your main cast of doctors provide the steady background of character development and relationships. It practically writes itself.

To be honest, I think Code Black’s biggest mistake is that it desperately chases a gimmick to give it a unique selling pointl that. Their ‘thing’ is that there’s a colour code system to how busy the emergency room is, and at code black the demand of patients basically outstrips the supply of medics. Code Black is set in the busiest emergency room in the country and they basically end up at code black all the time (or roughly once per episode I’d imagine). This is pretty much an excuse for all the characters to cram into a ludicrously small area and take creative, risky, and oh so very dramatic new ways to treat gory injuries. Except that the whole thing felt so monumentally artificial that even the actors struggled to deliver the lines. “Ok people, we’re at code black. God help us.” Really?!

The pilot structure here is “first day at work”, four new residents arrive for their first day as proper doctors. They too are monumentally artificial, there’s the smart one, the eager one, the sleazy one and the hopeless one. (respectively Christina, Izzy, Alex and George for Grey’s Anatomy fans). I know they have to introduce characters fast, but it didn’t really inspire me.

The ‘proper’ doctors are a little more interesting, largely thanks to some pretty solid actors in the roles. The script and character biographies are still mediocre, but the actors are doing a good job adding some depth and charm through little moments. Plus they actually felt like a believable team, a group that didn’t necessarily always agree with each other but respected each other and had shorthands and shared experiences.

The nuts and bolts of this are solid enough and I think most of the issues are symptoms of pilot-pressure, rather than necessarily being a sign of doom. It doesn’t have the instant appeal and style of ER, or Grey’s Anatomy, or the short lived Trauma which I really loved, but it’s got some potential if the writers just relax a bit and write their own show rather than trying to blend everybody else’s.

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