(Series 1, ep.1) Critical is Sky 1’s new super-realistic medical drama. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” according to the Sky website.
I’ve just watched the first episode, and so far it’s like a few things I’ve seen, and most of them sci fi rather than medical drama. Critical is set in a “state of the art” trauma unit, which is all sparkly white (with pale blue hints) so the blood shows up that much better. There’s masses of space, with a massive resus room that manages to house about thirty people, most of them standing round counting. It looks more like the medical facility on board Prometheus than the average A&E.
Critical is unshrinking in the face of gore – indeed it likes to get your face right into the gore, with the camera following tubes down blood-swamped throats and zooming in on open fractures. In one sequence, the viewpoint went right into a chest incision and flew along it like something from Star Wars. Somehow, though, all this flashy detail just reminded me that I was watching prosthetics. There wasn’t a single moment in the whole blood-spattered episode where I was even tempted to look away, unlike Holby or Casualty where I occasionally do.
Partly this was because the patient wasn’t seen before his accident, he had no relatives with him, he didn’t speak or interact with the staff (to be fair, he wasn’t in much of a state for interaction). He was just a body to be worked on. Initially I wondered how this could be dramatic – if we didn’t know about the patient, how could we care what happened to him? In fact I found as the hour went on (Critical unfolds in real time) that I did get quite gripped by the action.
This was despite the cast comprising of Sarah from Hebburn, Jeanine from Phone Shop and the mum from Outnumbered. It’s hard to take a show seriously when there’s that much comedy talent standing around counting. There were also two women with tied-back dark hair whom I couldn’t tell apart, although only one of them seemed to be Irish. At some point the mum from Outnumbered (known here as Lorraine) disappeared behind a curtain with a male colleague (who had previously spoken my brains by commenting that there were a huge number of people gathered round one trauma patient). They hadn’t gone behind the curtain for “hospital hanky panky,” though. The male colleague was apparently a magician, as we never saw the mum from Outnumbered again and the dark haired Irish doctor spent most of the rest of the episode bleating, “Where’s Lorraine?” and trying to ring her, before biting the bullet and undertaking a tricky procedure without her.
After this, the same dark haired woman put in a call to Lennie James, who was apparently in the army, and told him she thought Lorraine had been suspended. So we can expect to see more of Lennie in episode 2 (which has already aired so you might have already seen it).
There were some nice touches – the anaesthetist happily eating a Twix while the rest of the staff were dripping in body fluids, and the CT scan operator wiping fingerprints off his glass and warning people off touching any buttons every time he had to leave his booth. Overall I found the set a bit too gleaming, and the scalpel’s-eye-viewpoint of the wounds and gore had a distancing effect rather than making me feel more involved in the action. I’ll have to reserve judgement on the characters, because the format didn’t really allow for masses of character revelation. But I liked it enough to want to watch episode 2.