The Resident is a medical show that hates the medicine industry, and there’s something weirdly captivating about that
This isn’t the article about The Resident that I thought I’d be writing.
After having seen the pilot, I had it more or less all worked out. It struck me that The Resident was operating in the shadow of House, as many medical shows do, and was trying to address one of the issues its predecessor always skirted around: why hasn’t House been fired yet? And so, the first episode of The Resident presented us with two doctors, paralleled against one another: one, the consummate professional, charming and polite, the other an abrasive, vulgar maverick. Of course, the professional – Bruce Greenwood’s Dr. Bell – was in fact deeply corrupt, using the power granted by his high status at the hospital to cover up frequent malpractice deaths, while Matt Czuchry’s maverick Dr. Conrad Hawkins was, in fact, the much better Doctor.
The idea, then, was that the ends justified the means, and the results were more important than who delivered them; as The Resident puts it, “let’s say your car has a rattle, so you take it to a mechanic and this guy’s kind, polite, eager to help […] and on your drive home, guess what? You hear the same rattle. Or you could take the same car with the same rattle to another mechanic. And this guy is rude, uh, dismissive, arrogant, but he tightens a bolt, fixes the rattle […] problem solved.”
Of course, it’s also basically nonsense. You don’t want the guy who kills patients, or the one who’s casually racist and misogynistic and says things like “How tight would you say it is compared to your prom date?” when doing rectal exams. (It’s as gross as it sounds, and Matt Czuchry can’t make it – or really any of his dialogue in the pilot – work.) If nothing else, it’s not like these two are the only physicians in the country, or that every medical professional falls into one of the two categories, with no variation or deviation.
And so that’s where The Resident had the potential to be interesting, as it also introduced a third lead, Dr. Devon Pravesh – a doctor who fell into neither category, managing to be a basically competent and nice person, neither killing patients through medical malpractice or being generally horrible to everyone. It seemed, then, that there might be a version of The Resident that refuted both Bell and Hawkin, offering some interesting meta-commentary about the medical drama genre to boot. It wasn’t – and still isn’t – an especially good show, though it has improved with time. But there was just enough of a seed of an idea that it caught my attention, and I kept watching it.
And then The Resident became something a little bit weirder, a little more captivating, and a little harder to stop watching.
You get the sense that, after the pilot, the team behind The Resident opted to retool things a bit. For one thing, as I’ve already mentioned, it was clear that Matt Czuchry couldn’t actually make his character work – Conrad was too abrasive, too over the top, too… gross. In toning him down, though, The Resident accentuated one of its other attributes: it’s sheer contempt for the medical industry.
In almost every episode, there’s one clear villain. It’s not illness or disease, or even really medical malpractice exactly – it’s the profit-seeking motive. People die because hospital administrators emphasise finances over patients, or because they don’t have the right insurance, or because they end up on the wrong side of a cost-benefit analysis. In one episode, Conrad performs an expensive, expressly forbidden medical procedure to save someone’s life; in the next, people die because the hospital is understaffed as a result of trying to balance the books after that operation. There’s a real vein of cynicism and disdain for what The Resident describes as the “questionable ethics” of its setting – in short, The Resident is a medical programme that pretty openly hates the medical industry.
It’s not that it’s entirely unique in addressing the failings of the American medical system – but, rather than it being the Act 4 obstacle in occasional episodes, the damage wrought by the profit-seeking motive is an inalienable fact of The Resident’s status quo. That’s what sets it apart, and why I’m still watching; if nothing else, I’m curious about where exactly it’s going to go. There’s a sense that the show is grappling with a problem it’ll never solve, albeit for obvious reasons; I can’t imagine any of the characters ever leaving to become universal healthcare lobbyists, or The Resident ever breaking with reality by depicting the sweeping reforms needed to resolve its central obsession.
And so, for all that The Resident manifestly isn’t very good, it’s managed to hold my attention. It’s not subtle, or insightful – it’s just persistent and determined. (Even then, it might well be an accident, an attempt to be edgy that stumbled into being interesting unintentionally.) Really, the quality is besides the point – I just want to see where this goes. You almost get the impression, really, that there’s only one possible ending – that, eventually, it’ll stop making enough money and get cancelled.
In a way, I can’t really think of anything more fitting.
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