The Night Shift combines light entertainment with topical healthcare debate
I’ll admit it – I was not looking forward to watching The Night Shift for the purposes of reviewing the new Sony Channel show. My best friend is a doctor in training, and my boyfriend used to work at a hospital. I’ve seen a lot of medical dramas. I’ve seen their tropes (dying pregnant wives, children whose parents refuse life-saving treatment, sex in medical supply closets…), their jokes (I don’t get them) and their completely absurd miracle storylines (too many to choose). When watching any new medical show for the first time, I’m hoping for the fast-paced adrenaline rush of ER, combined with the intense character drama of Grey’s Anatomy and the easily watchable humour of Scrubs. It’s not a small ask.
I was not expecting an American drama to hit so close to home on the current situation with the NHS. The Night Shift is set in an emergency room at a medical centre in San Antonio, and follows the work of doctors who handle the night shift. There are predictable characters, such as the seemingly perfect and desperate to impress Doctor Jordan Alexander and the frustrating and apparently heartless hospital administrator Michael Ragosa. Even the devil-may-care protagonist, former army doctor TC is basically Sawyer from LOST, if he were to have genius medical knowledge. Underneath that, however, is a powerful debate on equality and right versus wrong.
What struck me was the continuous friction between the doctors at the night shift and the hospital’s administrator, who is concerned about cost-cutting and profit-making. He’s also – this is the important part – not a doctor. While he refuses treatment to desperate patients without insurance (aren’t we glad we live in Britain?) and goes head to head with these saintlike doctors over questions of human morality, I was thinking about the actions of Jeremy Hunt and his non-existent medical experience.
This is, of course, an incredibly topical subject in the US. Last week President Obama blocked a bill to repeal Obamacare, but the healthcare act has already more or less been pushed to the brink of non-existence. It definitely isn’t the vision a young Barack Obama might have had for his country. However, it is extremely difficult to expect anybody – doctors or otherwise – to ignore an uninsured dying person in favour of someone richer. If we are to believe the rhetoric that political correctness is supposed to drive home – every person is equal – maybe the US ought to act on its principles and favour individuals equally. While we’re not quite there in the UK, The Night Shift offers an insight on issues that may arise from the continual incremental dismantling of the NHS. It’s not pretty.
The first episode’s highlights include unique conditions, intriguing characters and outright ridiculous (read: only on TV) suggestions. It kept me entertained and it made me think, which is all I can really ask of television. It’s not perfect, however. There are some cliches in the storytelling of The Night Shift that are irritating. The doctors seem to have ample time to spare on their shifts, which I can only assume they spend topping up their makeup as they all would look perfectly at home on the red carpet at the Oscars. This is pretty standard fare on television, so I suppose I can deal. What’s more difficult to comprehend is TC’s character. TC is great fun to watch, but one must suspend all their beliefs to accept that he might be appropriate in a hospital environment. Being remarkable at what you do does not make you exempt from rules and regulations, and it’s exactly this sort of television make-believe that confuses the ordinary public about the effectiveness of medical workers.
In short, The Night Shift is engaging and thought-provoking – if predictable – fare that might offer a perspective on a future for healthcare we all should endeavour to avoid. That of America’s.
The Night Shift airs Tuesday, January 12 at 9pm on Sony Channel.