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I TALK Critical

This week I was invited along to BAFTA to watch a brand new thirteen-part medical drama for Sky 1 called Critical.

I'm not, and never have been a massive fan of medical dramas, but I was rest assured that this was different to say Casualty or Holby City... and they were right! It was.

In fact, speaking at the launch, creator Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) described the show as ER meets 24, and I can totally see where he's coming from. The premise for each episode of Critical is simple, one patient, one hour, one life to save.

Jed is of course all too familiar with the medical drama genre after he started his career by writing Cardiac Arrest (BBC, 1994) and later Bodies (BBC, 2004), not to mention an earlier career as a hospital physician. The series is based on the concept of the 'golden' hour, the first 60 minutes after a major trauma that are critical to whether a patient survives or not.

Speaking ahead of the screening, Sky's head of drama, Anne Mensah described Critical as a show that "took the medical profession seriously". I have my doubts though, over just how seriously the series does take the medical profession.

Just because for example, one character spends the entire first episode with a pair of beats headphones around his neck, occasionally putting them on, one doctor finds a Twix (other chocolate bars are available) on the side and stands there eating eat whilst an operation is going on, another is seen taking a photograph of a patient's rather messed up leg and another doctor is seen falling asleep in the background.

Not exactly the serious portrayal of the medical profession I was expecting, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy Critical, because I did.

There's one thing I need to make clear no, if you don't have a strong stomach, Critical is probably not the show for you. There's blood, guts and everything in between and the camera doesn't shy away from showing you everything... and I mean everything. I don't have a strong stomach but actually that didn't ruin my enjoyment of the first episode, it just meant that I watch a lot of it through my hands. I have to commend the production team for making each gory bit of flesh look so realistic which in this day of HD telly, I can't imagine was an easy task.

There was only one moment when the camera zoomed into the patients stomach, that was cut open did I think it was fake, other than that it all looked more than real. If you watch the first episode and think it's too gory, I'm going to let you know what Jed said at the screening, and that's that this opening episode is "the least gory" episode of the series!

What's nice about Critical is that you don't know anything about the patient. You don't know how old they are, you don't know where they're from and you know very little about what events brought them to the hospital. All you know is that the trauma team have one hour to save their life and as Jed revealed at the BAFTA launch, not every story ends with a happy ending. Some patients make it, some don't. It's as simple as that.

I also really liked the fact the fact that you almost don't have time to learn anything about the patient because you literally have 60 minutes to save someone's life. The likes of Casualty and Holby City rarely have any sense of urgency. For them, a patient is rushed into A&E and then the pace is quite slow. It's more about the doctor's personal lives, or the patient's backstory than it is about the urgency of keeping someone alive. The fact that Critical goes against that is a smart move.

Touch wood. I haven't been to a hospital in many many years but I'm pretty sure your average hospital doesn't look like the one in Critical. It's a top-to-toe glass building with lifts, bridges, more technology than an Apple warehouse and everything is white. It would of course be great if every hospital did look like that, clean, modern and full of the latest medical equipment. Jed mentioned that the hospital is based on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and admits that "most of the NHS is not like this".

Of course, this is a drama, not a documentary. So maybe I shouldn't get so caught up on these details. But then again a drama needs to feel real, you need to want to be a part of that world. You need to believe that world, and as I've mentioned before, there are times I didn't quite believe it.

If you're a fan of Lennie James, when it comes to the first episode, it's a blink and you'll miss him situation. In fact you only get to see his character, Glen Boyle, an ex military doctor, in the final few minutes of the first episode, but this is a thirteen-part series so there's plenty of time for Lennie to work that magic charm and the few moments he does have in the opening are excellent.

So it's mixed feelings for me. Some bits really worked, other bits didn't. Don't get me wrong, I didn't leave the screening thinking "I'm not watching that again" - I am in fact looking forward to seeing more. It's hard to judge a 13-part series on just one episode, and I'm sure that once we get to see more of Lennie James, he will lift the series beyond an opening episode that didn't exactly have me sold.

It's a shame because I'm a big fan of Jed Mercurio, Line of Duty for example is fantastic - it's a believable world and it has a very clever script. And in my opinion there's little else you need to make a great drama. Often the reason an actor is good is down to a great script.

Time will of course tell whether Critical is another stroke of genius, but for me, after the first 60 minutes, the life and success of the series is very much hanging in the balance.

Critical starts Tuesday 24th February at 9pm on Sky 1


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