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This column has a history of complaining that Canadian broadcasters, both public and commercial, favour those hoary old TV genres, conventional medical and legal dramas.
Well, the broadcasters would say the genres are popular, especially medical shows.
During one recent week, the figures for English Canada’s Top 30 TV shows told us that the No. 1 show in Canada was The Good Doctor on CTV with 2.2 million viewers. During a week in January, one of only two Canadian-made scripted series to make the Top 30 was Global’s Nurses, which came in at 30th.
Transplant (starts CTV, Wednesday 9 p.m.) is another shot at a local hit, set in the medical world. Unlike Nurses, which is essentially a coming-of-age series about starry-eyed young nurses trying not to get cynical while learning on-the-job. Hackneyed and heart-warming is what it is. Transplant is far more ambitious and on the evidence of early episodes sometimes reaches what it aims for.
No, it’s not about transplant surgery. 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 practise his trade here. Then, when our hero, Bashir (Bash) Hamed (Hamza Haq) is toiling in a restaurant, 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. But he flees the building.
As it happens, 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.
The plot device that kick-starts the series – and episode one sure comes with a kick – might seem ludicrous, but it gets your attention and signals what themes in Transplant are about to blossom. It’s about the terror and frustrations that immigrants experience, trying to use their skills in a new country.
Much is made of Bashir’s knowledge and know-how being heightened by his experience working in a war zone with few resources. He can intuit medical problems and injuries faster than most of his colleagues. This does not, however, make him either distinctly heroic or arrogant. Given his situation, he’s actually an extremely vulnerable man. He’s not the irascible Dr. House, nor is he the spookily wise young virtuoso at the heart of The Good Doctor.
There is, naturally, a lot of medical jargon and many scenes of a patient or two in crisis. This is, after all, commercial TV in prime time and there is a familiar pattern being played out. Administrative officials hinder doctors and nurses from doing their best. A patient with normal symptoms turns out to be the victim of a strange occurrence. The usual.
The staff at the hospital are well-drawn characters, mind you. And in particular, Dr. Magalie (Mags) Leblanc (Laurence Leboeuf) is a figure you know will become more intriguing. A shoot-from-the-hip type, she’s antsy and a bit angry. She has some sympathy for Bashir, but is suspicious. As one of her colleagues says, “It’s not every day that a patient from one week becomes a doctor the next.”
That’s unusual and Transplant (created by Joseph Kay, who also did CBC’s good but short-lived This Life) is unusual in its emotional grit and sometimes thriller-like pace. Haq is excellent in the lead role and has to be, since a great deal depends on him. Thanks to him, mainly, Transplant has its own energy and voice.
There are numerous medical dramas that move with a breathless, hectic pace and then stop for some romance or heartwarming moments. Transplant has some of that, but there is an astutely Canadian spin on the familiar. It gives grim articulation to the issues of immigration and the harried, under pressure immigrant experience. It’s not entirely original, but certainly superior to the usual and disarmingly different. And this column recommends it.