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ABC’s ‘NY Med’: Just What the TV Doctor Ordered
June 26, 2014  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

ABC’s NY Med is the type of nonfiction series that makes you appreciate life. And at the same time, it also succeeds at making you appreciate television…

NY Med, which returns for another limited summer run Thursday at 10 p.m. ET, has more than proven itself in previous incarnations. It’s not a reality show, though it’s often labeled as one. NY Med, like previous variations on the same theme by executive producer Terence Wrong, is a documentary series. It’s nonfiction TV the way it used to be made, back when networks took their prime-time news specials seriously: with lots of filming, lots of commitment, and lots of patience.

And, in the case of NY Med, lots of patients.

The title NY Med, actually, is a misnomer, since the series also spends time in New Jersey – at the trauma wards of Newark’s University Hospital – as well as such New York venues as Manhattan’s New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Roosevelt Hospital and St. Luke’s. No matter where the hospital is located, though, the premise is the same: No one knows what’s going to transpire on any given day.

And the crews of NY Med were on hand to observe for many, many given days. Off and on, about two years’ worth.

The beauty, and value, of this type of commitment is immediately and constantly evident. In case after case, we see not only the initial diagnosis, but the progress of the patient over days, weeks, even months – if there is progress. And we see these stories not only from the points of views of the patients, but those of their loved ones and the doctors and nurses. Everyone is humanized, but no one is canonized or demonized.

“We’re all about fixing you,” one young doctor explains to the camera, “whether you’re a high-powered CEO or a homeless guy.” The patient he and his fellow staffers had just expended so much care and energy trying to help was, indeed, indigent – and his treatment did, indeed, reflect that altruistic sentiment.

Some of the cases presented in NY Med – at least in the six hours provided for preview – are gripping life-and-death stories, packaged with the same intensity of an episode of ER or Grey’s Anatomy, but without the scripted artifice. In fact, the musical interludes have been toned down this season, making NY Med even more straightforward. This is a series that respects its audience, as well as its subjects.

The only big name on camera in this series, in TV terms, is Dr. Mehmet Oz, in a return appearance. It’s a relief to see him, and I presume for him it’s a relief to be seen, as a practicing, caring physician, rather than as someone embroiled in a controversy over espousing the medical merits of green coffee.

Debbie Yi, another doctor remembered well from the previous round of NY Med, is back, too – and, once again, floors me wth her personal story and dedication.

But every doctor, and every nurse, is shown here not only in a positive light, but in an unblinking one. These caregivers are shown and followed, warts and all – sometimes exhausted, sometimes uncertain, and sometimes unsuccessful. Welcome to real life.

One emergency room nurse is being photographed by the NY Med crew, in the middle of a typical shift, when she’s thrown a curve that neither she nor the documentary crew could predict. She’s fired, suddenly and summarily, for having posted a cellphone photo of the ER after a particularly bloody evening of trauma treatment. One minute she’s in the hospital, caring for patients. The next minute, she’s out on the curb, quite literally.

The patients, too, will get to you. The young Marine who collapses the week after completing boot camp, and learns he has a dangerously enlarged and inefficient heart. The nurse who has her own heart issues. The young man who was violently beaten while trying to protect his fiancé during a home invasion – and the ER that treated them both, separately. And if these stories don’t get you, others will.

NY Med works so well because of its taste, time and effort, and its overall determination to make a quality TV documentary series that matters. Achieving something this good requires a belief that the result is worth the expense and the commitment, but only by spending this type of time and money can something like NY Med appear on television. It’s a simple equation that most networks today avoid, in which effort expended equals excellence achieved. It’s not brain surgery.

Except, as on NY Med, when it is...

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Janet Troughton
This is what tv should be...and hopeful too
Jun 28, 2014   |  Reply
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