Producer Terence Wrong’s cinema-verite travels chronicling high-stress jobs — which have included “NYPD 24/7,” “Boston 24/7,” and the medical “Hopkins 24/7” — continue in “Boston Med,” his latest multifaceted look at real-life medical workers. Spending enough time with the participants — including patients and their families — to elicit natural reactions, this eight-part summer fill-in puts human faces on doctors and nurses, exploring how they cope with tense life-or-death situations. Given ABC’s goofy forays into primetime with news-lite oddities like “What Would You Do?,” it’s another welcome respite from the summer stupids.
Alternating among three prestigious Boston hospitals, the program exposes viewers to a wide cross-section of medical personnel, from cocky surgeons to stressed residents. Standing out in the early installments, for example, is Pina Patel, an appealing, highly committed ER doc whose performance in a crisis leads to her being chewed out, oncamera, by a superior.
Although there’s an emphasis on the particular cases — from a wounded police officer to a sick newborn to, in the final hour, a landmark face-transplant procedure — the producers also focus on the doctors’ lives. One races not to miss his daughter’s dance recital, while others lament their difficulty finding the time to date, with a young resident wryly noting there are “no McDreamys or McSteamys” among the doctors in her orbit.
As with “Hopkins,” “Boston Med” brings to mind “The Body Human,” a landmark medical program of the 1970s and ’80s — though here, there appears to be more willingness to document cases that don’t necessarily yield happy outcomes.
The storytelling is spare, with few of the by-now customary compromises to reality-TV (or dramatic expectations weaned on “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy”), other than the oncamera interviews and musical flourishes that close each hour.
The main drawback to “Boston Med,” simply in terms of retaining an audience, is that the cast of characters keeps changing from week to week, muting the emotional investment in any one of the hospital employees. ABC has also done the show no favors, seemingly, by scheduling it behind a rather tepid new drama, “Rookie Blue.”
Given all the debate about the U.S. healthcare system, “Boston Med” certainly feels timely, and it’s a classy effort from ABC News, which, like all the broadcast divisions, has proved a little too willing to pander with crime and fluff when occupying primetime real estate.
By that measure, whatever the Nielsen chart might finally indicate, consider “Boston Med” another successful operation by Mr. Wrong.