Doug Coutts’ TV Preview: Code Black

CODE BLACK | TV1, 8.30 Wednesday


A Personal View By Doug Coutts

A Personal View
By Doug Coutts

Code Black is apparently hospital talk for too many sick people and too few doctors. In most US hospitals there are five Code Blacks a year; in LA’s Angels Memorial Hospital, where our drama is set, there are three gazillion, or thereabouts. And that makes it just the place to be a resident doctor straight out of medical school. Luckily there’s a tough nurse called Momma in charge to set our four newbies off on the right path.

After that two minutes of introductory exposition, we hit the ground running, taking care not to slip as there’s blood everywhere. The first patient is spurting vital fluid everywhere from a large bullet wound (both the bullet and the wound) and the trainees are soon learning valuable lessons.

Twenty minutes in and we have an unconventional doctor, a doctor who likes to do things by the book, a wise senior doctor and four trainees who are already displaying signs of having contracted stock character syndrome with four distinct subsets of symptoms –  prissy, earthy, eager and slight doofusism.

We’ve also had a couple of slow-mo sequences, several difficult ethical decisions that need to be made and screeds of the same glib banter sprinkled with medical terms that made ER and Chicago Hope so popular. (“Where are we going with this?” has probably been assigned its own shortcut key on every American script writer’s keyboard.)

Halfway through and Code Black is achieved. New patients are pouring in, old ones are having turns for the worse and the camera operator has a double hernia from all the whiz pans and wobblycam.

As standard fast-paced, quick-cut medical procedural fare, Code Black does the business. There are story arcs gushing like burst arteries all over the place which should allow for some interesting complications to set in.

Anecdotal evidence suggests real doctors enjoyed ER back in the day so they’ll probably love this. Especially as no one’s said ‘stat’. Yet…

What other critics said:

Code Black can’t (unfortunately) resist the melodrama. No hospital ER drama can. It’s encoded into the genre’s DNA, which demands that life must follow death, and that an upbeat note must conclude a series of downbeat ones. At least Code Black promises something more compelling down the well-traveled road.” — Newsday.

“It’s a show that wants to be praised for its realism that can’t avoid cheating to yank your strings. The mismatched combination renders Code Black only a step above generic, but for fans of the medical genre, that’s all your prescription plan will cover this fall.” — The Hollywood Reporter.

“The doctors sure are busy in the Code Black emergency room. They’re busy frantically pushing every emotional button they can think of in an unsuccessful effort to make a compelling television drama … There are viewers who can’t get enough touch-and-go emergency-room moments, even though overuse has made them all variations of the same cliché. Code Black is made for them.” — New York Times.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: http://newswhirled.com/wordpress/.
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