If we are to believe the Wall Street Journal, and loads of people do, all the time, U.S. viewers are about to see the debut of “the best medical show on American television.”
In full, the WSJ says this: “That the Canadian hit Transplant is joining the prime-time NBC lineup is presumably the result of pandemically limited production schedules. But that’s selling it short. The series will make its debut as the best medical show on American television, which is something given the competition [even just on NBC]. And while it’s a bit early for a full-blown diagnosis, it may turn out to be one of the better dramas the network has ever had.”
That is some super-high praise for a CTV production that aired in Canada months ago.
Transplant (Tuesday, 10 p.m., NBC, CTV) fully deserves the acclaim, and perhaps the unique quality of the series will illuminate both the anodyne style of most American medical shows and the rewards of creating Canadian TV drama that is emphatically about us and vigorously devoted to our perspective.
No, it’s not about transplant surgery. (If you didn’t watch its run on CTV, start seeing it now as CTV simulcasts with NBC for the next few weeks.) The series is about a refugee to Canada from Syria, an experienced doctor. He’s the one who is transplanted.
Like many refugees and immigrants, he can’t simply begin practising his trade here. The central figure, Bashir (Bash) Hamed (played by Hamza Haq with thrilling intensity) is toiling in a restaurant when a brutal accident spurs him to use his medical training to save the wounded. He literally uses whatever is to hand, including an electric drill. Injured himself, he ends up in hospital, where it becomes even more clear that he’s immensely skilled, and yet he flees the building.
But one of the people he saves is the chief of emergency medicine, Dr. Jed Bishop (John Hannah, familiar from many British dramas) and, when Bishop recovers, he wants Bashir on board at the hospital. This is easier said than done. What has transfixed the WSJ critic and others - Transplant is also on the LA Times list of 15 must-see shows this fall – is the seething dynamic beneath the surface of high-tension hospital drama. Transplant is about the terror and frustrations that immigrants experience, trying to use their skills in a new country, adjust and contribute.
As aside here – the CBC drama Coroner was also picked up in the U.S. market and has been airing on The CW. This might be the result of shortage of content or because CBC has an existing relationship with the small network, as Burden of Truth already airs on it. No matter the reason, Coroner has had a tepid critical response. One review said, “The 42-minute episodes of Coroner follow the familiar tracks of most crime and medical procedurals, and the solved cases never progress beyond the melodramatic.” It was also described as “overly simplistic.”
To put it bluntly, while the CBC drama aims low as a procedural, Transplant aims high as a medical drama. The latter has its own fierce energy and voice. Bashir is a brilliant doctor, his skills acquired under unimaginable pressure, but he’s no arrogant genius. Transplant astutely gives grim articulation to the issues of immigration and the harried, under-pressure immigrant experience, and in that is disarmingly different.
Where Transplant throbs with the hectic action characteristic of the hospital drama, you could say it also includes the sad, gripping music of humanity, and a particularly Canadian version of that. The series improves the medical genre itself. Coroner adheres to rather than advances the procedural genre. It is neither Canadian enough nor original enough. That is the lesson to be learned.
Created by Joseph Kay (who also did CBC’s fine but indecently short-lived This Life), Transplant’s emotional and social texture has startled American reviewers and will certainly unnerve some viewers. (NBC Universal was a production partner from the get-go but the series was expected to air internationally, not land on NBC in prime time.) Arriving at a time of fraught social dysfunction in the United States, it will certainly resonate.
The WSJ reviewer, with whom the show sure resonated, will discover it continues to be as electrifying as the first episode, this Canadian drama that’s “the best medical show on American television.”
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