This Is Going to Hurt Is the Best Medical Drama in Years

YouIn the opening scene This Will Hurt, OB-GYN Adam Kay awakens to a phone call alerting him that he’s late to his shift in the maternity ward. The good, if also alarming, news is that he’s in the parking lot of the London public hospital where he works, having fallen asleep in his car the previous night. He is stopped by a woman who gasps and moans outside before he can get in the building. She needs an emergency C-section; the baby’s hand, which isn’t exactly supposed to come out first, has already emerged from the birth canal. The doctor pushes her onto a non-destructive maintenance elevator and then speeds her towards the hospital. He wisecracks as he extracts the screaming newborn from the womb.

All this makes it easy to see why Adam (the amazing Ben Whishaw), is such a badass doctor. But he’s not a Gregory House or a Cristina Yang. He’s not even incompetent. Based on a widely read 2017 memoir by the real physician Adam Kay, which drove an international conversation about health care, he’s a more-or-less regular guy struggling to build a sustainable career in the UK’s inspiring but underfunded National Health Service. Hurt This is the most compelling medical drama since it doesn’t celebrate superhuman doctors but instead shows how broken systems can force doctors to do extraordinary feats. The drama also considers what the failure of public-health programmes will mean for patients as well as providers.

Ben Whishaw is featured in “This Is Going To Hurt”.

Anika Molnar/Sister Pictures/BBC Studios/AMC

Kay adapts the song and premieres it in America June 2, on Sundance Now and AMC+. Hurt It begins as an engaging character study. Adam’s transitional period at home and work is a frustrating one. He’s beholden to an ethically shady absentee supervisor, Mr. Lockhart (Alex Jennings of CrownShruti, a young and nervous physician who was trained by him (played with great sensitivity in part by Ambika Mod), is also his responsibility. It is exhausting to have to cut open stomachs and trim umbilical cords while attending various gynecological emergencies. A minor mistake could be fatal, possibly to up to two patients. Adam often returns home from a long day only to be quickly summoned back into the hospital because there is not enough staff.

All of these are not in the best interest to move his relationship towards marriage with Harry Fleck Byrne (his live-in boyfriend). Neither is Adam’s compartmentalized existence. He isn’t out at the hospital or to his upper-crust parents, who nag him to find a job in private medicine and settle down with a nice girl. Meanwhile, Harry is frustrated by his partner’s inability to open up about his often-traumatic job. Alienated from his co-workers by his secret, from his posh childhood friends by their snobbery and straightness, and from Harry and Harry’s hard-partying queer friends by his own blue-blooded repression, Adam is rarely alone yet palpably lonely. Adam covers this up poorly with endless supplies of wickedly hilarious quips. (“Nobody cares if I die,” a difficult elderly patient tells him. “Oh, I dunno, the lion and the wardrobe will probably miss you,” he deadpans back.) Whishaw also puts on an entertaining show, even though he is a bit droll with the camera.

Ambika Mod portrays Shruti, in the movie ‘This Is Going To Hurt’

Anika Molnar/Sister Pictures/BBC Studios/AMC

And then, something very, very wrong happens. Adam’s wry mask starts to slip, and just about every problem he’s been hiding behind it escalates to crisis level. His flailing becomes more alarming. Hurt He continues to expand the scope of the picture in order to see the lives and secrets of his coworkers. Shruti spends her time studying for an exam and needs to have a more gentle, patient mentor than Adam. Tracy Austin, head midwife and Michelle Austin are so focused on her patients she rarely sees her children. They all share one thing in common: no one understands the struggles they face at work. But the constant stress, chaos, and finger-pointing at inevitable mishaps keep them from forging supportive workplace relationships.

What’s radical about Hurt—and what makes it resonate mOre these days than the heroics of Chicago Med or Grey’s Anatomy, even in a country with a very different health care landscape—is its acknowledgment that for doctors coping with impossible pressures, being good at your job isn’t always enough to prevent catastrophes. Shrewd in its depiction of the UK’s public-vs.-private medical binary, the series uses Adam’s background and the divisions of class, race, and ethnicity among the hospital’s staff and patients to illustrate how disparities in care are grounded in old prejudices and hierarchies. If it gets a bit preachy about this stuff, by the final few episodes, at least its critique is a trenchant one that’s rarely articulated on TV.

The argument only hits as hard as it does because it’s grounded in the struggles of distinctive, authentic characters—not just Adam, but also Shruti, Tracy, Harry. Although it is referred to as a drama, the film can be described more as a dark drama with funny dialogue. This Will Hurt In ways that are both predictable and surprising, it delivers on its promises. But as with childbirth (or so I’ve heard), the result more than justifies the pain.

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