Every now and then my wife and I like to put on our fleece pyjamas and our fuzzy slippers and sit on the sofa with hot cups of herbal tea watching Strong Medicine, an estrogen-charged medical series offered on Lifetime. The show is about a Group of female gynecologistsÂ who have somehow managed to take over a hospital where they can be found, day and night, sticking there noses and considerable medical expertise where gynecologists don’t usually stick their noses.Â
The show has a science fiction qualilty to it.Â Imagine an alternate universe where women run the hospital and menÂ are their preening, self-centered playthings.Â But that’s lifetime for you, a network that only has two flavors of men, Bloodthirsty Rapist or Sensitive Metrosexual.Â Even guys who are supposed to be manly, such as the suave Dr. Biancavilla, are just a little too put together, a little too fit, and a little too in touch with their feminine side to really be taken seriously as men.Â It’s almost like a reverse kabuki play with specially-trained actressesÂ performing the male roles.Â
Like most of Lifetime’s shows, Strong Medicine is an unapologetic feminist screed which is its charm.Â You will find no subliminal messages here and the characters seem to continuously clench their jaws and curl their fists at every affront to womyn’s right as if to say, “You will take my curette when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”Â Conservative and old-fashioned as I am, I can appreciate this no-holds-barred, take-it-or-leave-it, in-your-face world-view especially because unlike other medical shows, while the characters often deal with frustrations and conflicts of which good medical drama is made, there is never any angst or self-doubt.Â Dr. Cambell (played by Patricia Richardson of Home Improvement fame) for example,Â plays a former ArmyÂ physician and no cabal of good-old-boys are going to stand in her way, no ma’am.
The stereotypes and racial profiling on Strong Medicine are as horrendous as anything else on TV.Â There is the sassy black office manager who speaks in the third person (“If Lana wants a bagel, Lana will get a bagel”), bobs her head when she talks, and, as she is a recovered prostitute, flaunts her authentic street cred at the smallest provocation.Â They have the obligatory young latina doctor passionately fighting for the reproductive rights of her downtrodden patients who are some of the most articulate, responsible, family-centered crack whores IÂ have ever seen.Â And they have RickyÂ Schroder (well known to sitcom connoisseurs from “Silver Spoons”) representing the stone cold white boys.Â
I don’t know if his agent billed this as a good career move but an actor’s gotta eat.
It’s ridiculous. Gynecologists do not typically manage traumas and push the pretty-boy Emergency Physicians out of the way.Â It’s contrived.Â Every woman with HIV has the perfect story of victimization.Â It’s stilted.Â They don’t so much speak but give speeches to each other.
But it works.Â And my wife and I love to watch itÂ while we talk about that French waiter….what was his name?….Jean Luc!
LA Law set in a hospital.Â That’s all you have to know.Â I loved that show and we watched it religiously until the siren call of ER lured us away.Â Imagine a show that picked one hot-button social issue per episodeÂ and had an ensemble of some of the finest actors on televsion beat the hell out of it.Â
And beat they did.Â We get it.Â Discriminating against HIV patients is bad.Â Gay men can make good parents. Guns are bad.Â Four legs good, two legs better.
Still, it had marvelous acting lead by my favorite actor-whose-name-I-can’t-remember-but-who-I-confuse-with-the-captain-from-the-Love-Boat.Â It also had Mandy Patinkin who is one of the most versitile and under-appreciated actors of our time.Â
Just a quick bit of Panda Bear trivia.Â I don’t know most ofÂ the character’s names onÂ any of theÂ shows I watch.Â I have a mental block, kind of howÂ I skip over the Russian names in Tolstoy. I have been watching ER since the late 1960s, for example,Â and I still can’t tell you the names of anybody but Abby and Dr. Carter.Â No sooner had I learned “Dr. Green” and they killed the bastard off from cancer, on the beach, in Hawaii.Â So Chicago Hope is full of wonderful characters but I tend to think of them as gestalts rather than real characters, principal among them the lead actress who played the very model of a cynical, bitter, bitchy cardiothoracic surgeon who had sacrificed her personal life to her career.
But angst? You could cut it with a knife.
People always ask me, on discovering that I am a resident, if residency is really like Scrubs.Â The funny thing is that it is.Â Not in the sense that life as a resident is one comic situation after an another and not because the residents are continuously verbally abused by their completely over-the-top-even-for-residencyÂ attending but because I believeÂ Scrubs is the first medical program to show that doctors, especially young interns and residents, are not perfect and live with a level of self-doubt that most people can’t imagine.Â I saw the first season and the show captured perfectly the sense of inadequacy and dread most of us started to feel about twenty minutes after graduation when we realized that shirking responsibility (“Sorry, I’m just the medical student) was now no longer an option.
And it also portrays residents, even though it is a comedy, more realistically than even the more serious television offerings that purport to be showing a slice of reality.Â Â As opposed to the hip-and-cool, edgy residents on ER or theÂ svelte sexy house staff on Grey’sÂ Anatomy,Â most real residents are geeks to one degree or another. Dr. Dorian is completely realistic in this respect and even his maturation over the years from complete goof to competent but goofy doctor isÂ completely true-to-life.Â Or consider Dr. Turk (played by the talented Donald Faison) who tries to live the persona of the angry, street-wise black man when he knows (and we know) that white or black, the discipline and studying required to gain admission to medical school and acceptance to a surgey program does not allow for the bohemian lifestyle and the flaunting of authority required of a gangsta rapper.
It is also a very funny show that breaks out of the usual sitcom formula.Â I can hardly watch it now that I am a resident.