Green Wing - UK TV - Channel 4
'Hoscom' is, apparently, the new word for a hospital comedy. The genre didn't look too promising when I was young: the image of Robert Morley as a pompous surgeon lecturing his interns while they stand over a hospital bed oblivious to the protests of a misdiagnosed patient is still with me.
This was early reality TV: a skin specialist who saw my daughter three years ago continued the tradition, avoiding eye contact with both patient and parents while he showed off to his obsequious trainees. "We need a cream with a bit of wellie in it" was his insightful contribution to medical science.
But Green Wing is a genuine re-think on the hoscom. You never see a patient; it's the eccentricities, small meanesses, and bizarre love interests of the hospital staff that fill the frame. In this sense, it's like The Office where nobody actually does any work and customers are completely invisible. And you can be sure that tired reviewers in their scores will be describing Green Wing as 'like The Office – on speed.'
The bigger re-think is that the female characters are just as crazy as their male counterparts. Or possibly more so. This overthrows the received wisdom that women are not as funny as men: although they are allowed to be ditsy, they are essentially the ones who hold things together, as in Men Behaving Badly and countless other sitcoms.
There's the human resources manager who attempts to impregnate herself with the seed of heartthrob doctor Mac as he lies in a coma, having wheeled him out while no one was looking and performed her own wedding ceremony over his sleeping body. And there's the senior hospital administrator who has inadvertently nearly slept with her son, the annoying Alan Partridge doppelganger Guy. The women who sit in her typing pool – a retro touch in itself as they don't exist in the real world today – pretend to be reading books with false jackets labeled Oedipus in their non-stop coffee break.
And towering above them all – literally and figuratively - is the awkward, gawky, and strangely beautiful Tamsin Greig, she of Black Books and other offbeat comedies. She plays some kind of surgeon – at least she's dressed in green and fumbles with an invisible patient under a surgery tent while Guy tries to put her off at critical moments of the operation – but is embarrassment incarnate.
It's like Mash, but with more humour. In love with the comatose Mac, she lies astride him and puts his inert hand in most of the places she'd like him to touch with volition. "I want you to play in my parsley patch," she implores. When he recovers from his coma, but is amnesiac about their intimate moments before his accident, she unleashes a tirade of sailor's invective that makes you feel for her while laughing out loud.
The other re-think is the speedy camera, the time-lapsed shots that are quite unlike the usual Channel 4 'look at me' camera work that is meant to show us how funky they are. The coherence between this and the music punctuates the story, managing to produce the humorous effects of slapstick without its usual crude obviousness. This is why it takes a while to get into Green Wing. But stay with it (at an hour and ten minutes, it doesn't seem a moment too long) and you'll find yourself absorbed in a world where the characters wear most of their body parts as well as their hearts on their sleeves. This second series had the potential problems of a band's difficult second album, with the hype of expectation weighing heavily on it. It doesn't disappoint.
Re-thinkers Note: Green Wing is not the kind of re-think that's profound: you probably won't get any great insights into human nature (other than the more venal kind), but it is fresh, different, and will probably make you laugh. Essentially, there is 'nothing new under the sun', but there are an infinite number of combinations and permutations of ideas. The camera technology isn't state of the art, but reinforces the truth of the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. The first series was very low budget and this has added spice to the creativity.
Green Wing, Channel 4, Fridays 9 pm.
Originally published: Sat 06 May 2006