This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
If there is one foolproof genre of television here in the U.S., it is, “Oh, hey, they already watched this in the U.K. and said it was really good and now it’s coming here so we should watch, too.”
It’s a little long for a Netflix recommended section title, but it’s unflappable.
This is a case where it’s fairly easy to be an American TV critic. “Did the BBC already play it? Did people say it was good? Gotcha.” Headline: You’re Going to Love This Wry, Quirky Dramedy/Unbelievably Depressing Murder Mystery That’s Finally Coming Stateside.
The Daily Beast’s Obsessed
Everything we can’t stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
But the thing is, it’s true. You’re going to love the new series This Is Going to Hurt, which got across-the-board rave reviews from British critics and, now, is coming stateside.
The series is now airing on AMC+, which is a streaming service that I learned existed when trying to figure out how to watch this show. (Sorry to the people at AMC, I love you and I’m sure this streaming service is great.)
It stars Ben Whishaw, which was frankly enough for me before learning anything else about this show. This is Paddington himself, folks. This is the stringbean stud who manages to be both lanky and vascular, noodly and swashbuckling—the only human being who has ever looked good with unkempt hair and an oversized turtleneck sweater. He is also, as it happens, one of the most captivating actors working today (A Very British Scandal, The Hour, Brideshead Revisited, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is my recommended sampling).
That unplaceable, almost contradictory appeal is key to the success of This Is Going to Hurt.
The series is based on a memoir by Adam Kay. It centers around the character of—would you believe it—Adam, a top doctor in the neonatal unit of a London hospital. There have been medical dramas before. (Grey’s Anatomy, still airing!) There have been medical comedies before. (Scrubs, apparently coming back soon?) This is a mixture of both, and is filmed with a lot of style and creativity. But it also accomplishes something that those series do not: it actually feels real.
I don’t mean that necessarily in the sense of realism, though its frank and unflinching footage of childbirth and C-sections didn’t not make me feel so close to fainting that I crawled to the refrigerator and chugged orange juice out of the bottle as a life-saving maneuver.
I meant that in the sense that it actually feels like what it must actually be like to be a doctor. It turns out it’s not all walking dramatically through the hallways on the way to save a life while a song by Snow Patrol or The Fray (probably titled “How to Save a Life”) plays and you celebrate with several tequila shots afterward magically without getting hungover and then have hot sex with another hot doctor. It actually, I would surmise from this show, kind of sucks.
Adam is tired, folks. In the first shot of him in the series, he is fast asleep in his car. You think, for a second, that he might be dead and this is one of the series that starts at the end (said death) and then chronicles how we got here. No, he’s just so exhausted that when he got off his shift at the hospital the night before, he fell asleep in his car before he could even turn on the engine. When his phone rings and he’s woken up, it’s time for his next shift.
Before he even makes it from the parking lot back into the hospital, he encounters a medical emergency on the sidewalk and is sent back into adrenaline-inducing doctor mode immediately.
“I meant that in the sense that it actually feels like what it must actually be like to be a doctor. It turns out it’s not all walking dramatically through the hallways on the way to save a life while a song by Snow Patrol or The Fray (probably titled “How to Save a Life”) plays…”
Back on the floor, he encounters a trainee who is afraid to do real work. Everything is broken, to the point that an emergency alarm goes off several times an hour so reliably that the staff only reacts as if it’s an emergency if it goes longer than they’ve programmed themselves to tolerate the shrieking siren for. He gets blood and other bodily fluids on his clothes with such regularity that he goes through his employee credits for replacement scrubs—because apparently an unlimited supply is out of the question—and must fish through the laundry bin for used, lightly tainted scrubs to wear for his next surgery.
When a patient is an obvious white supremacist, he’s the one who gets in trouble for calling it out. Oh, and he makes mistakes. Even in the line of life-and-death and when you are the most talented doctor with the best intuition, you make mistakes, and in this field of work, those mistakes are not forgiven.
It also turns out that when you’re working back-to-back 18-hour shifts, it’s not great for your life at home.
Adam has a partner who couldn’t be more supportive, but who also asks for the barest of bare minimums in return—we’re talking, like, the bottom of the barrel is barely visible at this point—and Adam can’t even give him that. How long is his boyfriend supposed to be understanding? And there are also the still majorly fucked-up politics of being a gay person in an expert field and dealing with the assumptions that you are straight for purposes of small talk and cozying up to corporate execs and wondering what would happen if you ever stopped playing along and actually corrected them.
The thing that I like most about This Is Going to Hurt is that it is so bleak. It is not shy about how dismal a life this is, noble as it may be—and how we as a society may have deluded ourselves into believing there’s such reward in saving lives and, in Adam’s case, bringing new ones into the world that it absolves the absolutely wretched quality of life we’ve saddled these people with. That’s not the case at all. Adam’s life seems objectively miserable.
But the show is also not only bleak. In fact, it’s incredibly funny. Whishaw’s natural dry wit punctuates every encounter. There’s a Fleabag element, where Adam makes asides directly to camera, that is used sparingly, effectively, and hilariously. It also, in the age of TV shows with bloated running times that play like the world’s most insufferable slog, has a fast clip to the pacing that can, as dark as things might be, make the episodes feel like somewhat of a jaunt, improbably.
It’s a really special show. If I figured out what in the world AMC+ is, you can too.